10 December, 2010

Elements of A Good Plot

A story has to keep the reader's attention. It's what a reader expects when they pick up a book--something that will suck them into a new place and hold them there, as the characters go on quests, fall in love, fight the villains, do things that the reader wishes they could, all following a complex and page-turning plot.

As a writer, it's only a matter of knowing how to create a page-turning plot.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Mess with the reader's head (it's always the writer's job to mess with the reader's head).

Surprise the reader with secrets, (about the characters, about their world, about anything important) events, (coincidences, occurrences, attacks) and ramp up the tension as the character(s) head for the goal. Hinting at one of the surprises can help--little mention of something strange here, a name wrong, a move that seems odd in some way. The good ol' plot twist can go far in keeping the reader hooked on the story.

For the writer, plot twists have the benefit of taking up that no-mans-land of space between The Beginning and The End, called The Middle. They can also take up story-time whenever the plot's slow or not moving the way you want it to.

2. Keep the reader glued to their chair (or seat, or steps, or . . . wherever they may be reading).

Once you've gotten the surprises in there, plus the anxiety-inducing hints, never let that tension release. Don't allow interludes--anything beyond a short, tired collapse by the oasis, so to speak--to appear. Have the character(s) run into more problems as they strain for that ultimate goal; send someone/thing into their death throes, if necessary, but don't let up!

Don't let that tension continue on forever, either. If it does, then the reader will get exasperated, and bored--make sure that what's going to happen, happens soon enough, but not so fast that the plot ends up whipping back and forth. Pace it so it flows like a river, not a thundering, crashing waterfall or a gentle, burbling creek--a river! Get a raft, if necessary.

3. Never allow your plot to resemble Swiss Cheese (no matter how good the stuff tastes).

Sew up every hole. Bring things together. Create something that goes from the onset to the conclusion, resolving the issues (unless it's a series, in which case you should leave the reader wondering about some things) and reaching an end that involves the goal the character(s) set out to complete. Don't allow the character(s) to do unrealistic things just to get to some point in the story, or a to a certain place--keep it tight, true to the character(s) and their environment. Don't cut corners.

Don't let the reader see holes, or allow them to see through badly-patched holes, either; make sure that your plot is strong throughout, and feel for every possible weakness in an event here, a twist there. If a reader can sense what's to happen with certainty and without feeling that the other possibilities are in any way likely, (and they're right about what's to happen) then the rest of the book isn't gripping--it's just an add-on.


1. Surprise the reader.
2. Maintain the tension.
3. Have a tight, hole-free plot.
4. Throw in a gryphon.*

*(Just for fun, of course.)

-----The Golden Eagle


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't like swiss cheese movies, either!

Pk Hrezo said...

Awesome reminders! Thanks!

The Golden Eagle said...

Alex: They get boring. :P

Pk: You're welcome!

Holly Ruggiero said...

Everybody need a gryphon.

Jai Joshi said...

Peaks and troughs, that's what I think of when I think of maintaining the tension. But the troughs should never fall too low. There always has to be a level of tension that is maintained even through them. The purpose of the trough is to give the reader a little breathing space but not bore them.

Great tips, Golden Eagle!


Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent! And of course a gryphon :)

Talli Roland said...

Thes are great tips! One of the best pieces of advice I heard was to use conflict and to think about it like an onion - to peel layer after layer until the MC has to face the core of the conflict.

Hannah Kincade said...

I love the reminders! Nothing wrong with that. And I've never been a fan of swiss cheese, edible and non.;)

Elana Johnson said...

Great list! I think pacing is the biggest thing for me. I can forgive holes if you keep me turning pages.

Brian said...

Sounds like great tips! I heard Gryphon with a little chicken broth is pretty yummy!

Clarissa Draper said...

I don't use #4 enough in my mysteries. I think it's the key missing ingredient. My editor will jump for joy when it turns out the serial killer is a gryphon!

Old Kitty said...

Oh wow!! What a fab post - thank you!!! I think I'm still trying to plug up my swiss cheese of a plot!! My aim is to get me some smooth extra mature cheddar cheese!!!

And maybe a gryphon or three!!

Take care

Madeleine said...

Good advice. I've got brain ache from trying to write a short story today LOL! Maybe I'm trying too hard :O)

Dominic de Mattos said...

I LOVE swiss cheese! (just not between the covers of my book!) Good reminders here, Eagle.
*Slopes off to look for a handy gryphon*

Joanna St. James said...

Sounds like you have a little evil overlord in you too.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Nice summary at the end. Good tips here.

Colene Murphy said...

Great advice. Will definitely keep all those things close when I'm doing my *hopefully* last edits!

Lydia Kang said...

But I love swiss cheese.
Okay, only for eating, haha.
Great points! I'm trying so hard to be successful with all of them. It's hard work!

Gail said...

Great tips!

I am a wannabe so this really helps, thanks.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post!

Mason Canyon said...

Very good tips. As a reader I especially enjoy a book when the author throws in a few surprises.

Thoughts in Progress

Misha said...

Great tips!

I particularly have to work on plot holes and tension.

Thanks :-)

N. R. Williams said...

Ugh! I missed you yesterday. My apologies. You post is to the point and very good. I think that you are going to be one of the great writers America produces. Ever since I found out how old you are I've been in awe.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Robyn Campbell said...

Keep me turning those pages. Most important thing. Great post. Loved reading. :)

The Words Crafter said...

Great tips, thanks. How about a gryphon AND a phoenix?

The Golden Eagle said...

Holly: Exactly. :)

Jai: That's a good way of thinking of it!

Hope they help!

Carol: What's a book without a gryphon!

Talli: Hmmm--I like that idea, although I'm not a fan of onions. :P

Hannah: Well, I love Swiss cheese. :D

Elana: I agree. If it's fast enough, holes don't bother me as much.

Brian: Gryphon and chicken broth--I'll have to try that sometime. ;)

Clarissa: LOL. I'm sure they will! I know I'd love to read a book where the serial killer's a gryphon.

Old Kitty: You're welcome for it! :) And I love cheddar cheese.

Three-now there's an idea!

Madeleine: Take a break and think about it--writing rests can help. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Dominic: Me, too!

Try Gryphons-R-Us--I hear they have some really good ones. :)

Joanna: *grins* Well, don't all writers?

Terry: I love writing summaries at the end of advice posts--with a little humor. :)

Colene: I hope that it comes in handy!

Lydia: It's one of the best kinds of cheese!

Good luck with your writing!

Gail: You're welcome. :)

Sharon: Thanks, Sharon!

Mason: I love being thrown in a story--sometimes I have to take a break to digest what just happened, but they make the book stronger.

Misha: Good luck with the Swiss cheese. :)

You're welcome!

Nancy: No worries! :)

Aw, thanks, Nancy! But part of it has to do with the all the amazing writers that have blogs--including you--since I take from all the comments and thoughts people put out there.

Robyn: Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

The Words Crafter: You're welcome!

Oh, that'd be even better. :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Excellent checklist and suggestions!

Rachael Harrie said...

Great suggestions, love it! :)


The Golden Eagle said...

L. Diane: Thanks!

Rach: Glad you like it, Rach! :)

Patricia Stoltey said...

I attended a workshop given by Donald Maas ("The Fire in Fiction") and one of his prompts was to imagine something your main character would never do in a million years, and then have him do it. It's an interesting exercise.