What is a plot and how do I write one?
There are many ways to put the meat on the bones of your plot skeleton, also known as a plot outline. Your selection of setting and character will do a lot in this department, but you also have to carefully craft the sequence of events that will take place between the event that sets the story in motion and the event that brings it to its conclusion.
A straight path between the two is rarely interesting. Twists and turns that increase the sense of struggle provide an opportunity for your readers to build stronger emotional bonds with the character and build suspense.
What is a plot?
A "plot," in simple terms, is a complication and the complication's resolution. How you go about creating the complication and the resolution is entirely up to you. Your character doesn't even need to be aware of the forces moving him or her along through the various steps leading to the resolution of the complication—or that the complication itself even exists.
The sad teenage girl in your novel likely won't know that she is searching for a sense of identity. She might be selfishly seeking all forms of self-gratification in her quest for popularity without truly knowing what it is she really wants. It could be a complete surprise to her that she enjoys volunteering at the hospital with the girl who has been socially outcast from her class—that she is willing to befriend her when no one else will.
Don't lose the focus of your manuscript
The most important thing in fleshing out your plot is that you maintain focus. Remember: A plot is a complication and its resolution. Everything that happens in your novel must, in some way, move your story forward toward that plot resolution. Let's consider the following plot:
Detective X arrives at the scene of a crime and is charged with catching the killer (this is the complication). Detective X then goes through a number of events that provide him with clues to the killer's identity. Any scenes that develop his relationship with his rookie sidekick or his romance with the District Attorney have to play some role that is specific to the case.
For example, let's say the rookie has botched something up in the past and now Detective X doesn't trust his partner's abilities or insights. They end up arguing a lot and that affects how efficiently they do their jobs. Maybe the rookie is on to something and X ignores it—allowing the killer to escape, further complicating the plot. Maybe after that, he is consoled by the lovely DA and is then able to pick up the reins and get the investigation going again.
An occasional flashback to his childhood may explain how he reacts to a particular situation. However, everything must be related to the case at hand or the story will get bogged down with extraneous "stuff."
Don't be general!
In this vein, the plot of "the story of Character X's life" is never a good plot because it lacks the focus that keeps the story and interest going. You must give your character a particular aspect of his or her life through which to tell the story.
If your story is about a woman who was left at the altar by her high school sweetheart, you will need to flashback to some areas of their relationship and relate them to how she is reacting to something happening in the present. Take the following example: A man who passes her is wearing the same cologne that her fiancé did—this sets off a memory of their first kiss or his wedding proposal. After going through a series of events—meeting with a good friend or a therapist—the story ends with a sense of hope for the future.
Know when to stop
One of the most common issues that we encounter is plot overkill. Stick to your plot structure and, once you've resolved the complications in your story, STOP!
Consider the example of the woman from the above section. Does it make sense to include another chapter or two talking about how the woman's children turned out and how she eventually died a happy old woman? No—these issues have no connection to the central complication of being left at the altar. The story was over once this complication was resolved. Don't drag it out.
Are you worried that your plot has strayed off topic, and that your complication has no resolution? Submit your story to one of our manuscript editing services, and our expert editors will check to make sure your plot is on track and free of grammar and spelling errors.
Image source: Alex Staroseltsev/BigStockPhoto.com