You might think without compelling characters, you have no story. But the same holds true for a riveting plot. Without one, your characters will have nothing to do but sit around and twiddle their thumbs.
Does your family like the broth in soup? You know, the watery stuff that drips off the spoon and ruins your tie or your best silk blouse.
The same can be true when writing your novel. You start with big pieces of meat (great characters) and fresh garden vegetables (a unique setting and era), but unless you have a great plot, your readers will throw your watery story down the garbage disposal.
Don’t let that happen. Grab your writing pot, a big wooden spoon, and prepare to thicken your plot!
A plot is a plan or outline of your novel, which consists of scenes. It involves your characters, their actions and reactions, the setting they are in, and the process of time.
The following six things will help thicken your plot:
The Who — Without memorable characters, your plot will fall. Your characters must intrigue your reader, or she won’t be inclined to spend any more time with them. These include your protagonist (the good “guy”) and the antagonist (the bad “guy”), as well as your minor characters, of whom you should be careful not to let upstage either of the other two.
The What — You must pull your reader into the story by setting up a conflict, which arises from the characters you have created. What do they want and what stands in the way of their getting it?
Opinions vary on when the conflict in your story should start. Some say in the first sentence. Others insist in the first paragraph, and others argue it should begin on the first page. But the adage “The sooner, the better” says it best. Don’t take a chance of giving your audience a reason to stop reading.
The Why — Why is there a conflict? Is it a personal one between your protagonist and himself, a conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist, one between the protagonist and nature (Something outside of his control), or is it any combination of the three? This conflict will carry your story in an arc as it continues to build and then wanes to its conclusion.
The Where — How does your setting or settings play into your plot? Unique settings interest readers, but you can also add an unusual twist to a dull one. If your setting is uncommon, such as an other-world setting, it will take more effort to help your reader immerse herself within in it. Be careful your explanations and descriptions show and not tell. No one likes a grocery list outside of a grocery store.
If your story is historical, check your facts. There will be someone out there who will catch inaccuracies.
The When — A dynamite story starts with a scene that immediately sets the stage for the rest of the story (most editors are not fans of prologues). Pick your subsequent scenes carefully, determining the importance of when they take place. Carefully use narrative to explain what has happened in the interim if an event is necessary for the plot, but not substantial enough for an entire scene.
The How — Your novel can begin like gang-busters and keep your reader on the edge of her seat throughout, but if you fail to resolve it satisfactorily, don’t count on being published. Your novel doesn’t have to have a happy ending, but its ending must leave the reader satisfied.
A plot helps guide your writing along the way, but it is not immutable. You may find your character(s) taking unexpected trips down different paths, thus changing a scene or even the entire direction of your novel. It’s wise to prepare to be flexible, but above all, don’t forget to plot!