The Mystery of an Interesting Plot

Mystery-BooksThis is the plot wherein lieth burried the writer. Who dunnit? It’s rather predictable, isn’t it? I’ll have a guess and say that it was an inside job. You heard me. The writer did it. How? It was predictable. The plot. The plot was predictable!

For a writer keeping the plot from getting flat is amongst the greatest challenges.

I read an article earlier today on Keeping your Plot Interesting and decided to add a couple of my own suggestions to their number.

First things first, what are we plotting?

Plot is nothing more nor less than a way of telling a story that will make readers resent having to put your book down no matter what emergency tears them away from the page. Because what they have on that page is life. The life of a character who takes them along on a day-dream. This is what plot does: it facilitates great storytelling, the kind that transports the reader into a dream and keeps them there.

A great plot will grip not only the reader, but the writer too. So what are the ingredients of a great plot?

Interesting characters are key, and the lead must be a little more so, they must be compelling. If the reader identifies with the lead, they will keep reading. This is why likeable leads fare better and are easier to write than unlikeable ones. We sympathise with characters we like, care about their hardships and will them to succeed. Even negative leads must be likeable to some degree, or failing that, they must possess a power that will compel the reader to keep turning the page. 

What drives the action of the novel is that character’s objective, their reason for being in the story in the first place. Whatever the objective, it must derive from that character’s dominant desire and be crucial either to their happiness or to their safety in order to carry the narrative through.

Once the objective is established, we are ready to throw as many obstacles in their path as our imagination will allow. The more the better: opponents, conflict, confrontation, inner struggle – you name it. Let the lead have what they want within the first few dozen pages and the story is done for. Make them go through a few hundred pages of hell to get it and you have a novel. 

And having spent all that time and effort keeping the lead from reaching their goal, there comes a time to bring the story to a rewarding end. Rewarding for the reader, rather than the character of course, although there will be times when both can be equally satisfied.

Each writer will have their own ways of keeping a plot from becoming predictable. My main tip is to draft several potential ends to the story, and foreshadow each in turn throughout the narrative so that any of them could be a real possibility. Even if you have a favourite one picked out already, working towards multiple endings can help prompt unexpected twists in the story and will be sure to keep both characters and readers on their toes.

Mystery solved?

6 thoughts on “The Mystery of an Interesting Plot

  1. I totally agree with you about using the characters’ individual goals as a tool to further the plot. In my case because I’m writing a mystery what I’m doing is giving each of the main characters a central obsession. Using that I can intensify their goals and I have an easy way to map out their character choices because everything is focused on that one central goal. Great post!!! Thanks for this! You gave me a lot of new ideas! 🙂

    • I write mysteries too. They differ a little from the traditional genre because they are about identity rather than crime, but many of the same rules apply: there is still a mystery to unveil and many questions to answer. Thank you for inspiring me to write this post. It gave me an opportunity to take another look at how I write, which is always good practice.

    • Thank you, Norma. I’m glad you found it so. Of course there is so much more detail to go to on each point. In time, I will return to them, but thought that for the purpose of this post, an overview would work well too.

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