Friday, March 11, 2011

Six Steps to a Successful Plot

We all know, in order to write a book, it's imperative to have a story. And not just any story, a good story. But where do we go from there? Even the most unique or intriguing idea has to be executed well, and that means creating a plot that appeals to readers--even agents and editors.

Though there's no perfect way to plot a story, here are six steps to use in writing in order to create a more successful plot:

1) Characters We Love

This is going to be one of the most important steps in creating a plot. We've all heard that writing relatable characters is so important. Whether it's spiritual, an occupation, or history, readers love to have something specific to relate to in a character. It's what draws them in, and since the story is all about the characters journey, you want your readers to be invested in your characters.

2) A Reason for Being

Now that you've created these lovable, or at least relatable characters, draw readers in even more by giving your character a goal. This is the reason why we introduce characters in the first place--because they have somewhere to go, something to offer. Give them something to strive for so readers can root for them.

3) Why They Can't Move Forward

At this point, it's not necessarily external conflicts that hold your characters back. It's their spiritual, internal or back story issues that challenge them from moving forward. This is your opportunity to show the status of your characters heart or their belief system. These will be challenges that enable your character to grow throughout the book.

4) Stopping Your Characters at All Costs

Now here's where you get to the conflict. The individual and external events, and hopefully there is more than one, that work as roadblocks to your character getting what they want. Not only that, they reinforce those issues from the step above, making it even harder for your character to move forward.

5) From Bad to Worse

This is the climax, the "black moment" as they say. This is the point when there's no turning back and your character or their situation reaches its low point. You get to show your readers that your character has a chance to learn and grow from this, or walk away. And since readers want winning characters, or at least a character who can grow and change, this provides that low moment where your character can spring back from.

6) A Lesson, Growth, and HEA

Here is the resolution. It might be a happily ever after or simply growth in a character or a lesson, but readers want a conclusion to the build-up you've created, and they want to see the main character in a different place spiritually or emotionally, etc. than they were in the beginning of the story.

There is no perfect formula to create a perfect plot. However, studying and following guidelines that have worked for others is a great way to get your plot off to a good start. What guidelines or tips do you use to create a successful plot?


Christine Long said...

Someone taught me to write down the hero/heroine's goal. Then write 5 things that happen to thwart that. Now cross them out. Now write 3 new things. Now cross them out. Now write 2 more. Now think of the very worst possible thing that can happen and write that. It so worked for me. I was two-thirds of the way through the story and hadn't found an ending that really popped for me. When I did this exercise, I not only found my ending, I found the BEST ending. I never would have thought about it if I hadn't tried to make my character's life miserable.

Thanks for all the tips. I'm always looking for ways to stretch and grow.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Working hard to make sure my #5 is strong enough for my WIP. I find sometimes I tweak it during the writing process.

Great run-down!
~ Wendy

Jennifer Shirk said...

Yeah, I haven't found the perfect way to plot. But I do my GMC chart and then try to look at a character and make sure they will change in the end somehow.
Those are good six steps to think about. :)

PS. (Glad you got the book!)

Misha Gerrick said...

Great tips!

I guess I do most of these automatically, although they're not written down anywhere.


Casey said...

A great 6 steps! Good to be reminded of such things often. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Great process, Christine. And how wonderful you found your ending that way. We build a lot of our work on making life hard for our heroes and heroines so the step you pointed out is great for getting that conflict in there.

Wendy, yeah, even for the strictest plotter, there's usually some tweaking that goes on. Can't wait to take a look at your new story :)

Jennifer, who really HAS found the perfect way to plot? We all know what sort of works for us but it's not always going to be the absolute perfect way to plot for that particular story. Of course, if there is someone out there with a near perfect way, I hope they comment here :)

Misha, yeah, I think a lot of plotting and getting to know characters goes on in our heads. Whether we write it down or not, it's good to know where our characters came from and where they are going.

Casey, I like steps, can't you tell? Hope you have a super weekend!

Keli Gwyn said...

Great tips. I'm working hard on #4 as I plot my new story. When I first began writing, I tended to be way too easy on my characters. Not anymore. Now I put them through tough stuff so they have to earn their HEAs by dealing with difficulties and growing through the process. =)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Keli, I like how you put that. Your characters have to "earn their HEAs". It makes the ending so much more satisfying that way, I think :) I hope you have a great weekend!