Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Why Planning Makes for Easy Continuous Writing
Imagine that you’re beginning to write your first novel. You’re full of ideas about the characters, the mammoth problem they’re tackling, and how they eventually overcome all odds to save the day. You put pen to paper and start fleshing all of those fantastic ideas out. But a few chapters in, you get stuck.
Worse still, you finish the entire story and realize it has major plot holes and has to be extensively rewritten.
This is a common problem that even seasoned writers face – and why planning your story beforehand makes it far easier to write it out.
While writing a 120-word composition isn’t quite the same as a full-length novel, there are similar challenges present if you skip the initial planning stage:
Boring introductions (often stuffed with fancy descriptors from assessment books)
A lack of clear resolution to the problem
Plot tangents (totally unrelated to the original topic)
One Simple Technique to Kickstart Your Continuous Writing
This is where a plot graph comes into play.
Simply put, a plot graph is a visual representation of how your story develops.
This is where you chart out the major elements, which include:
The main characters
The build-up to the problem (rising action)
The climax (or the problem/incident that causes tension)
The resolution (falling action)
How to Use a Plot Graph for Compositions
Using a plot graph is easy. You just chart out the key events, taking into account the main topic, given pointers, and at least one of the three pictures given.
Take for example this sample composition question:
Write a composition of at least 120 words about a memorable birthday.
The pictures are provided to help you think about this topic.
Your composition should be based on one or more of these pictures.
Consider the following points when you plan your composition:
Whose birthday was it?
What happened on that day?
Why was it memorable?
You may use the points in any order and include other relevant points as well.
If we break down the word “memorable,” we get this definition:
Worth remembering or easily remembered, especially because of being special or unusual.
So we know that something can be memorable because it was special (i.e., particularly good), or unusual (i.e., strange, out of the norm). It might even be bad at first, but then turned out all right in the end.
With that in mind, here’s how we filled out the plot graph based on the above prompt:
The main thing to remember here is to build up the story to the climax/problem.
Ideally, you want your readers to identify with the main character and empathize with him or her. If the hero is excited or nervous, you also want your reader to feel that excitement and nervousness.
But without the build-up of events, the story is very emotionally flat. Instead of being able to empathize with the hero, the readers will simply be reading a very dry and factual account of what happened. (Read also: The #1 Tool to Build Your Plot)
Consider this (bad) example:
It was a fine day outside. The sky was a brilliant blue and dotted with fluffy white clouds. The bright yellow sun shone through Jeffrey’s window, and he stirred awake. It was his birthday that day. He was hosting a party in his home. He had invited all of his closest friends over.
His friends arrived and Jeffrey went to open the door. They wished him “Happy Birthday!” and gave him his presents. There were many colourful balloons and a clown doing magic tricks. Jeffrey’s mother went into the kitchen to get the cake. Everyone sang the birthday song to Jeffrey and enjoyed eating cake. After that, Jeffrey’s friends were tired and decided to go home.
There are a few glaring problems here.
Firstly, the initial three sentences are fluff: they include descriptive phrases pulled from assessment books, but they don’t really add any value to the overall composition (besides increasing the word count).
Secondly, there are obvious plot holes and no real build-up of events. We see the story jumping from Jeffrey stirring awake to his friends arriving. What happened in between? (For that matter, do we really need to know? It would be better to start the story from a more relevant and interesting point.)
Thirdly, there’s no climax – and therefore no resolution to the story. We see Jeffrey having a party, but there’s never any incident that causes tension. This is one of the most common errors we see when students write a composition without thinking about the rising and falling action.
Here’s a better example:
Jeffrey was hosting a birthday party in his home. He had invited all of his closest friends over, and they were having fun chatting and playing together. There was even a clown that was performing all sorts of magic tricks – causing Jeffrey and his friends to laugh in glee.
Jeffrey’s parents had ordered all of his favorite dishes, so he and his guests helped themselves to the food. After they had eaten their fill, Jeffrey and his mother went into the kitchen to get the cake. To their dismay, Jeffrey’s younger brother was already there: he was digging into the cake with his bare hands.
This story starts off during the party itself, which makes the introduction much more relevant to the topic. No fluff!
It also includes a natural flow of events.
In the first example, we know that Jeffrey is at a party with his friends, but we don’t know anything at all about what the party looks like or what they did. Did they have fun, or were they bored stiff? When we include details such as the clown and Jeffrey’s favorite dishes, readers are better able to visualize the setting.
Lastly, all of the emotions and the enjoyable moments build up to the climax: Jeffrey’s brother ruining the cake. Since readers can feel all the positive feelings Jeffrey felt during the party, they can also feel his shock and disappointment at this point. This then leaves room for you to put in a satisfying resolution.
Wrapping It All Up
Using a plot graph may not come naturally at first. It’s tempting to jump right into the composition to get it done as quickly as possible.
However, taking that first 5-10 minutes to plan out the composition beforehand actually makes the task far simpler. You won’t end up pausing in the middle of the composition to gather your thoughts, and you’ll ensure that you remain on topic throughout.