Made in America

Show Don’t Tell: Plot Points

A plot point involves an event that directly impacts what happens next in your story. It’s a common mistake for writers to misunderstand both what a plot point involves and how to communicate it to their readers. Rather than try to tell your readers about a plot point, you should instead show what’s occurring by including all of the major story elements that indicate a plot point to your readers.

Dorrance Show Don't Tell Plot Points 1

What was your character like before this event?

In order to properly execute your plot points by showing rather than telling, you need to start by examining how the event will change your character. It could be as simple as changing their mind, perhaps they had a certain plan set in their mind but this event shows them that it’s a bad idea. It could be something big that changes their perception of the world, perhaps a loved one betrays them or they find out a dark secret. Or maybe it changes their perception of themselves, maybe the event shows them that they’re braver or more capable than they previously thought. Either way, a plot point should visibly affect your protagonist in a major way.

How did this event change your character or their trajectory in the story?

There are two ways a plot point can change the trajectory of a story. The first is by fundamentally changing the protagonist themselves, thereby changing any decisions they will make after this point in the story. It could also simply change the trajectory by giving them new information or direction that affects what happens next and the decisions being made.

A plot point doesn’t involve every conversation and scene throughout your book, but rather purely those that lead the protagonist where they need to go to get to your novel’s climax. When you’re writing a scene that can be considered a plot point, make it more obvious to the reader by clearly telegraphing the drama involved. Write in-scene with short and quick sentences so the pacing feels faster. Have your protagonist react to the information or events of the scene through action, mannerisms, changes in dialogue, etc.

Dorrance Show Don't Tell Plot Points 2

What choice did your character make?

Major plot points should always be accompanied by character choice. Don’t make your readers follow a protagonist who lets the world kind of happen to them. Instead, allow your readers to follow someone who is an active participant in the world and in their own story (AKA someone who makes choices). Character choice is, therefore, an excellent way to telegraph to your readers that a major plot point is unfolding in your novel.

When writing a character choice into your plot, make sure to examine it thoroughly. Why is the protagonist making this choice? Does it make sense for them to make this choice? Just because you need your plot to lead a certain direction, doesn’t mean your characters can make choices they wouldn’t make.

Dorrance Show Don't Tell Plot Points 3

How is your character or the events of the story different afterward?

What has changed based on this plot point? From your perspective, likely very little has changed, but you need to put yourself into the minds of your readers. Has their perception of the world you’ve created changed based on the information they’ve learned in this scene? Or was the protagonist about to head somewhere very dangerous when they learned of a different way to accomplish their goal, therefore totally changing the protagonist’s physical trajectory in the plot? Or perhaps a major life event occurs from which the protagonist will spend a significant amount of the book recovering? Think about what has changed for the protagonist based on the scene you’ve created and make sure those changes are telegraphed in the text. Showing, rather than telling, how the story or protagonist has changed will allow readers to see that a major plot point has occurred.

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