Creating Believable Plots

It’s at the forefront of every writer’s mind to create a story that is believable or realistic, to ensure the story doesn’t lose its credibility by the end of the story. The plot is a fundamental necessity.
So what exactly is a plot?
A plot is the sequence of events within the story that are all related in some way – The bare bones of the story which will follow a main character who has a specific goal, but he or she is unable to reach it and has to do what is necessary to achieve that goal.
The plot is the framework for which all events are built around.
For instance, a simple plot would be that a boy really likes a girl, but she’s going out with the handsome kid who is good at everything, and because of that he’s arrogant, cocky and not a nice person. Our hero is a quiet underachiever, who thinks he won’t amount to much, but a series of events helps him to get closer to the girl and eventually she sees beyond his nerdy persona to the real person within and eventually she falls in love with him…
The plot is simple, but the events that happen must be believable and plausible for the reader to fully accept the story.
Problems with Plots
Quite a few writers still make the mistake of letting the characters and the action take over the plot (you only have to see Hollywood films to see how this happens). The plot – the guts of any story – becomes lost. The reader won’t get what the story is truly about.
Also, if you have really ridiculous things happen in the story – beyond the realms of realism – the reader will spot it.
For example, halfway through the novel your protagonist has to do something that his or her character wouldn’t actually be able to do in real life, such as build a make-shift bomb or tap into an encrypted computer to retrieve important files…unless of course that character is a bomb expert to begin with or he or she is an IT expert with computers, and you have made these facts known from the very beginning.
In the realistic sense, these just wouldn’t be possible otherwise; therefore they render the plot unbelievable.
Not only that, but the reader won’t believe in the characters as a result. You will lose any credibility.
Waving a magic wand over your character so he suddenly knows how to fly a plane out of danger or work a complex piece of machinery he’s never seen before is known as deus ex machina. Avoid it.
That said, if your character possesses a certain skill, make it known early in the story, otherwise if they do something really out of the ordinary, the reader will think “What? No way, that’s ridiculous!”
Coincidences, like hot-wiring a car or knowing how to pick a lock are one thing, but there are only so many coincidences the reader will put up with. A plot should be probable and possible and should stick to the realms of average realism.
Readers Need to Relate to the Plot
It’s quite self-explanatory. With a sense of realism and the ordinary, readers can relate to the situations you create for the characters.
Would you be able to construct a weapon from a few bits of metal pipe and a spring? Would you be able to bypass a secure computer network and get your hands on sensitive information? Would you know what to do with a raging fire all around you? Would you be able to escape a secure prison cell?
In reality, not many of us could answer those questions affirmatively. Because in reality, we wouldn’t know what to do, we wouldn’t have the means.
The reality is very different from the imagination. As writers we have to bring that sense of reality into focus.
So perhaps we can show a character, through flashback or early narrative, that he or she has seen something on the internet or TV, or has had some training in a certain skill, or has friends who are experts from their field, or they have read something in an instructional manual.
By showing the reader how your characters can do things and why, the reader can then relate to it. We can relate to training or experience, we can relate to using initiative and enlisting help, we can all relate to seeing lots of stuff on TV and internet and books; information that might come in handy one day. We all relate to that.
The events you create must therefore become relatable and plausible. Situations have to be believable, not contrived.
The way to create a believable plot is to create a story and its events that are not over the top, but are plausible and within reason, and the key is to let the reader know early on in the story the kind of person the main character is and what they can do. So if they have a special skill, make it known. If they have experience of something, make it known.
Not only that, but the character has to be believable. Your main character is not James Bond or Superman. They are ordinary people like you and me, with ordinary skills and ordinary flaws.
Want your plot to be believable? Then be reasonable with the events and the characters, don’t go over the top and make sure you let the reader know early on what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Make your plot:

  • Plausible and probable
  • Realistic
  • Acceptable
  • Relatable
  • Credible
  • Sensible
Next week: Symbolism


  1. "Your main character is not James Bond or Superman. They are ordinary people like you and me, with ordinary skills and ordinary flaws."

    I cough and clear my throat, "except if they actually do have special skills, abilities, or powers...So, Realistic, Credible, Plausible, and probable within reason." One must make it known whether its a vampire, a seer, a clairvoyant, a witch, etc...or when they do suddenly become such a thing or the likes. And what they can do because of being such.

    1. "That said, if your character possesses a certain skill, make it known early in the story..."

      I think this is pretty easy to follow in terms of the premise of creating believable plots and characters. If you write sci-fi, then characters will reflect the genre. If you write horror or fantasy etc, again the characters will reflect this.

      That said, I don't think there are any vampires, clairvoyants or witches that can match Superman for powers, otherwise he wouldn't exist in the first place...

      It would make an interesting story though.


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