Here’s Plotting Tip #2: Don’t bring your opening event to a conclusion.
Sometimes people think a book chapter should be like a short story. Wrong! A short story is complete within itself, with a beginning, middle, and ending.
In plotting forward, you don’t want to write any endings unless you’re tying off a subplot or writing the story’s climax.
So when you stage a plot event–which may involve a single scene or a cluster of two, possibly three, scenes–you want to end that event with a hook.
In effect, you’re closing the plot event only partially. It should be far from resolved.
Example: Let’s go back to the teenage boy who encountered zombies while he was taking out the trash. Remember how he tried to scream and couldn’t? Remember how he tried to get back in the house but couldn’t? Then he fled.
Okay. That partially closed the story event, but it didn’t resolve anything. Instead, the boy’s flight is a hook.
Hooks should keep readers caught in the action through wondering, what’s going to happen next?
My character is now running, but where is he going to go next? What is he going to do next?
Push the pause button on the action and sit in your chair and think. You have several plotting options to weigh and choose from.
Option A: Is he going to run to the front door and try to get in there?
Consider the consequences of that scenario. Will the front door also be locked? Are his parents home and likely to hear him ringing the doorbell? If he gets safely inside, what then? Will he be believed? Is he going to call the authorities? If only his little sister is home, how are the two of them going to cope with their attackers?
Option B: Perhaps, despite his little sister’s cruelty in locking him out, the boy wants to protect her so he runs away from the house. He’s intent on leading the monsters away from his home.
Okay, think through the consequences of that decision. Can he outrun them? How many are pursuing him? What if they don’t follow him? If they do stay on his trail, where’s he going to lead them?
Option C: As he runs through the sideyard, he trips over his mom’s newly planted nandinas and falls, twisting his ankle.
What are the consequences of this one? He’s too hurt to run. Will he be caught and eaten? That will end the story.
Oops! Try again.
Will he be able to hide? Will he remain safely hidden while the zombies tear open his house and kill his family? How will he live with that? Won’t the guilt tear him apart? Will it drive him to become the supreme zombie hunter?
Now, I could go on playing the “what if” game, but what you don’t want are so many plot scenarios that you confuse yourself. That’s why Tip #1–Know Your Ending is so necessary. If you know where you’re going, you can limit your options to a manageable few. Then you won’t find yourself paralyzed by too many choices.
Remember, you’re looking for plausible consequences that will lead to the character’s decision to keep taking action. And any action the character takes should be moving him or her toward the finale you envision.