Plot is a story’s sequence of main events that create a continuous flow of cause and effect. As one scene or chapter ends, another begins. The plot of a story is a series of A —-> B —–> C —–> D.
Everything written in a story must have a purpose that leads up to the climax of the story. That means in some way, either directly or indirectly, anything written has to do with the main plot.
The plot is very similar to the basic story structures. In many ways they can be considered the same thing. However, the plot must be more fleshed out in a number of ways.
Another way to view it, is story structure defines the pace, while the plot defines events and emotions.
So what is plot?
Plot is all of the main events that happen in your story.
Take your story structures from here and then think events you want to happen along the way. Make sure when creating these events, that you have the climactic ending in mind.
The main topics in this article are:
Plotter vs. Pantser
So how do you actually write your novel? That depends.
I personally feel it is easiest to go from the big picture down to small picture when outlining.
First you should decide how you want to write. Are you someone that wants to create an extensive outline detail each and every event, or do you write better when you just starting writing and see where it goes?
How do you actually write your story?
What to do?
Go from big picture down to small picture when outlining. Start with basic story structure and apply it to your story. Next start writing general synopsis of the main plot and subplots, and well as any character arcs that you plan to develop. Once you have that information, start writing scenes and divide them into chapters.
Advantages: If you are someone that can design and fill out a comprehensive outline and
Disadvantages: It can be extremely difficult to simultaneously learn how to write a story and try to plan it out. For many writers, it can be overwhelming to try and add in every detail to an outline.
Also, by creating an outline, you are deciding what happens before you start writing. This can lead to a plot that feel inorganic to where the story should be going. For example if you plan a great action scene in a volcano, but when you are writing you
Advantages: Natural progression of the story as it goes. You aren’t considering what you need to include in the 16th chapter when your’e writing the 5th chapter. This allows you to focus on writing based only on what has happened in the story so far.
Disadvantages: While you are focusing on what is happening as you write your story, you can fall into a trap of writing a story without structure.
Which is better?
Whichever one makes writing easier for you. You will have to edit again and again so take comfort in knowing neither one will be perfect the first time around.
If you are writing a ten book series, outlining would be a much better way to stay organized.
Not all plotting is as intensive as creating a comprehensive outline. Some plotting can be as basic the infographic above.
Just remember to use whatever works for you. Using plotting techniques is a great way to stay on track, but if it doesn’t work for you don’t use it.
Every good story has a theme in it.
Theme: Universal truths and concepts about life.
In stories, themes are lessons where the audience is expected to extract meaning for themself in an organic way.
This means you cant have some wise character telling your readers to accept the theme “Because I told you so.”
We all find it more rewarding to learn something for ourselves. By teaching through theme, we give only “What Happens” and allow readers to create them own beliefs form the information.
Too many bland stories feel the need to lecture on subjective principals. Telling your audience to feel a certain way makes them more resistant. If they learn it on their own, they will be more sympathetic.
Common themes might as simple as Good vs. Evil, Guilty until proven innocent, and there are two sides to every story.
Complex themes can be more powerful at times because they aren’t as cliche. there is nothing wrong with using Good vs. Evil, but it is used a lot.
How does this sound? All violent people should be publicly murdered in front of their families (I know, intense example, but it caught your attention right?)
Tying theme into your story will help to create characters that feel real, make the story more interesting, and hopefully leave readers feeling like they gained something by reading you novel.
Emotional Ups and Downs
If you are to take anything away from this blog about writing fiction, it is this:
THE PURPOSE OF A STORY IS TO ELICIT EMOTIONS IN YOUR READERS AND TEACH THEM LESSONS OF UNIVERSAL TRUTH AT THE SAME TIME.
Plot should always be designed to create emotions. How the events that happen and why, should make your readers feel something.
If you want an interesting and practical example of this working, here is an excellent video:
If you don’t want to watch the full video, let me summarize. Stories can increase levels of hormones and neurotransmitters which affect mood and emotion. The three ones in the video are:
Dopamine: Can be activated by building suspense, leave story on cliffhanger, and general conflict.
- Effect: By releasing this hormone into the brain, we get an increase in focus, memory, and motivation.
- CAREFUL! Too much suspense can also create hormones that have the opposite effect and make readers irritable.
Oxytocin: Can be activated creating empathy. Most powerful hormone because it
- Effect: Bonds readers to your character. Connect with the story.
Endorphin: Can be activated through humor. It feels great to laugh! Your readers think so too!
- Effect: Feeling of enjoyment
If you can consistently create a range of emotions in your readers, they will continue to read your book. Make then laugh, make them cry, and make them pay attention.
Every story has a central plot. This is the main character’s goal or objective in the story. It is introduced in the beginning and is what the climax and ending revolve around.
But if a story focuses only on one thing it can be boring. Who wants to watch Frodo walking to Mordor for 9 hours? That would be boring! We want action and romance and magic and suspense!
That is why we have subplots. These are secondary plots that are all related to the central plot in some way, but are allowed to branch off in other directions.
If you want to create an amazing story, you will have to make it interesting.
Subplots are crucial to adding that extra bit of flare to your book.
If you wont take my word for it, just think of the subplots in your favorite stories. Do they make the story more interesting?
Hint: The answer should always be yes.
Case study on subplots
My favorite aspect of storytelling is to research sub-plotting. What I found, is that great subplots create stories with the most fulfilling endings.
The stories with the most fulfilling ending are the ones that have a climax that has perfectly interwoven the subplots into the plot and the big reveal is explained when they all come together.
For my research I looked for the most successful fiction novels to try to understand what made them so successful.
I went to wikipedia and found a list of the most popular books based on best sellers and most copies sold.
Of the best books in modern times, the Harry Potter series blew away all competition. I decided I should analyze one of JK Rowlings famous novels (makes sense I guess, she is only the best selling author ever).
After looking at reviews, I found that readers gave the third book (Prisoner of Azkaban) the second highest ratings. Since it is much shorter -and luckily I already had the book- I grabbed it off my bookshelf along with a pen and paper and started looking for patterns.
What I found was this:
Main plot of book #3
The central plot of the third Harry Potter book is Harry and his Godfather Serious Black who has recently escaped from the highest security prison in England, called Azkaban. Rumors tell that before his escape, Serious Black muttered one thing in his sleep. Harry Potter. Who is Serious Black and why is he coming after Harry Potter?
Major Subplots of book #3
- Hogsmede: Harry must get a signature for permission to leave the school grounds. The only people that can grant this, are his blood relatives and his godfather. All sorts of magical goodies reside here, not to mention the shrieking shack.
- Marauders map: Fred and George give Harry a special map with locations of more than several passages in and out of the school.
- Pets: Ron’s rat and Hermione’s cat are constantly at odds.
- Dementors: Though on the lookout for the escaped criminal, they seem more interested in Harry, who must learn to defend himself against them.
- Malfoy and Snape(antagonists): Whether it is for detention or depletion of house points, these two always have it out for Harry and love giving him a hard time.
- Quidditch: THE game amongst wizards. Will this finally be the year Gryffindor win the cup?
- Divination: This jab to astrology comes full of omens and prophecies depicting Harry’s misfortune. Well, that and whats going to happen in the story.
- Professor Lupin: The new defense against the dark arts teacher sure gets sick a lot. A shroud of mystery surrounds this character including a friendship to Harry’s father – and godfather.
- Classes: Partly general part of the story, partly Hermione’s time turner plot twist.
- Hagrid: In his first year teaching at Hogwarts, his beloved hippogriff Buckbeak is sentenced to death. Will a defense appeal be enough to save our feathered friend.
What does this tell us?
You can create an amazing ending to your story if you are constantly working on subplots. They are always involved with the story and create a much more impactful ending.
Another example of using subplot
Image there are two characters, each with their own subplot. One wanted to learn the guitar because they are old and sick of being a mercenary. The other stopped their current adventure to save a trapped baby bird tangle by a snare.
Later on in the story, these characters use the knowledge they gained from their subplot experiences to help them over come a conflict. the knight who learned music used it to pacify a dragon, and the other rode the -now grown- bird to get to the treasure.
Number of Subplots and Length of your story
The more subplots there are in a story, the longer it will be. This is because each subplot should have enough time spent on it to have significance.
If you have only a couple subplots, your book will be very short.
In fact, short stories only have around one or two subplots. Novels on the other-hand, have at least a handful.
Tie Subplots to Themes
By incorporating a theme into a subplot it makes the ending more satisfying and can help your creativity.
Let me explain.
Themes can help make a subplot have a more emotional ending and give a sense of fulfillment from reader gaining the knowledge and understanding of a universal truth.
This helps with creativity because it allows you to directly apply ideas associated with your theme to your subplot.
Example 1: Have a subplot of finding out who the culprit of a murder is with the theme of doing good things will lead good thing to you.
The character happens to give money to a homeless person early in the story, then in the climax, that homeless person shares their appreciation and goes out of their way to give your character the key to solving the mystery.
Example 2: Subplot of a poker game the main character plays in order to win a car so he can leave the desert. Combine that win a theme of cheating always leads to getting caught.
The main character doesn’t win because they aren’t a cheater and wont use fake cards another man in the casino offered. Main character leaves. In the morning he learns that the man who cheated, also cheated against another person who slit his throat while asleep. Main character finds an envelop with keys and a note that says “He cheated us, so I cheated him of his life.”
Readers like working to figure out what happens in stories. We feel rewarded for putting the pieces together. Stories should always try to be unpredictable in what happens next. This keeps readers on their toes and curious as to what happens next.
Plot twist are a great way to spice up an ending. Nobody wants a predictable ending.
Well, sort of.
That is to say, the basic goal presented in the beginning must be achieved -and that should be extremely predictable.
How it happens, its effect on the characters, and what it means for the story afterwards, should be different than expected.
Not every story needs a plot twist, and too many writers try too hard resulting in a bad ending that do not feel satisfying or organic.
If you want to throw in a big plot twist, make sure you leave enough clues behind for the audience to go back and fully believe it when viewing a second time.
Man vs. Self: Mental Illness. Deciding between what is moral. Picking between two choices that that go against each other.
Man vs. Man: Very common. Most stories revolve around one person in a conflict with another. Hero vs. villain.
Man vs. Society: When a person goes against the law, policies, government, culture, tradition.
Man vs. Nature: Mother nature is raw and uncontrollable. This is fighting against the elements, flora and fauna, and surrounding
“Man vs. Supernatural: Higher powers, magic, or anything that cannot be rationally explained.