Climbing the Plot Mountain
Admit it, you’ve seen the plot mountain to the left countless times. This is how you learned the parts of plot, yes? But, if I may be so bold, I’m not a fan of this diagram. Sure, all the parts are present, and the names are right, and it’s a pretty shade of purple. Hooray for that. But I like my plot mountains to look a little different.
I like to think of the chart as more of a graph, with the vertical axis representing the emotional connection of the reader, and the horizontal axis representing the number of pages. That being said, if the above image charted a novel, it’d have about 60 pages of boring explanation. Then, we’d be lucky enough to get 120 pages or so of good rising action, where tension and conflict keep us turning pages. But at about page 180, everything would start falling off. We’d have about 120 pages of loose-end tying. And, of course, we’d have 60 pages of wrapping everything up.
Here’s the one I like to use:
It may be tough to see, so you may want to click on it. Here’s why I like it. First of all, you’ll notice that the “emotional investment” of the reader does not begin at zero. It begins at two, which means we’ve started the novel “in medias res,” or in the middle. That is to say, conflict is already present, or we’re presented with a character that we immediately respond to. Either way, we have some connection to the story. Secondly, you’ll notice that the “exposition” is absent. Whatever backstory we need is told as the story progresses and the tension and conflict increase. Lastly, the climax occurs very close to the end. The “falling action” and “resolution” have been rolled together. Whatever loose ends are tied up are done so as the resolution is established.
If we follow this model, our readers will maintain a high emotional connection to, not only the story, but to our characters. These are the novels that we come back to time and again.
Think of your current project. Do you begin with an immediate emotional connection? If so, how do you escalate that through tension and conflict? Do you keep escalating the emotional connection throughout the climax? Does your resolution keep the readers connected to the characters?