• 4-minute read
  • 5th July 2019

Plotting a Story: 5 Top Plot Tips for Authors

In fiction, the term ‘plot’ refers to the events that make up a story. But how do authors approach plotting a story? What makes a good plot in the first place? And how can you improve your own story-telling? We have a few tips!

1. Plotting Your Plot

Once you have a premise, you need to create a plot outline. This should cover each key event in your story from start to finish. Usually this will be chronological, which is a good place to start while working out your plot. But you could also create a non-linear narrative.

Many story plots follow a classic three-act structure.
Many story plots follow a classic three-act structure.
(Image: Bratislav/wikimedia)

In either case, the key is to establish a broad outline for your story and the connections between each plot element.

You don’t have to stick to this outline as you continue to write, so don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. The point is to create a broad overview of the plot structure, giving yourself something to work with while developing the story.

2. Build a Story Around Character Arcs

Plot is important, but it relies upon strong characterisation. After all, if your characters don’t have their own goals and motivations, how will you keep the story moving forwards? And if the reader isn’t interested in your characters, why would they keep reading to find out what happens?

One tip is to give each of your main characters their own character arc.

This term refers to how your characters change or overcome challenges during the story. To get started on this, think about who they are, what happened in their pasts, and want they want to achieve.

Ideally, each character will complete their ‘arc’ as the story progresses. As a result, knowing where your characters need to end up to complete their arc can help you work out where the plot will go.

3. Use Subplots (But Not Too Many!)

The main plot in your story will drive everything else forward (the ticking bomb that the reader cannot ignore or forget, perhaps literally if you’re writing a thriller). But subplots allow you to flesh out the story with mini narrative arcs that develop characters or themes related to the main plot.

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Adding a few subplots, such as romantic entanglements or mysteries to be solved, can therefore add an extra dimension to your writing. Good subplots should also move the main plot forward, such as by revealing crucial information, so think about how you can use them effectively.

If you add too many unrelated subplots, though, your story may become difficult to follow. And a subplot that seems to have nothing to do with the main story may feel confusing or distracting. As such, you should always plan for how subplots will relate to the main action of your story.

4. A Twist in the Tale?

While your overall story should be easy to follow, it doesn’t hurt to surprise your reader now and then! And one way to do this is to add a plot twist.

This means subverting your readers expectations. Maybe a hero turns out to be a villain. Or maybe something your protagonist always believed turned out to be a lie. Maybe it even changes their goals, spurring the action to take a new direction the reader would never have guessed.

To make this work, though, you need to drop hints earlier in your story. If a plot twist seems to come from nowhere, breaking the logic of the story up to that point, it can feel frustrating. And make sure to avoid clichéd plot twists, such as ending a story with ‘and it was all a dream’.

'And he was dead all along' has been done, too.
‘And he was dead all along’ has been done, too.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr)

5. Explain Your Story to a Friend

Finally, don’t struggle alone! As with most things in life, writing a story is easier if you ask for help. So before you start writing a full first draft, try explaining the plot of your story to a friend.

If there is something they don’t understand, you may want to clarify how that part of the story fits into the overall narrative. You can always ask for feedback on specific issues, too! Sorting out plot holes and other problems at this point can save you a lot of redrafting later.

And once you have a first draft, we can help with the editing process.

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