Whether you are a newbie or a veteran storyteller, there is just one thing you absolutely must not skip—plotting your story.
As Editors, we come across many stories which have been written by a seat-of-the-pants instinctive method. Basically, it means you start writing with not too fixed an idea of what you want to say. But you’re prepared to let the story lead you where it will. It sounds perfectly romantic and groovy.
It would not be amiss for the novice to write the last paragraph of his story first, once a synopsis of the plot has been carefully prepared - as it always should be. ~ H. P. Lovecraft Click To Tweet
There’s no denying that at times the method does produce excellent fiction. But the method also produces a story that is so snarled up that it is better to scrap it totally and begin from scratch rather than to try and make sense of it. Trust us, we’ve tried. And the procedure is frustrating at best and homicide-inducing at worst. You really don’t want to be the proud owner of one such story. No, you don’t.
If you want your audience to love your story you need a killer plot and there is no two ways about it.
Convinced you yet? Here are the basics of it:
What is a Story Plot?
A plot is a series of interlinked events that make up a story. It essentially decides how the story develops in time. Every plot introduces characters and demonstrates facts or events in a cause and effect manner to engage your reader. The events then need to reach a satisfactory conclusion like the big reveal of a murder mystery or a happy ending of a love story.
All fiction is about people, unless it's about rabbits pretending to be people. It's all essentially characters in action, which means characters moving through time and changes taking place, and that's what we call 'the plot'. ~… Click To Tweet
Why is the plot important?
The plot is what makes a story worth reading. It gives the story its characters, introduces suspense and conflicts that can be carefully built up to the peak of climax and allow an emotional release in your readers. An emotionally engaging conflict is that one problem your protagonist faces, that one thing that he/she has to have but has to go through hell to achieve. It makes for a real page-turner; after all, you can’t really stop before the conflict is resolved.
Plot is what happens in your story. Every story needs structure, just as everybody needs a skeleton. It is how you 'flesh out and clothe' your structure that makes each story unique. ~ Caroline Lawrence Click To Tweet
Difference between plotting ahead and plotting as you go along:
Having a plot outline or not is a much-debated topic for authors. They both have their pros and cons.
The plot of your story is the blueprint of your house. There is no rule that says you have to build according to a plan. It might be unique (and romantic) to start building by instinct and let the house take you where it will. It is possible you will have created a stunning—and quirky—house in which you may or may not have to climb over the toilet to access your balcony. Or it might just fall down on your head one fine day. That wouldn’t be frightfully romantic, would it?
In constructing the plot and working it out with the proper diction, the poet should place the scene, as far as possible, before his eyes. In this way, seeing everything with the utmost vividness, as if he were a spectator of the action, he will discover what is in keeping with it and be most unlikely to overlook inconsistencies.
A well-defined plot gives you more control over where your story is headed. It results in a tighter arc of suspense and a satisfying end. On the other hand, working without an outline does create a more natural flow to the story.
No outline should only be opted for if you can suffer the pains of strict editing and re-writing sessions; because it will definitely need it. Filling the plot holes will force you to change what feels right to you often. Also, the problem with plotting as go along writing is of writer’s block. The terrifying question – “what next?”
A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise. Because that is how life is - full of surprises. ~ Isaac Bashevis Singer Click To Tweet
Outline writing brings out the evil of perfectionism and lands you in the dangerous territory of overthinking, over-planning, and too much backstory. It can be very easy to get lost in research and characterization. The author may not see what is missing because while they know it their readers won’t.
Some professionals recommend a combination of both approaches. You can also keep an Idea Book in which you jot down ideas as they come. Before you begin writing, rearrange the ideas into a coherent flow. This can serve as the bones of your structure. A good procedure will depend a lot on the kind of story you want to tell. A thriller will need more planning, or else the riddles, clues and resolution won’t add up. While a love story may leave more room for discovery.
Storytelling is ultimately a creative act of pattern recognition. Through characters, plot and setting, a writer creates places where previously invisible truths become visible. Or the storyteller posits a series of dots that the reader can connect.
~ Douglas Coupland
First: Credibility is the basic need to make sense through congruence, the willingness to accept something as true about the characters or the storyline itself. It must be meticulously developed so that the reader does not reject or lose interest in the story before it comes to the climax.
I consider the plot a necessary intrusion on what I really want to do, which is—write snappy dialogue. ~ Aaron Sorkin Click To Tweet
Second: Each of your story’s events, whether dramatically huge or seemingly insignificant, must have consequences. The cause and effect manner must be robust. For e.g.: “My father died and the dog died” is a sequence. But “my father died, his dog Bruno had been with him for 12 years, he died of grief” gives background and links the events, hence, creating a plot. Every event should affect what happens next if it doesn’t then the event does not belong in the plot.
The same applies to characters. Whether it’s a short story or a novel, do not crowd your story with characters that have no specific purpose and do not influence the story much. For e.g.: do not introduce a character that is just one of the many students in your protagonist’s history class. If they do nothing more than share notes occasionally and this character does not make a difference to the climax we don’t need him.
What do you prefer, a semi-flexible plot structure or are you a by the seat of your pants kind? Let us know in the comments below!