How to Get the Most from Your Plot – Part 1
The plot is the premise of your entire story; the idea of what is it that makes it into a story. It’s the very first thing all writers need before they begin to write, because without a plot, the story will fail.
A plot can be a simple or as complicated as the writer wants. That’s because every writer approaches their writing differently. But a clear cohesive plot before you begin your novel will prove beneficial – it will help you get the most from your plot. Plotting consists of the following main elements, which we’ll look at individually in this first part and in part 2:
Every plot begins with an idea for the story. Let’s say a character’s husband – John – vanishes one day and the wife – Laura – must prove she had nothing to do with it.
This is the basic idea that will form the entire story. But already this idea can be expanded with sub-ideas, just to make it more interesting. The wife had nothing to do with his disappearance, but in order to prove this, she decides to investigate why he vanished, and so she begins to unravel is double life.
Already more has been added to the initial idea. This is where writers can get really creative and ask questions – the what ifs and the whys. What if the husband was having an affair? What if he had a secret other family? Why would he police think she had murdered him? What if he wasn’t dead at all, and was behind everything? What is he trying to hide?
Don’t be afraid to throw all sorts of ideas into the hat for consideration. Some might work, others might not. But that’s how plots work – you build ideas around it to develop the story.
If you get the plot right at the start of the writing process, then there’s a chance you won’t encounter plot holes and flaws that will force you to go back and rewrite or scrap entire chapters.
Writing a novel isn’t a race, so rush things at your own peril. Take your time to develop the idea into a story worth telling, one that knows where it is set, where it wants to go and knows how to get there.
Great characters make a story. So the next part of getting the most from your plot is to know who the story is about and why. Your protagonist and antagonist will oppose each other somehow, which generates the much needed element of conflict.
Let’s take our plot characters of John and Laura. With John vanished, it would be Laura’s story to tell, so she is the protagonist. The antagonist is actually John, because he’s caused all the drama and has something to hide. Already we’ve created motivations and goals for each character. Laura’s motivation is the truth and her goal is to prove her innocence. John’s motivation is the fear he’ll get caught out for being a cheat, stealing funds from work to pay for his secret other family and his goal is to evade the truth.
Now you can see how things evolve and develop. Character goals and motivations create more frictions and conflicts because the protagonist will want to succeed in her quest, while the antagonist will do everything in his power to thwart her. This is the engine that will push the story forward.
With main characters established, the creation of secondary characters helps the writer to tell more of the story and compliments the main characters. Writers can then start fleshing out their backgrounds with lots more detail to help build their characters.
Novels need a timeline. This is the when part of the plot process. When does the story open? When is the first key event? When will the second, the third or the fourth key event happen and when is the tipping point for the main character? (There can be as many events as you want in order to tell the story).
The best way to create a timeline is to do a simple chapter outline or summary – a brief note for what happens in each chapter, with major events, high points and low points, revelations and so on. That way, you’ll always know what should happen in the story and when.
Create the premise, create the characters and create the timeline. In part 2, we’ll look at Subplot, Conflict/emotion, Opening/Hook and Ending.