Planning Disasters

Can you believe October is almost over already? Which means it’s almost November, and NaNoWriMo is just two weeks away! I’ve already posted on how to plan out your characters, so today I’ll talk about plot.

There are several ways you can structure your plot, but the one I use the most is “three disasters and an ending.” You can read more about the structure in my previous post. Today is more about how to plan for those disasters and what you should try to accomplish with each one


The first disaster – The Inciting Incident.

What to accomplish: This disaster can be instigated by an outside source (bad guys do something bad), or by your main character (MC does something stupid). The first disaster must set your character into motion and give him Motivation, which will later feed his goal. That Motivation will propel you into the middle.

How to plan: I strongly suggest you know the Inciting Incident before you begin writing. That will lead you through your beginning and give you a starting point for your middle. Remember that your MC will need some form of Motivation, which usually comes from the first disaster.

The second disaster – The Mini-Climax

What to accomplish: Raise the stakes and increase the tension. The story can go any direction at this point, though the tension is quite at high as the Climax. It’s good if the MC causes the Mini-Climax, even if indirectly. If you’re stuck on this, try to finish this sentence: “This would not have happened if the MC didn’t…” If you can finish this sentence, then your MC, in one way or another, caused the second disaster. Your MC’s Motivation should solidify as a Goal. The second part of the middle follows him as he tries to obtain his Goal.

How to plan: It’s good to have a general idea of your Mini-Climax, but don’t panic if you don’t. Since your MC causes the Mini-climax, it can be hard to plan it before you know exactly what your MC does to get into the situation. Aim to have the Mini-Climax planned out around the time you finish writing the Inciting Incident. This will give you a constant flow of short-term goals to write toward.

Of course, you can do some intense planning like the Snowflake Method and probably have a good idea how to do this before even starting your novel. Just don’t be afraid to change it as you write.

The third disaster – The Climax

What to accomplish: Your MC tried to make up for his mistake in the Mini-Climax, and caused an even bigger problem. This is the earth-shattering disaster your MC can’t possible overcome, but your MC will not give up. His goal is solid now, and his determination will push you through the denouement (and will keep your reader interested).

How to plan: Next to your Inciting Incident, the Climax is the best thing to plan for ahead of time. Your plan will likely change as your characters run amok in your story, but if you have at least a general notion of where you want to be by the end, you’ll have an easier time making it through your middle, and it may even help you with the Mini-Climax. Since the Mini-Climax should be in between the Inciting Incident and the Climax (both in terms of timeline and tension), if you have your Inciting Incident and Climax planned, your Mini-Climax will fall into place fairly easily.

Your subplots should come together with the main plot for the Climax. If you have a general idea of what your Climax is, you have a general idea of what your subplots are, and you will have an easier time writing the middle. If you read the transcript from last night’s #Storycraft, you’ll see several of these points as well as many others.

In Summation:

  • Beginning –>
    • Inciting Incident, formation of Motivation. Plan before you write. Low tension.
  • Middle, part 1 –>
    • The Mini-Climax, formation of Goal, solidification of Motivation. Plan after you write the Inciting Incident. Medium tension.
  • Middle, part 2 –>
    • The Climax, solidification of Goal. Plan vaguely before you write, but feel free to change the plan. High tension.
  • Ending + a twist.

Planning out your disasters ahead of time gives you short-term goals to work toward in your writing. These goals can help keep you on track and focused without making you feel too constrained to follow a single path.

Do you plan any scenes ahead of time? Your disasters or something else? Do you find it helpful or restricting?


About Squishy

Writer, dancer, gamer, and admirer of all that is beautiful.

Posted on October 18, 2010, in Ishy Writes! and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Nice read! Very helpful for people who are not sure how to start or proceed, but not overly complicated as to confuse the writer.

    Pfff, NaNoWriMo is only 2 weeks away, and I haven’t done much on that yet. Clearly my plan to balance work life and writing did not go very well. 😦

    • Don’t be so hard on yourself. Most people I know in NaNoBoston have hardly done any planning at all. In fact, most don’t even have an idea for a plot yet. So don’t worry about it! =)

  2. It’s funny how you posted this right as I was beginning to focus on the disasters of what I know believe is a trilogy of books stemming from my NaNo idea for this year. I’ve got the inciting incident and the mini-climax in mind for the first book, but I’m not sure yet about the climax. I have an idea in mind, but I’m not quite sure how the prior events will play out, and they could well do so in a way that shoves the current climax into the next book, leaving a hole in the first. The characters seem to know the story better than I do, though, so I’m sure they’ll tell me what needs to happen.

    • I’d say you’re doing fairly well, then! If you at least have the inciting incident, then you have somewhere to start from and see where it goes from there. Just remember that each disaster should increase the tension left behind from the prior one. So don’t start the next book with a climax if you don’t think you can keep the tension ramping up afterward.

      Fun fact: You posted your comment at the exact moment I posted my reply to Wannabe Writer.

  3. Wow, good timing. I think the incident in question could play out as either a climax or more of an inciting incident, as the case required. The stakes will definitely be higher in the second book, in any case. It’s possible that they might simply be two parts to the same book, I’m not sure yet. Even as the climax, it serves to introduce a main character and two key supporting characters, so I’m apprehensive about leaving them for the second book.

  4. I used to try to plan everything out but then as I was in the middle of writing, it always changed. I plan the basic plot out–mainly what you’ve said here–the inciting incident, the mini climax and the climax. It takes me actually writing to figure out the events in the book that occur around these, if that makes sense.

  5. I just printed this post.
    I have my Inciting Incident, Mini-Climax and a vague idea of the Climax planned. This probably sounds weird but I can’t “connect” the mini-climax with THE climax. As for the ending, I am not even going to start thinking about it before the climax and mini-climax start making sense together.
    And I am having so much trouble deciding the POV!

    • I wouldn’t worry about the connections too much yet. Usually things solve themselves out once you start writing.

      As for PoV, I would suggest either first or third. If you wish to change your PoV character at any point, then go with third. If you still can’t decide, try writing in one PoV, then rewrite the scene using another. Or, given the nature of NaNoWriMo, write the next scene in a different PoV. Experiment and have fun!

  6. Great way of laying out the basic plan for a story!

    I usually have a rough idea of where I’m going when I start working on a draft. Sometimes the idea is more basic than other times, especially if the characters seem particularly spunky. I can’t tell you how many times they do something I didn’t intend, creating unintended mini-climaxes and twists. It usually turns out for the best, but I can’t help sitting back and saying, “Well, now you’ve gotten yourself into a pickle! How do you intend to get out of this?!” Do yours get that out of control too or is it just me?

    • I’ve heard from several writers that their characters often dictate the story for them, much like you just described. I think it depends on the writer, overall. I tend to be a perfectionist control freak and have everything planned out a couple scenes ahead. While my characters do control the story, I know what they are thinking well ahead of time. That lets me steer them another direction if I so choose.

      If your characters make their own choices and pull the story in whatever direction they want, you’ve probably done a great job developing them.

  1. Pingback: Comparing Story Structures « The Musings of a Dreamer

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