There are many ways to look at story structure. Some of the more popular tools include the three-act structure and the monomyth. Often times the elements of each plotting mechanism overlap with one another. For example, in the monomyth, when the protagonist receives the call to action, that usually correlates with the inciting incident in the three-act format. It’s said that there are only a certain number of plots. While that is true, it should really be plot archetypes. As character can also drive plot and often does.
Electromagnetic plotting is sometimes called thriller plotting, but it’s more than just plots seen in thrillers. Thriller plotting, when done poorly, takes the form of ending every chapter with a cliffhanger. The subsequent chapter reveals that the reason for getting the reader to turn the page was nothing more than a friendly neighbor delivering cookies. A crude example, but it gets the point across. True, thrillers use this technique the most, but this form of plotting isn’t unique to just one genre. Most authors will agree that you [the author] want to keep the reader to keep turning pages. Some would even say by any means necessary.
So what is the electromagnetic plotting? Simply put, it uses the electromagnetic spectrum as a guideline for plot, specifically pacing. For those who aren’t aware, the electromagnetic spectrum is a range of different types of waves—infrared, gamma, and ultraviolet to name a few. You can find more information about the science aspect of the spectrum by reading this wikipedia entry What’s important to know is that the farther right you go on the spectrum, the shorter the wavelengths.
At it’s core electromagnetic plotting is another way to look at Freytag’s theory of dramatic structure.. If you are unfamiliar with his theory, perhaps his terminology will ring a bell: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. Teachers, including Aristotle, have used this model for ages—but a good story these days has multiple of these dips and troughs. Even the most fast-paced thrillers have moments of rest, even it’s only for half a scene.
The problem with this method is the potential to “ruin” the ending increases. The reason is because if everything leading up to the climax and denouement happens one after another like an avalanche. After the climax, there’s something missing. Stories need to resolve things. Whether that’s in a positive or negative way is entirely up the author. For myself, I tend to go with happier endings with a dark twist.
The first thing I look for are the loose threads that I’ve left for whatever reason. After that I decide which one to wrap up in the denouement. For my first book, that meant having a funeral for the mother at the end, even though she died before the book even began. Essentially I’m picking a subplot to wrap up that ties directly to the one of the stories’ themes. In the case above, forgiveness and moving on after a tragedy.
Doing that gives the story a sense of completeness. That being said, if you have trouble with denouements like me, then thinking about them in turns of wrapping up subplots may help you in finishing your stories.