Having a strong plot can not only keep readers entertained, but also make it easier to write the story in the first place. John Dufresne on Writer’s Digest writes in “How to Let Plot Guide Your Short Story” that “The basic plot of every story—regardless of length or complexity—is: A central character wants something intensely, goes after it despite opposition and, as a result of a struggle, comes to either win or lose.” The plot is the narrative, and when writing, it should lead you to characters, theme, tone, point of view, setting, and all the other aspects of writing you should take into consideration.
One thing to keep in mind is that plot and story are not necessarily the same thing, according to Belinda Williams. All your characters have started their story before the beginning of your story. Now, some of their backstory may be important for the current story, but starting the story from the beginning of a character’s backstory may drag things out too much. You don’t want to bore your readers.
For a fun infographic that outlines plots, check out A Ghost Writers Blog’s “How to write the plot of a story,” which covers things such as the noble quest, insurmountable hurtles, and extreme self-sacrifice.
Side note: Plotting can also refer to whether you outline your book ahead of time, or you pants it (write by the seat of your pants.) Plotters tend to be more left-brained, and pantsers tend to be more right-brained. See the infographic at Author Zoo.
Conflict and Tension
All good stories need conflict and tension. According to Live Write Thrive, “Conflict is good for us.” Otherwise, what will push our characters to grow? Live Write Thrive also talks about inner conflict and outer conflict, which are both critical.
Helping Writers Become Authors explains conflict as “Goal + Obstacle = Conflict.” According to their article, in order to double your conflict, all you need to do is add some complications to the equation. Basically, make it as hard as possible for your character to accomplish his or her goal.
The pace of a story is also important, in terms of keeping your readers’ attention. Live Write Thrive has an article called “4 Key Ways to Ramp Up Tension and Pacing in Your Fiction” that emphasizes having engaging characters, writing scenes with a purpose, and interweaving moments of self-reflection with action.
For fun, Ellis Shuman Writes gives a list of the 13-step formula on what it takes to write a Dan Brown thriller novel, based on non-stop reading sessions. The list includes cliffhanger chapters, ruthless villains, and conspiracies or threats.
How do you approach your stories? Please share in the comments!
This post was originally published on February 4, 2016.