Monday, October 4, 2010

Plotting Tips We Could All Use

A plot sparks, ignites, and finally explodes in the closing scenes, or it should, if you’re doing your job. The story shouldn’t just spark and ignite only to fizzle out. It needs a constant increase in tension. Options for your characters must continue to disappear—especially when your character needs them the most—only to have the story end with a logical conclusion.

But how does a writer successfully plot? Here’s a little cheat sheet you can use:

-Don’t start the first scene with explanations, just get the story moving.

-Begin with the character reacting to a problem, one that’s pulling her life in the wrong direction.

-Make your character’s life hell. Don’t put her in situations where she’s comfortable. She needs to be on her toes, constantly looking for a way back to her “normal life”.

-The plot forces your character to change in order to survive the story. Without this transformation, the ending won’t be plausible.

-Make sure your protagonist’s goals and motivations are strong, and that the conflict she’s up against is almost impossible to overcome. A woman who’s afraid of dogs because her friend was attacked as a child is too weak to keep a story going. However, if the character is terrified of dogs because she was attacked and nearly killed when she was younger, and now her job as a reporter requires her to go undercover at a dog mill or she’ll be fired, that’s conflict. Now, add that the meanest dog escapes and has the reporter’s daughter trapped against a wall. The reporter will have no choice. She’ll have to do more than face her fear, but conquer it as well.

-Don’t just torture your characters, torture your readers, too. Make them care about your characters and then put those characters in danger, be it physical or emotional.

-Make your characters act in ways that most people would be afraid to. Have your protagonist stand up to bullies, for example, but only after she’s gone through a series of situations that have prepared her for the fight. She can’t go from being cowardly one minute to a brave hero the next without any kind of transformation in between or the story won’t be believable.

-Show your character’s changes through her actions or decisions, not summary.

-Have her react to events that occur in the story. She can’t simply sit around and worry.

Of course, plotting is a little more complicated than that, but following these tips will keep you from making many of the mistakes beginner writers make.

Do you have any tips you’d like to add?


  1. Great tips--thanks for the post!

  2. Super tips. I'd add that every scene needs to have a point. If it's not moving the plot forward, then don't use it. Thanks!

  3. My biggest problem is throwing adversity in my m.c.'s life...I want everything to go well for her! I'm working on that.

  4. Wow, did I actually do it right the first time? Damn, so much pressure now for the second book...

  5. Yeah, these are FANTASTIC tips!!! :D I'm totally practicing these techniques--it works, LOL!

  6. Awesome tips, thank you!!! I love the one about torturing the readers, not just the characters. Soooo true, and loads of fun as well.

  7. thanks for these tips. i'm going to have to print them off and put them somewhere that i can see them all the time!

  8. You gave some great ideas here! Thank you!