When he wasn’t lecturing on philosophy, nature, politics, metaphysics and ethics, Aristotle was caught up in logic. He even applied logic to writing and expounded a strategy for developing a good plot.
Aristotle modeled his strategy after the classic Greek tragedies which had a beginning, middle and ending. Every writer who’s ever attended a workshop has been told the importance of this format.
Aristotle, however, was the one who said all events involving action, time and place must travel toward a single, inevitable logical outcome. In other words: The End.
To organize a story along what has been called the Aristotle Incline, a writer must develop six pivotal points: Act One, the opening scene with plot point one; Act Two, the midpoint or reversal scene with plot point two; Act Three, the climax and ending.
Act One: opening scene
The opening scene introduces characters and their conflicts and sets the tone and mood of the short story or novel. As the opening scene closes, plot point one sets up the conflict between characters and notifies the reader that change is coming. It could be a change in tone, time, pace or all three.
Act Two: midpoint/the reversal
Big changes are in store for characters at the story’s midpoint. Something important happens to them, their situations or both. There is a reversal of either the situation or personal relationships.
The midpoint anchors the story. If the author has written well, all events leading up to the midpoint and all events leading away from the midpoint follow in logical fashion. All events will have a logical cause-and-effect relationship and lead to a satisfying ending.
Plot point two is the high point and turning point of Act Two. The action ramps up and the plot makes twisty turns that will be resolved in Act Three.
Act Three: climax
Emotions are intense at the climax because the situation must be resolved. It is the story’s high point, right before the ending.
If everything comes to a logical resolution at the ending scene—and for Aristotle to be happy, everything must—the reader will be left with a final image that remains past closing the book. One of the most rewarding comments a reader offered me was that she found herself thinking about my characters when she wasn’t reading my book.
To determine if events leading up to key scenes are logical and if the characters’ motivations are clear, complete this simple outline:
2. Plot point one
4. Plot point two
For further explanation on developing plot, read Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist.