W form of plotting
By Patricia Sargeant-Matthews
This article first appeared in the April 2001 issue
of Write from the Heart, the newsletter of
the Romance Writers of America Inc.®'s Central Ohio
Fiction Writers chapter.
As Central Ohio Fiction Writers member Donna MacMeans
explained during the March 2001 meeting, the W form
of plotting your novel is an exercise to help determine
your novel's turning points. You can then use those
points to graph your books.
She first learned of the W method of plotting from
a Romance Writers of America tape titled "You take
the high road, and I'll take the low road."
"Once you understand the W plot, you can see it in
virtually every movie and book," Donna noted. "It
is just a way to visualize necessary turning points
and how they affect the action. If you can visualize
how the plot will turn at key elements of the book,
it makes writing toward the turn much easier."
In addition to using the W plot, Donna incorporated
the 12 stages from The Writer's
Journey by Christopher Vogler to illustrate plotting
turns. As described in The Writer's
Journey, the 12 stages are:
1. Ordinary world
2. Call to adventure
3. Refusal of the call
4. Meeting with the mentor
5. Crossing the first threshold
6. Test, allies, enemies
7. Approach to the inmost cave
10. The road back
12. Return with the elixir
Donna used the movie "The Wizard of Oz" to illustrate
how the 12 stages interact with the W plot. "The Wizard
of Oz," which Vogler also uses to illustrate his 12
stages, begins in the ordinary world of Dorothy, Aunty
Em and Toto. The second stage, or call to adventure,
occurs when Toto bites the neighbor/witch.
The 12 stages of the journey and the descent of the
W continue as Dorothy at first refuses the call to
adventure. Her mind is changed for her later, though,
and she runs off with Toto - only to get caught in
"Once you accept the call to adventure, everything
goes wrong," Donna explained. "That's because trouble
is far more interesting than when everything goes
The first turning point in the W is the change of
plan. This coincides with the fifth stage, crossing
the first threshold. In novels, this point or stage
usually hits around chapter three. In "The Wizard
of Oz," this is the scene in which Dorothy finds
the Yellow Brick Road.
The Yellow Brick Road was supposed to be easy street.
However, to sustain your readers' interest, you cannot
make your character's journey easy. Show your character
trying to overcome tests and hurdles during the journey.
This advances us to stage six, tests/allies/enemies.
"You need to keep throwing obstacles in their path,"
Donna said. "For every two steps forward, the character
takes one step back."
Using "The Wizard of Oz" to illustrate this point:
finds an ally in the Scarecrow. They're pelted by
and the Scarecrow find an ally in the Tin Man. The
group is then attacked by fireballs.
the Scarecrow and the Tin Man find an ally in the
Lion. They experience a setback when they fall asleep
in the poppy field.
obstacles increase in intensity until the story reaches
the second turning point in the W, also called the
point of no return.
"The plot dramatically takes a turn in another direction.
Where love flourished, now a huge obstacle challenges
its existence. If the heroine was safe before, now
she is in deep danger," Donna explained.
In "The Wizard of Oz," the point of no return occurs
when flying monkeys carry off Dorothy. Prior this
point, friends have surrounded her on her mission;
now she must continue alone.
"Before, she could always decide to forgo capturing
the witch's broom and instead live with the munchkins,"
Donna elaborated. "Due to her capture, this is no
longer an option."
The story races forward to the third turning point
in the W - the climax or "black moment." In the black
moment, Dorothy thinks she has escaped the witch's
castle, only to be cornered on a high precipice. In
a romance, it is important the heroine take the action
to save herself from the black moment. Indeed, that
is the whole point of the book. The heroine must stand
up to her worst fears and conquer them, just as Dorothy
did by throwing a bucket of water on the witch.
The distance between the second turning point (the
change of plan) and the third turning point (the point
of no return) is disproportionate to the distance
from the point of no return to the black moment, creating
a skewed W.
After the black moment, the action turns again to
build to the final resolution when all loose ends
are tied up. In The Writer's Journey, this
is the equivalent of returning with the magic elixir.
In a romance, this is also the acknowledgment of true
love between the hero and heroine. Both know that
their love is strong enough to stave off life's obstacles.
Donna challenged the group to find the W in their
own works and see that adequate pitfalls and obstacles
exist to keep the book exciting.
"I've described the W plot in many, many critique
letters to beginning writers trying to help them add
structure to their story plots. The feedback has been
the equivalent of a light bulb suddenly switched on,"
Donna said. "(Plotting on the W) is a way to visualize
those elements we all knew had to be included in our
book somewhere; we just weren't sure where."