How to Get the Most from Your Plot – Part 2
Part 1 looked at the premise of the plot, the timelines and the characters that make up the story, so here we’ll look at a few other important aspects to help you get the most from your plot.
The main plot is the crux of the story, but every novel needs additional layers of complexity to vary the story threads. Subplots are perfect for this. They are related story threads that are woven into the main plot and involve other characters. A couple of strong subplots will enhance a novel.
Subplots can provide depth of character, impart necessary information and they create extra drama, conflict or suspense by focusing on secondary characters or the protagonist and a secondary character.
For instance, let’s say the protagonist, who is working for the police, needs to find the whereabouts of a member of a drugs gang, and so he strikes up a relationship with one of them to glean information, but it blossoms into love. The subplot could be that the love interest isn’t really in love with him and instead is she is secretly telling the antagonist everything. This will up the stakes and make it difficult to know who to trust, which in turn will create extra dilemmas for the protagonist and will also create much needed conflict.
Whatever happens in your story, the subplot must always relate to the main plot, otherwise there is no point of the subplot. Writing is all about creating balance, so don’t overburden the story with too many subplots. A well written novel needs only one or two to add the right amount of depth and complexity.
Every plot needs a hook because it forms the opening to the story. It’s the one thing that pulls the reader into the story. That opening line or paragraph needs to grab them and not let go, but you don’t have to open the story with a car chase or blow up a building to do that.
The story needs to start not at the beginning, but at a crucial moment in your protagonist’s life, something that will change them. It has to be something that makes the reader pay attention, because of that circumstance. It’s a life-changing moment. It could be anything – as long as it is interesting, appealing, shocking, emotional, engaging...anything but boring.
Some writers use one liners, others use gritty dialogue, while others open with a brief visceral description that plunges the reader right into the thick of the story.
Use your story opening to lure the reader. But get it right – you only have one shot.
To get the most from your plot, you absolutely need to ensure there is plenty of conflict. Without conflict, there wouldn’t be much of a story or a sustainable plot. Nor would there be much emotion.
It’s important at the chapter outline part of planning a novel to create the highs and lows your main character will face. Every story will have a protagonist and antagonist. The good guy and the bad guy. The good guy needs something, but the bad guy keeps getting in the way to prevent that. It creates the problems and obstacles your main character has to face and overcome, and each time things escalate and get seemingly worse. This is drama, tension and conflict all rolled into one. This will also give you lots of emotion.
Make sure your protagonist knows what’s at stake. In other words, what would happen if the protagonist didn’t reach his/her goal? What are the consequences?
Which characters will get in the protagonist’s way? What emotional highs and lows will he or she face in each chapter?
Escalation is one of the best tools in a writer’s arsenal. Don’t let the reader or the protagonist get too comfortable. Escalate things, rip the carpet from under them or give them a gut punch. Create the conflict. Create the emotion. Create the drama.
Remember that conflict can be external or internal. Not only can the main character have conflict with other characters, but he or she can suffer internal conflict, too, which adds depth to the character.
Any plot will be better for it.
The ending of a story is just as important as the beginning, and it’s essential to any plot. This might seem dramatic, but your entire story will lead to one crucial moment at the end and if you get that wrong, the whole story will fail.
Think of all the movies that seemed great up until the ending. Very often endings let down the entire plot. That’s because the writer hasn’t put much thought into it. They don’t work for several reasons:
- The writer relies on deus ex machina.
- The ending has no relation to the main plot.
- The protagonist finds super human, unknown skills from nowhere to defeat the bad guys (despite not showing this same ability in the last 30 chapters of the entire story).
- The ending is too saccharine, happy ever after and unrealistic.
- It’s not satisfactory.
- It makes no sense and leaves questions unanswered.
If you want the plot to work, the ending must relate to the plot because all the preceding chapters have slowly built towards that moment. It must also be realistic. It’s not the movies where the hero defeats forty bad guys with nothing but his specialist fighting skills, and doesn’t even get a scratch. The reality is that your protagonist, however skilled he might be, will get his backside kicked into the next universe by any large group of assailants. That’s why it’s important to ensure the dénouement doesn’t descend into movie-style silliness.
It must make sense. This is why a chapter outline is essential so that all the plot threads come together and all those loose ends are taken care of.
Make the ending satisfactory. In other words, it has to feel right. The reader will know it’s the right ending for the story and they won’t feel short changed.
To get the most from your plot, spend time developing it, but most of all, ensure you have the fundamental elements that will help make it work.