EGWG Writing Class – 5

Plot & Structure


The definition of Plot:  A plan used for designing a building or a novel.

Plot is the organization of events that follow a character on his journey to achieving his goal. There will be activity as he finds his way. He’ll overcome obstacles until he reaches a satisfactory ending.

The plot is the stage where the character acts out his story. It should give the character the setting and infrastructure to overcome the conflicts and obstructions he’ll face.

The reader’s attention must be grabbed by the plot and the challenge the hero faces. He should care about what happens to the character. It’s helpful if the reader can see an aspect of themselves in and can identify with the main character.

A simple plot equation or what a plot (story arc) includes.

  1. The situation: An inciting incident that causes a major change in a character’s life.
  2. The Protagonist: The main character who will be affected by the inciting incident.
  3. The Objective: The goal, what the main character is striving to reach or obtain.
  4. Activity: The journey and the escalating crisis or conflict. Remember the three functions of a character arc. The goal. The belief in a lie. Finding the truth. The lie and the truth work together in creating the activity and crisis for the character.
  5. Obstruction: The opportunities for the antagonist to create obstacles in the main character’s journey. Again, creating conflict.
  6. The Climax: An intense and dangerous showdown where the main character overcomes the antagonist and reaches his goal.
  7. Resolution: A cooling off section where loose threads are tied up, and the story comes to a happy, or at least, a satisfactory end.

10 Points on Plotting

  1. Nothing should happen at random. Each activity, dialogue, or event must concern and push toward the goal.
  2. Plot stems from a character under adversity; activity, conflict, and obstruction.
  3. Each character will have his own agenda.
  4. The plot of a story is the combination of the individual characters and their personal plans.
  5. The plot begins long before the first chapter. As an author, you must know the background of everyone.
  6. Foreshadow important events for suspense.
  7. Keep in mind the kind of story you’re telling. Don’t wander off on tangents.
  8. Emphasis should be on the characters, not the plot.
  9. The hero must eventually take charge of events.
  10. Plot dramatizes character.

Don’t Use these Overused Things in a Plot

  1. Amnesia
  2. Identical twins
  3. Someone else’s easily recognized plot
  4. Too many flashbacks
  5. Illogical, impossible, or contrived events
  6. Inconsistencies
  7. Too many or unrelated sub-plots
  8. Too many characters
  9. Too much symbolism

Story Structure

The definition of Structure: The manner of building. Something made up of individual parts.

The rule of structure: What’s happening now must be more interesting than what just happened. Build your scenes or turning points with increasing tension, conflict, or suspense.

Story structure is a list of what you want to happen in the beginning, the middle, and the ending scenes. The list should be in linear order, and each event or scene must grow out of and lead to the hero’s journey to his goal.

Each chapter or scene should have either internal or external conflict. The conflict should be concerned with reaching the goal, or, in the antagonist’s scene, in obstructing the hero’s journey.

Plot and structure are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. You might have a unique plot with great characters, sub-plots, and settings. You might write in lyrical beauty. BUT without structure, your story will flop.

The plot deals with the main events that happen in the story. Structure is the arrangement of those events and the techniques a writer uses to tell them. Simply put, the plot is the plan of the story, or what must happen to get from the beginning to the end. The structure is the author following the plan, or writing the events, to build the completed story while following the plot. 

Types of Structure

The three-act structure is composed of the beginning, middle, and end. I commonly used it as a template for fiction novels, but it is also true for theater plays, and movie screenplays.

  1. Act 1. Setup Includes introducing the main character, the life changing inciting incident, and reveals the goal.
  2. Act 2. Confrontation where the main character faces obstacles in reaching his goal.
  3. Act 3. Climax is when the hero wins the prize. Resolution is a cooling off period, where loose threads are tied up.

Act 1 is 25% of the story.

The second act is half of the story.

Act 3 is 25% of the story.

There are five important points in this structure. Think of the letter W. A plot point occurs on each peak and valley.

Plot point 1: The triggering event increases drama, changes the main character’s life, sets a goal, and sends him off on his search. That’s the end of Act 1.

Plot point 2, 3, 4: The second turning point is the main character hitting an obstacle that leaves him reeling. It’s a low point and he must continue forward. The third turning point is after making a bit of headway, he comes up with a new idea. Fourth, he thinks all is lost. He’s failed. This is the absolute lowest point and is the end of Act 2. 

Plot point 5: Act 3. The character or someone else comes up with the solution that might work. Once again, the main character rises toward his goal until he reaches the climax of the story. After that is resolution and tying up loose threads. 

This structure leaves a full 50% of the book to be written in the second act. That’s a lot of space to fill with interesting and exciting stuff. This middle section created phrases such as “soggy middle,” or “wasteland.”

Four Act Structure

You might ask, is a four-act structure any better? The even lengths of each act (25%), removes the vastness of the middle (act 2). Other than length, there’s only a negligible difference.

Four Act Structure consists of: Goal. Lie. Truth. Success.

Act 1: Introduces the character’s life before the conflict. The inciting incident occurs, and the goal is set up. At that turning point, the main character’s life is changed forever, and he has a new normal.

Act 2:  The hero reacts to the life-changing event and plans on how to go about reaching the goal. (Believes a lie.) He sets off on his adventure and overcomes obstacles until the next turning point. This point should be something big, stunning, or raise concerns for the hero.

Act 3: The main character overcomes a personal flaw (the lie) that’s holding him back. New plans are made, and he pushes forward toward the goal until he reaches the final turning point. (He accepts the truth.) Reaching his lowest point is an “all is lost” moment. The reader should feel the hopelessness and wonder if the good guy is going to win.

Act 4: The climax and resolve are the same as in the 3 Act structure. The main character’s actions build toward the climax, and he is successful. This is the “Go big or go homemoment. Then comes the Resolution, and the hero begins a happy ever after or a happy for now life.

The same highs and lows of the 3 Act play will be in any other structure you choose, no matter if it’s a 4 Act, 5-6-7 or an 8 Act structure. We won’t go beyond 4 Act today, but if you’re interested in the other types, they’re online. 

Parts of a Novel 


How long should a chapter be? I’ve heard that question many times.

First, what do chapters do? Chapter breaks give the reader space to consider the plot and how the story is developing. The pause between chapters indicates a change or transition in the story’s location, a different point of view, the character shifting focus as he makes his way to the goal, or the closing of one part of the story and the beginning of the next.

Dividing the story into chapters or related sections gives the reader a satisfying and an easy to digest experience. Just as you should use structure in your story, so should you apply it in your chapters. Be consistent.

Chapters can be numbered as Chapter One, Chapter Two, and so on, or they can have subtitles such as:

Chapter One

Trouble comes to town. 

A subtitle can give hints about what’s to come, attract the reader’s attention, or they can show the focus of the chapter. They can give useful information such as dates, changes in locations, or whose point of view will tell the story next. Subtitles can be useful signposts to guide your readers through the book. 

Every author must choose what chapter headings work for their story. There are no wrong choices, so experiment and see what works best for you. 

How Long Should a Chapter Be? 

A chapter’s length should suit its purpose.

Is that confusing enough? I once read a chapter that was one sentence long. It was dramatic, impactful, and just what was needed. I’ve also read chapters that lasted an overwhelming amount of time. Those always seemed to come when I’m waiting for a chapter break to turn off the light and go to sleep.

Short, action-heavy chapters help speed up the pace. Longer chapters that linger over a specific setting or a historical description can give the reader a breather and a chance to acclimate himself or settle into the location or time of the story.

Keep in mind that longer chapters can make the story lose its sense of direction if they’re unfocused. If you use longer chapters, be sure to structure it around the character’s goal for that chapter. Make sure the character meets obstruction and/or there are developments that lead him closer or further away from his goal. Remember, there should always be action or a search for something and a climax in every scene.

Unless the plot requires otherwise, aim for shorter chapters. Readers will usually appreciate reading manageable chunks of text rather than slog through long slabs of words. As said above, “short, action-heavy chapters help speed up the pace.”

Play with chapter length. Structure your character’s activities so that they do what they need to do and then move on. Move the reader from scene to scene and from goal to goal. Vary the lengths of your chapters to create interest and where a new chapter is needed.

Another way to keep scenes interesting is to vary the length of the sentences. Short sentences create excitement, action, and a faster pace. Longer sentences can be lyrical and can say things a shorter sentence can’t. An English teacher (in ancient days) once said, “If you can’t read a sentence aloud in one breath, you should consider shortening it.” 

Starting a Chapter

Begin a chapter by putting your character into the scene that continues from the earlier chapter, or create changes in location, time, and point of view. That’s the time for a transition. The first part of a chapter should give the reader an idea of which character is telling the story (POV) and what’s the focus of the chapter.

A few ways to start a chapter are:

  1. Medias Res. Begin in the middle, in the thick of the action. This avoids the boring lead-up and jumps right in. It should reveal something about the character and give the reader a reason to like them. Have a great opening line for this type of beginning, something that will grab the reader (the hook) and keep them reading. This is harder than it sounds, and it may take a few tries to get it right.
  2. Set the scene. Start describing vivid scenes. This is especially useful in historical, sci-fi, or stories set in specific locations. Such an opening will give the reader a picture of the setting and draw him into the story.
  3. Dialogue. Dialogue creates questions that need to be answered. Who is speaking? What are they talking about? What happens next? Good dialogue will produce a pull to discover more.
  4. The hook. Do you have a strong and interesting hook? If you do, use it. Remember, a hook must ask a big question.

Think about what each chapter will do to help the character make his way toward the goal. Having a sense of purpose for the chapter will help you avoid wasting time, going off-track, and writing things that will be cut in a final draft. Consider if the chapter is in the antagonist’s viewpoint, or is it part of the subplot? What’s the purpose of the chapter? This can be a mental thing that just flows, or it might need a bit of thought.

To develop each chapter, think about what chain of events does the opening paragraph set in motion? What changes will take place? How will you use the main character’s five senses? How will you answer the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, and why—along with how) as the chapter begins through to the ending. 

Ending the Chapter

Ending a chapter can be hard. How do you taper the scene down to a closing point? Here are three places where a chapter break makes sense:

  1. Just before something exciting happens at a scene’s climax. This leaves a cliff hanger and is an automatic page turner for the reader.
  2. After the climatic event that brings a minor or chapter arc to an end. This is helpful if the climax has been exciting or tense. The chapter break there is the ideal time to give the reader a break or a pause to take it all in.
  3. Right after a development between two characters, one character might tell something that’s literally a bombshell. This ending has a sense of importance and stopping there is a great cliff hanger. Remember: What happens next must be more important and interesting than what’s just happened.


Should you include a prologue or jump right into the story? That is the question.

A prologue comes before the first chapter. It can be a few lines or many pages long. Although, if you’re writing a long prologue, consider making it the first chapter. The prologue is often used to set up the story, dealing with things that happened in the character’s life before the story begins. Does info dump sound familiar? Adding this information shouldn’t be done by using a prologue.

Most editors don’t want to see a prologue that is only backstory. Prologues are often ignored and are out of fashion in the editing and reading communities. Most readers want to jump into the story and won’t read the prologue.

As the author, you need to know the history of each character; the reader doesn’t. You can slip bits of backstory in when and where it is needed for clarity.

If you decide to use a prologue, keep it short and concise. Don’t ramble. If your prologue serves as an introduction, make it relevant and compelling. Prologues shouldn’t repeat the book’s blurb. Remember, prologues are often ignored and are out of fashion.

The Pros of Using a Prologue

  1. It introduces elements that are difficult to deal with without an info dump.
  2. It can reveal character motivation.
  3. It can set the tone of the story.
  4. It can set up questions in the reader’s mind.
  5. It can provide story direction or focus with a few words.

The Cons of Prologues

  1. It delays the start of the story.
  2. It brings in characters and events that might not come into the story for a long time.
  3. It can divide the reader’s focus. The reader will wait for the backlog to come into play when his attention should be on the story as it unfolds.
  4. It can show a different direction than is intended for the story.

Prologue Summary

You are the author of the story and must do whatever the story calls for. Listen to people’s advice and comments, but, at the end of the day, it’s your story. If your prologue entertains and works, keep it. If it doesn’t, toss it. 

The First Chapter

  1. The stage must be set.
  2. The protagonist must be introduced.
  3. The hook is set.
  4. Is there a theme? Introduce it.
  5. The inciting incident should happen and produce a goal with high stakes for failure.
  6. The character takes up the challenge and accepts the goal.
  7. Warning: Don’t start your story too soon.

Setting the Stage

Keep in mind that you are not James Michener, who started his books with geological and anthropological facts of how places like Hawaii, Alaska, and Texas came to be. Unless you have the time to research such detailed facts or are building an alien world, leave that type of beginning to Mitchener.

Readers want to know where and when the story takes place. They need that information to put themselves into the character’s shoes. To set them in the story, you must be as familiar with the setting as you are with your neighborhood.

“The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like the back of his hand.” Robert Louis Stevenson.

Don’t use a lot of description or a preamble. Do give specific details to make the who, what, where, and when multi-dimensional to the reader. It’s the quality, not the quantity of descriptions that matter. Don’t recite a laundry list. No one has time for that. Pick a few well-chosen details and let the rest go. Instead of describing every facet of an oak tree, mention the bark that looks like the face of an old man, or the treehouse where a child died years ago.

Don’t become so enamored with the setting that it overwhelms the story.

It’s the character’s world, and you can use the character’s voice in dialogue or internally to describe it. What does he see, hear, feel, smell?

An example would be: John shivered as he walked through a heavy fog that blurred the details of his Sierra foothills hometown. That answers who and where. You can expand on that later, and tell if it’s in the southern, central, or northern Sierras and on which side of the mountains, east or west.

When a new scene moves to another place, use transitions, and describe where the character is and how much time has passed. It will frustrate your reader if they don’t know where or when different events are taking place. Keep it linear and don’t jump around; and keep your reader in the loop.

The when of a story can be told through dialogue. An example would be: “You don’t have a cell phone? Why not?” Sarah rolled her eyes. “This is 2018. Get yourself a phone.” 

Introducing the Main Character

The main character must be introduced and needs to be doing something interesting or mysterious. Give the readers a reason to care about the character. Keep the number of characters introduced by name to a minimum in the first chapter. Three or possibly four main and secondary characters can be in chapter one if they are important to the story.

Don’t include mundane or day-to-day stuff. Nobody cares. Again, no backstory or info dumps in chapter one.

Save subplots for later. Don’t overwhelm your reader with too many characters or plot ideas to remember. Keep it simple. 

A Hook

The first chapter gives the reader his first impression of the character. The beginning of the story should include an event. It should be something that sets the plot in motion and leads the character toward the inciting incident. The event must be something that can’t be undone.

A hook is usually a big question that grabs the reader. Who did it? What’s going to happen next? Why did that happen? Who—what—why? With where—when—and how to follow as the story unfolds. The hook makes a promise of great possibilities.

In our character John’s story, it might have been a telephone call, or a note slipped under his door. Something ominous, a threat, warning, or a demand, that called him into the foggy night. It was something he must take care of. After much deliberation, he walks through the fog to a dark and empty house. What’s going to happen to John? Who is waiting for him? What are their intentions? By that point, interest in John’s dilemma should be set, and the reader is hooked. 

Is there a Theme?

Just as an essay puts forth an argument and then tries to prove it, every story has a theme. It might be subtle, and a reader will have to search for it. It can usually be boiled down into one abstract word or a short statement. Theme is what happens beneath the surface of the story. In my book William’s Quest, the theme was change.

Each story will ask a major question. How the question is answered, the argument, is often the theme. The theme in my book Hunting Justice was the difference between justice and revenge? The answer in that book? Revenge is justice served cold.

The theme should be introduced in the first chapter. If not, then certainly in the second. Books with a theme are often remembered long after reading them. Theme gives the reader something to think about. But, don’t make the theme obvious or clichéd. The theme should be true to the storyteller and will help guide you through the story as you try to stay true to it.

Even if you don’t think you have a theme, by the time you finish the first draft, you’ll see the story has one. 

The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident sets the plot firmly on its way. It supplies the goal and the reason the main character accepts the challenge. If it isn’t in the first chapter, you’ll have to make sure what comes before is exciting and interesting enough to keep the reader’s interest and that it hooks that reader into continuing to turn pages. That’s why editors and other people say to have the inciting incident in the first chapter. The story of the main character’s journey, his actions, reactions, the conflict he faces, and obstacles he overcomes won’t start until the inciting incident. 

The Goal

The goal, and reaching it, is what stories are about. Don’t make the goal too easy. If it’s easily reached, there’s no story. The smaller goals of the chapters can be more lenient, but if it’s too easy, it might not be interesting.

The goals of a story demand effort. They need to be worth fighting for and striving to reach.

Set the stakes high, think death or the destruction of something the character holds dear. High stakes and a strong antagonist will make for an exciting story. 

Accepting the challenge

The primary conflict has happened, and the main character knows what the goal is. He is aware of the stakes if he fails. Now, he must decide. Will he willingly go after the goal, or will he need a push? If he needs a push, introduce a mentor, best friend, or another incident that convinces him to take on the journey.

A character’s conflicted emotions would be a good way to introduce the hero’s character. Don’t overdo the introduction. Spread it out over the story. Just as you don’t know everything about a person when you first meet them, so the reader needs time to discover things about the character. 

Starting Your Story Too Soon

Don’t begin the story with a daily routine. Waking up, getting dressed, and starting a day is boring. I promise, the readers will shout, “Get to the point!” and will probably stop reading.

Don’t begin the story with an info dump of their lives from childhood to adulthood. At this point, no one will care.

Don’t begin with the main character talking to someone uninteresting about mundane things. Again, no one will care.

Readers don’t care about the character before the story begins. Tell enough to pique their interest and get on with telling a great story. 

Guidelines for the first chapter?

  1. Conflict is necessary.
  2. The protagonist must be proactive, someone for the reader to root for.
  3. Hold off on backstory/info dumps.
  4. At the end of the chapter, raise a question, or end with a cliffhanger. Wondering what’s going to happen next will keep them reading.
  5. Keep it tight, keep it short. No ineffective language, no bloated passages, no slack.
  6. Another important thing is don’t bait and switch. Don’t promise one type of story and then deliver something else. Start the way you’ll continue. Stay on track, or on plot.

Mistakes that will ruin your first chapter.

  1. Scenes with no conflict or inciting incident and no goal.
  2. Too much character building too soon.
  3. Too many characters to remember.
  4. Info dumps in world building.
  5. Too much general information that isn’t needed in chapter one.

The Middle

This is where the action kicks in and the story gets exciting to write. You have your plot and are building your structure. Now it’s time to fill in the blanks with all the good stuff.

There is no turning back for the character who is thrust into a new world of adventure and intrigue. The story’s goal, the high stakes for failure, and the possible obstacles have been defined, and whether the antagonist is hinted at or is introduced in the first chapter or not, it’s time for the real work to begin.

The protagonist has made his decision, and his world will never be the same. His false beliefs will play a part in the choices he makes, and he’ll resist the changes that are necessary. The false belief must be overcome, and he must accept the truth to gain his goal.

(This excerpt from character arcs in class 2 explains false beliefs: The Lie is a firmly held misconception about themselves and the world around them that keeps the character from reaching his full potential. This can be religious, cultural, traumatic happenings while young, or any number of things that have influenced the main character’s life and created the unintentional lie.)

The scenes in the middle have mini-plots and mini-goals as building blocks. There will be wins and losses in the main character’s journey through the chapters. Mini means just that. Small steps in the right (or wrong) direction, finding a clue, getting information—all the small stuff that needs doing.

Throughout the book, the antagonist will throw obstacles at your hero to keep him from reaching the goal. The antagonist’s or other powers within the story will create low points for the protagonist to fight against. Those low points will force him to come up with better ideas and to fight his way forward. By escalating the effects of these low points, the antagonist will think he is winning.

The absolute midpoint of the book has two sides, the external event and the character’s internal response to that event. It’s the hero’s response that colors his decisions throughout the rest of the story. The main character turns from being reactive and becomes proactive. The truth is firmly embedded, and he takes the first steps in a different direction. He feels empowered while the antagonist struggles to stop him.

A final setback comes. In author lingo, it’s called “the dark night of the soul”. It’s another major plot point. It can be caused by an event against the protagonist, new and unwanted information discovered, or something that causes him to despair of reaching the goal. Another decision must be made, and the hero makes the right one.

The protagonist prepares for the final showdown with the antagonist. And the climax nears. End of chapter, end of Act 2.

The middle is where a subplot can develop. Subplots are minor stories layered under the main narrative. It allows the characters to engage in behavior that is not main plot oriented. This is where your secondary characters come into play. They are the supporting cast and you’ll flesh them out as they help or hinder the protagonist on his journey.

Use the rule of three to move your story forward. Three sets up a pattern, but it allows room for a twist. The protagonist can meet with three minor characters or face three challenges, or three lovers. He may fail two challenges, but win the third and learn a valuable lesson along the way.

9 Tips to keep the middle moving

  1. Change settings and times for new developments and challenges.
  2. Use the middle to raise uncertainty about the main and secondary character’s goals. Pull them apart and bring them back together.
  3. Increase plot complications and obstacles. Misunderstandings, physical obstacles, or changes in hero’s understanding of the goal will do that.
  4. Create subplots to add interest to the main story arc. Ask yourself how it moves the story along. If it doesn’t, don’t add it.
  5. Introduce interesting minor characters to create suspense, comedy, tension, or drama.
  6. Stay focused on the end-goals of the main character and the antagonist. Don’t go on a tangent by adding anything that isn’t relevant to reaching the goal.
  7. Build smaller peaks. Have more mini plots and goals. You might have a climax between antagonist’s minions and hero’s secondary characters.
  8. Shorten the middle and move on sooner. If you feel the middle drags, don’t be afraid to shorten it so the story flows better toward the conclusion.
  9. Read the middle of other books and note the elements of plot development and setting.

Climax and Resolution

This is usually the shortest scene and comes right after the final turning point at the end of Act 2.

The final confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist might be a fight scene or an aggressive clash of good against evil. It can be anything that’s needed to fulfill the plot in a tension-packed and satisfactory manner. Whatever it is, the protagonist defeats the antagonist, and the goal is reached.

The big question asked in the first chapter is answered.

This is where you forget the reader and make sure the ending’s tone is consistent with the rest of the book. Don’t write an ending because the readers would like it, write one that suits the plot.

The ending can be open or closed. For example, in a mystery, the good guy kills the bad guy. The closed ending of that event would be that the good guy has all the evidence showing the shooting was justifiable. The open ending would be the good guy has no evidence that the bad guy was even a bad guy. The open ending asks questions that aren’t answered. Who’s the bad guy? How will the good guy get out of trouble? What happens next? Open endings are great for sequels.

Next comes a cooling-off scene where the protagonist comes to terms with winning his battle, with what he’s learned since his journey began, and what comes next. This is where you can show his character arc and how the character has changed since the story’s beginning.

Resolution is where any loose threads are neatly tied in a bow and the story ends. Loose threads are places, characters, or things where a reader would ask, “But what about what’s his face, what happened to him?” Tying up loose ends might mean resolving subplots. The bow ties can be created in dialogue between characters with a question-and-answer format. It can be done in any number of ways: dialogue, description, using a different scene, or whatever suits the story. 


Does your story need one?

Epilogues are rare in novels from a traditional publishing company. You’ll find them in self-published books, and they usually tell what happens to the main characters after the story ends in 5, 10, or 15 years down the line.

Ask yourself, why is this information important? Is it the beginning of a sequel or because you don’t want to let the characters go? If you believe an epilogue brings something to the novel that can’t be included in the story, then write one.

Be positive that the epilogue is necessary. If you’re not positively certain about it, leave it off. The reader won’t miss what’s not there.

Remember, if your reader has made it to the end of the story, they should be satisfied, and an epilogue won’t add to their satisfaction or be necessary. 


Anton Chekhov said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” That is foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is planting clues that hint at what’s to come. The coming event hinted at can happen sooner or later. You can use it in dialogue or as narrative to set the scene. It can be direct foreshadowing or indirect, and it can be true or false.

It can add tension to a scene. Alfred Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho was foreshadowed by the female character driving up to the motel in the rain with the windshield wipers slashing across her vision. The scene was repeated in the thrusting of the knife in the shower scene.

Careful use of foreshadowing will create suspense and certain expectations about what might happen. It can be used to mislead the reader, too. Make them think X is coming and then have Y happen instead. Be sure if you make a promise with foreshadowing that you keep that promise.

There is a device in storytelling called the two-shoe contract. If a shoe hits the floor upstairs, the implication is that a second shoe will drop soon. The first shoe is foreshadowing, the second shoe is the event. 

When to use Foreshadowing

When you want to build tension or suspense, foreshadowing is effective at giving small hints about what to expect. Then when the scene appears, the reader has an ah-hah moment. Foreshadowing can be obvious or more hidden, depending on what the story needs.

The key is a little bit goes a long way, so be selective on when you use it. Foreshadowing can set up a twist in the plot. When the twist is revealed it’s a moment of satisfaction to the reader, an “I knew that would happen,” moment.

Most foreshadowing is added to the story in the revision/editing phase. You can see a need then and can write it in where it will be most effective. The earlier you can slip it in, the more impact and cohesiveness it will have.

Foreshadowing should not be so broad that the reader knows what is coming, or that something is coming for the character. The phrase, “Little did she know what was to come” or “Tomorrow would prove her wrong” or variations on those words are not foreshadowing. They’re telegraphing what’s coming to the reader. Don’t do that.

Watch movies and see if you can recognize foreshadowing either before or after it happens. Note when it happens in what you read. Take note of how it’s done, how the mood is set, and how the payoff is written.

Using foreshadowing can strengthen your story and give a bit more pleasure to your reader. It’s wonderful to get a review that says, “I didn’t see that twist coming.” Then you know you did it right. 


Flashbacks freeze time, and should be used in tiny pieces; a few lines of dialogue or a short paragraph work. Any more than that and the story will come to a complete halt.

Flashbacks should be dramatic occurrences from the past that have an influence on the plot. They can be useful to a story, but they must do certain things.

  1. Be interesting or dramatic.
  2. Move the plot. An act of remembering must move the plot forward or be because of something in the plot.
  3. Can’t stop the story unless it is something BIG.
  4. Should offer new information that is important to the plot.
  5. Shouldn’t destroy subtext, introduce an unknown quantity, or add a mystery to the plot.

Agents, publishers, and even readers look at a book and ask:

  1. What’s the story about? Is the plot interesting and unique?
  2. Is anything happening? Does it need activity and conflict?
  3. Should I keep reading? A well-rounded character will create empathy with the reader, and activity will pique interest.
  4. Why should I care? Character, empathy, a compelling hook, and sticking to a familiar structure will give reasons to care.

We covered a few things not listed in the class plan, but I thought they were necessary. The November class will be on dialogue.

Dialogue is like sugar to a sweet tooth if done well. Join us.

If you have questions concerning writing, email me at [email protected]

If I don’t know the answer, I’ll look it up for you and me.