All stories need a great plot. The plot and the characters make the story, so they’re two things that you need to get right. There’s no way that you can have a good story without them! If your characters are bad, then it doesn’t matter how good your plot is. You won’t have anyone there to pull it off well enough. If the plot isn’t the best, then your amazing characters will have nothing interesting to do. So there’s a lot to think about in your writing! How do you know that you’re doing both right? And what even makes a good character or plot, anyway?
Well, let’s have a look at plots, then. There’s so much that goes into making a great plot! It can seem quite overwhelming if I’m honest with you! You need to think about beginnings, middles and ends and everything in between. What makes the end of a plot good, anyway? And how do you even begin to tie them together? There are so many questions that you’re almost expected to know the answers to already.
Well, I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with not knowing the answers yet. That’s where I come in! I’ll break the story down bit by bit, so you can have a real look at the most important things to consider in your plot. I’ll break the big plot question into short bite-sized chunks so that you can digest it all easier. So sit back and relax! It might seem like too much, but we’ve got this!
A Strong Beginning
Well, let’s start at the beginning. The start of the plot is the first thing your reader is going to be encountered with, once they get past the blurb and cover. So you need to make sure that you give them something gripping to read! If you don’t start here, why would any reader want to read more? So spend a little time on your beginning, if you can. In fact, some writers spend more time on their first sentence than they do on whole other chapters! I’m not saying you need to do that, but you should make sure you have a think about what impact your first words are having on your readers. It’s your chance to sell your book and keep people reading on.
It’s all well and good that I tell you that you need a good start, though. You’ve probably heard that 100 times before! But how can you even begin to think about going about it? Well, there are a lot of things that depend on the story you’re telling and the point of view you’re writing from. However, there are a few things you need to achieve regardless of what you’re writing.
Intrigue, but Not Confusion
One of the most important things you need to do with the beginning
So I would suggest in media res or a good starting line for any new writer. IT gives you the chance to put your best foot forward with your writing. You can think of an action-packed scene and start things from there because you know that it’s going to draw people in. I mean, it’s one of your most gripping scenes. There’s no doubt that it’s going to help you present your plot in a great light. However, if you have a certain scene you’ve set your heart on starting with, don’t fret too much! You can still write an awesome beginning!
Think of something that makes your plot unique and start with that. If your setting is unusual, write a first sentence that highlights the thing that makes it stand out. Don’t give away too much info straight away. But at the same time, you need to make sure that it makes sense to your readers. Otherwise, they might abandon ship. You need to strike the right balance! And if you’re struggling keep details to yourself and ask a friend if it makes sense!
Introduce Things Slowly
One of the big issues writers have is that they try to add too many details at once. This leaves readers feeling overwhelmed and confused. There’s only so much info we can take at once before it feels like we’re being bombarded! So you should take the time to introduce your plot elements one at a time. Main characters can be introduced with one or two other people, but don’t expect the readers to know and remember their name straight away! You should never force them to have to go back a page or two to make sense of what’s happening.
Take your time with your opening. It should be intriguing (as I said before), but don’t let that come at the expense of giving the readers the breathing space they need. Live Science has mentioned that people can remember about 4 things at once (although there is debate among scientists), so you should make sure that you keep your important details under that number. This is especially true early on in the story when the readers have no clue what’s going on. If you don’t, you’ll find that the readers will feel confused and (maybe) angry later on when they need to recall the info you gave them before.
Plus, if you’re throwing facts at your reader 100 at a time, the chances are that you haven’t given your story breathing room, either. Take some time to describe the atmosphere, the mood, the look, the feelings. Let your writing speak for itself before you try to force too much else on there. Dress your set a little bit! Let readers know and feel where the characters are in the scene. It will slow down your pace and make readers feel like they’re connecting with your story more.
Set the Tone
This one is probably the most simple. And that’s why it probably won’t ever occur to you! It’s so simple that you aren’t going to focus on it when you’re writing the plot. But that’s why so many writers struggle to get it right! It’s so obvious that it’s easy to overlook — kinda like when you’re looking for something that’s in plain sight. You need to set the tone of the story. Or at least for the beginning, anyway. Readers don’t have any info to go by, so they need tone at the start more than ever! When writers don’t give their stories a clear tone (or they don’t show when there is a shift in tone), it leaves readers confused. Should we feel happy or sad? Is it meant to be conversational or serious?
Writing is about making people feel emotions. If readers don’t feel an emotional response to your story, what is going to keep them reading? Then it’s like reading for school or something. If you don’t set the tone from the start of your story, readers are going to be left with mixed feelings (if they have any at all).
So the most important thing you need to think about is what vibe you’re giving with the words you’re using. All words have a connotation. “Scent” and “stench” might both mean “smell”, but we use them at different times. So think about the words you use! You don’t need to stare at every single word in your story and hope that readers can write an essay on what it means. However, think about the most important words. Don’t just get a thesaurus and hope for the best. Check the example sentences and make sure you know the connotation of the words you choose to use.
Have a Direction
It is so easy to jump into writing straight away before you have any idea of what’s going to happen. I’m guilty of that, too. A great first scene pops into my head and I can’t help but write it down. Then I just keep going from there and a story starts to form itself. That’s fine to do! But at the same time, you should have a direction of where you want the story to go before you publish the first chapter. You don’t need to have every single issue sorted out. Many Wattpad writers will tell you that you should have a
However, it’s tempting to release and then go back and fix on the internet. You can always change something after it’s been published. It’s not as rigid as publishing the “normal” way. If you’re anything like me, you would struggle to stick to the schedule with that kind of temptation. You’ll want to know if readers like your work before you keep going. I get that! Write away!
But if you want to write a great plot, you need to make sure that you have a strong idea of the direction your story is going in before you press “publish”. If you don’t, you’ll soon find that your story seems to go off on a tangent very easily and quickly. So have some idea of your beginning, middle and end, as well as tone and most important characters, before you let your readers sink their teeth in. That way, the beginning will tie in well with the rest of the story.
An Interesting Middle
The middle of the story is where all of your great, gripping drama and action should happen. It’s where the tension is at its highest in your story, and readers will expect to be swept up in this until they reach the climax. The climax is the very peak of the story where all of that tension reaches the highest it is going to ever get in the story. After this, the action should start to fall and things should be rolling down to get to the end of the story. In a metaphor, the climax is the darkest point “before the dawn” when things might start looking brighter and better.
So since this is where readers will expect the most action and tension, you need to be able to deliver some gripping moments that makes them keep reading to find out how all of this comes to a close. You want your readers to question if your characters are going to come out of the other side ok, or if the couple
So have a good plan for what’s going to make the reader think “how are they going to get out of this”. Chances are that your reader knows that things will get better in the end, so it’s all about how you make them get to that point that matters. Sit down and picture the scene where the stress will be at it’s highest. Then you have something to work towards.
A Satisfying End
Now that you’ve thought about that sweet scene where the tension is at its highest and you’re ready to work to get there, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to end the whole plot. Start with a picture of what you want the end to be. It’s usually less tense and action-packed than the climax because you don’t want to make the reader feel tired or worn out by all of the drama! But be careful! Most “and they all lived happily ever after” endings just don’t feel very satisfying. Things need to change by the end of the story. Most readers don’t want everything to go back to how they were at the start (unless you’re making some big point about life).
So make sure that your characters have lost some stuff, learnt a lesson or two and come out of the other end as changed people. That’s what makes the story satisfying! If not, then you’ll find that it feels like there was no point in the climax. And who wants to read a story that has no point? Who wants to read something where no one changes or grows and they don’t lose anything or gain anything?
Most of the time, the best endings have are the ones where the main character hasn’t just gained the love of their life or done the thing they wanted to do. They also have a little sadness in them. Sure, they did finish their mission, but how about if they also lost a friend along the way? Be careful with how you decide to let your characters get to the end, too! Have a plan for how they solve their issues, or you might end up with a Deus Ex Machina!
Make Likeable Characters
Of course, all plots need characters we like. If not, it can be quite hard for us to care about what happens to them. No, the main character doesn’t have to be the likeable one, but there needs to be someone we don’t hate, or we might get very fed up with the story. There are lots of likeable people in the world — and they don’t have to be perfect for us to like them! Of course, the main character is the easiest person to make likeable. Even more than that, though: it’s a lot harder to make a good story that people will enjoy when they don’t like the character they’ll be following around. So only mess with that if you know what you’re doing, or people will turn away from your story very quickly.
You should make characters likeable so that the readers have someone that they can relate to. That’s a good thing to do in your plot because it keeps readers interested and invested in what happens. If you like one of the people a writer has made, you’re going to end up wanting them to be happy. That’s going to make you keep reading to find out if it happens. Characters we like drive the readers through the plot. It’s the thing that keeps them turning their pages in the hardest moments.
If you would like to know more about making your characters likeable the right way, check out our blog post for more info.
Choose Good Settings
In some ways, the setting is almost like a character of its own! You need to think about where you’re setting your story and why. You also need to think about how the characters are going to move around and interact with the settings. It’s rare to ever see a story where it’s a good thing that it could happen on a white background with no setting. It just means that the characters aren’t being that realistic about the way they move around in their space. Not a good idea! We all interact with the world around us, and so should the people you make!
A good setting can even come handy to the plot, so it’s a great idea to choose one that makes sense in the story and can help you at a later date. The weather, time of day, climate and so many other things can have an impact on how people behave and what choices they make. If the action happens in the middle of a place where there are loads of people to watch (such as a big city like London), the characters are going to act differently to if they were in the country. Big city characters might be more weary of the people around them and keep to themselves more. People from the country are going to be more friendly and know everyone in their town or village. That’s going to have a big affect on, say, a murder mystery story.
So be careful about what settings you choose and why. Think about why you chose the place you did and how that’s going to help you make your plot better. It might be a good idea to write a list of things about the setting that might affect the characters.
Make Characters Fail
This is really important. We don’t want any Mary-Sues over here! So you need to make your characters fail from time to time to make the plot worth reading. In fact, it’s important that they fail. More than once, too! If they don’t, the action isn’t going to feel very real! I mean, who wins at every single thing they ever do in their lives? I can’t think of anyone!
Writers who forget to make their characters fail,
I’m not bashing outside problems! However, it is often a symptom of a big issue in your story: you’ve made your characters too perfect. If they don’t ever fail in all the things they can control, you’re going to have to make all of the conflict come from things they can’t. Really there should be a good balance. Even more than that: how do you solve a problem that the character can’t control? With a Deus Ex Machina maybe? Or a random character coming to save the day? Lazy writing.
So give yourself a break and just let the characters fail from time to time! It’s good for the plot, it lets them learn a lesson or two and gives you a much easier time later on when you have to tie loose ends and end the story.
I don’t just mean love, here. Friendship, hatred, lust, admiration. These are all great bases for good relationships in your story. We need to believe that the people in your story are connected to each other in some way, and that means you should show the feelings they have for one another, even if just a little bit. Is there a bit of history between one of the side characters and your protagonist? Well, show us! Make them act like they have a past. Let us see whether it’s good or bad!
This boosts the plot by making it seem like the world existed before the start of the story — not just that it suddenly came to life when you thought of it. That makes your readers more invested in your story! Every person has a relationship with the people around them showing that makes your story feel much more authentic and real to the readers.
How to make these relationships interesting? Well, it depends on what type of bond you’re trying to make between them. But make sure you have some backstory. Make it complex. Go into detail about what made their relationship the way it was. The more detail you go into in your head, the more interesting the relationship will look for the readers, even though you might not have the time and space to go into it too much. It will mean that each line they say to each other can be full of hidden meaning that will make the readers go “ohhh” if you ever tell them. All of those hidden layers of plot help so much!
Think About Character Arcs
Yes, you need character arcs. The people in your story need to grow and change, or we as an audience need to learn new things about them that we didn’t know at the start of the story. To me, characters make the plot what it is, so their arcs need to be a strong part of the story. As with failure and great endings, it’s important that you do this because there’s really no point in reading a story if nothing changes. It makes it seem like there was no point in reading it in the first place, which is why the “all just a dream” trope can be so annoying for your readers. Don’t do it. Avoid at all costs!
Of course, there is more than one type of character arc out there. That is why I recommend Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland if you want to learn more about how to do it the right way.
But here’s a quick summary of the three most basic types of character arcs used in the book to help you.
The Positive Change Arc
In this arc, your character changes for the better. They start the story in a worse state than they end it. This can vary, though: they can just find life boring and feel like the grass is greener on the other side, or they might be a weak pushover, or they can have an evil step parent who wants to make their life hell. Or anything in else, for that matter! But in the story, they get tested. These tests might be about their view of the world, their view of themselves, their strength, a mix of those or any other number of things! And then by the end of the story, their lives have improved in a positive way.
This is a very common character arc that happens to a lot of our favourite characters. Most main characters fit this type of arc, as it helps readers to get invested in their lives and watch them become better people. Great! It’s common because it works so well! It’s fun for your readers to see the characters go on their journey to become a better person — and even follow them along the way.
The Flat Arc
If you know how to do it well, the flat arc can work very well in your stories. This is kinda like the arc that happens after the positive change arc. Your character has already gone through that arc, so there’s not much of a reason for them to change or find themselves in the story. If they do change, it’s very small. Instead, the reader will find out more about them as the story goes on and they will help other people in the story to change and grow. They are “agents of change”.
Think of Forrest Gump! He’s still the same lovable guy at the end of the story as he is in the beginning. It’s not him that needs to change! He goes around helping other characters to see the world in his way, and therefore change who they are. He’s the main character, but we watch the positive change arc happen in all of the side characters, not him! That can be a cool and refreshing type of story arc that breaks the conventions… if done well.
The Negative Change Arc
This arc turns the positive change arc on its head, as you can imagine. Your characters start the story at a better position than they end it in. Hamlet is a great example of this. In fact, most of Shakespeare’s tragedies are, but let’s take that one because it’s my favourite.
Hamlet starts the story as a prince who is happy enough with his life. He’s a student before his dad dies and he’s forced to come back to court, but life doesn’t seem that bad for him, even if his mum has now married his uncle. Fair enough. But his life is turned upside down when the ghost of his dad tells him that his uncle killed him. Now is arc is about avenging his father! And revenge never goes well in these revenge tragedies. So by the end of the story (spoiler alert), he is dead along with most of the other people in his life. I mean, if that isn’t a negative arc, I don’t know what is!
Perfect Your Sense of Timing
Ah, timing is a big issue with new authors. It’s so easy to pack your script with loads of details that you lose track of when it all happens. Then you end up with endless years with 3 winters and a summer that never seems to stop. Unless you’re trying to make your story like Phineas and Ferb, you probably want to avoid that and make sure that you have some sense of when things happen and why.
So make sure you have an idea of when things happen. When did the story start? When did the main character meet the villain? What about their best friend or love interest? Write it down, at least roughly, so that we get a sense of time passing in the story. We’ll know when it’s autumn and it will make sense if it suddenly starts snowing because you’ll make it clear in the way you talk about the story. This makes it seem a lot more real and that will make readers more engaged in the story, as they connect with how realistic parts of it are (even if you’re setting it on some unknown planet).
Until notebook.ai gets a timeline feature, I suggest TimeGraphics. Unlike most timeline apps, this is free to use, so that’s always a great thing for new writers! Make sure you add the most important dates and times in your story to this site. Then fit all of your smaller chapters into this frame. Be aware of things like the seasons changing at certain times and make sure to think about this when you’re writing. It will help a lot!
What Are Other Characters Doing?
It can be very easy to forget about what the side characters are doing while the big action scenes are going on. But they don’t just sit in a closet and wait until the main character needs them, do they? That would be silly. We all have lives and, as I’ve said many times before, you should treat each and every character as though they are the star of their own story. You might not have written it down. You might never do. But it needs to be real enough! You need to be able to picture what they’re doing with their lives, too!
This will help your plot because it will give your story a sense of grounding. Other things will be going on whilst the main action is happening. You’ll can include the other characters in the big events in the world, even if you can’t see them, which gives them way more to talk about when we do see them. When side characters only talk to the protagonist about things that matter to the protagonist, it always comes across as very fake to me. We don’t exist for other people, and neither should they! So be aware of that in your writing!
Pick some characters and give them a story that runs at the same time as the main plot. They’ll cross over from time to time, but it shows that the side character doesn’t just exist in the main story. You never know! It might even help you to answer some of the basic plot holes like “why didn’t they just get the cool witch to help them sort out the issues?” Well, she was too busy fighting warlocks at the other end of the world.
Raise the Stakes
If there are no stakes in your stories, your readers aren’t going to care what happens. I mean, if you knew that there was no chance at all that Frodo would die in The Lord of the Rings, what would be the point in worrying about him when he gets in trouble? It’s not like he’s going to die anyway. No point in worrying over nothing! Of course, we all know that the chances are that the main character isn’t going to die, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get rid of that thought and “suspend disbelief” while we’re watching. But if the writer has shown that they’re not going to ever hurt the main character through how they write the plot? Well, that’s a different story.
So how do you raise the stakes? Well, there are many different ways. One of the most common ones is to screw over characters we love. If the nice, sweet best friend can die, what does that mean for the main character? We just literally saw them die on screen! No one’s safe! But you can also do it by hinting at big stakes: make the main character almost die. Make them realise that and feel the fear and relief. Mix those two together? You’ve got some well-raised stakes!
This can be done with any stake! It doesn’t have to be death. That’s just an easy one to talk about. If it’s being fired from a job, show that the boss doesn’t care about the main character and they’re not afraid to suspend them, and threaten to fire them. Also show them following through with these threats in some way, or it will just seem like empty words.
There are so, so many stories out there. It makes sense that it’s hard to be original! But don’t worry too much! There’s no such thing as a story that’s 100% new. I can promise you that the basic premise exists out there already. So instead of trying to be original, be unpredictable! Give your reader some of the tropes they’re used to, and then take the plot in a whole new direction when they least expect it! But you can’t be unpredictable if there’s nothing for the readers to predict, so don’t be afraid to lean into those tropes a little.
Do you ever get the feeling that you know what’s going to happen in a film? Well, avoid that in your story. Most readers don’t want to have the same plot sold to them over and over again. Take some time to ask people questions. Find out if they can predict what’s going to happen next in your story. You don’t always have to change the story every single time someone guesses what you’re going to do next, but it is worth being aware of the fact that you’re using common tropes. Then you can break them well!
Try not giving your story typical plot twists, in particular. That’s one of those things that is really easy to guess and can become very boring. Is it really a plot twist if most people expected it to happen? If you don’t want to show your story off to anyone you know, try forums. Or, just google typical plot tropes to see how often yours are used.
Only Keep What’s Necessary
Only keep the parts of the story that are needed. I know it’s easy to hold onto your favourite scenes, but how relevant are they in the story? Do you really need them? Do they give information that’s necessary or help push the plot forward? Maybe they develop characters in ways that are important to the story? If not, it’s time to cut them. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that you thought of those scenes. In fact, it’s a great thing! It means you have a very strong idea of how your characters act and interact. Great!
But the thing is: writing isn’t just about telling readers a story. It’s about how you tell it. It’s about what you say and, more importantly, what you choose to miss out. These things define your work. If you add a scene, you’re drawing attention to it: telling the reader that of all the things that are happening at that moment, this is the thing they should be looking at. This is the thing they should know. You should know way more about the story than you include in the final draft. Don’t force in all of those extra bits just because you planned them! They’re padding for you to write a more real, rounded world.
Think to yourself: what are you drawing attention to and why? Why would it matter to the readers or the story you’re telling? If it doesn’t fit the bill, save it for a blog post where you reveal all of the cool facts later.
What’s the Point?
Have you given your story a point? I mean, why are you writing it? Let’s be honest: although “I just want to write” is a sweet reason, it doesn’t make good plots. I don’t mean you need to want to get money or fame. No! I mean the story itself needs a point. You need to give it a purpose. What is the way you’re portrayed the main character saying about life? Our world? The universe? Feelings? Truth? The themes don’t matter. You just need to make sure you come up with some.
And you don’t need to give an answer to the meaning of life. You don’t need to give any answers! Maybe the point of stories is to ask questions, not answer them! But you need to make sure you think about what it is that you’re trying to say. That way, by the end of the story, people won’t feel like they’ve wasted their time. You’ll be more likely to write a story that makes sense and keeps to a goal. Plus, people will have a lot more to say about it!
Give your story a little thought. I’m sure you can come up with the point you’re going to make!
The bottom line is that planning is the most important thing to do if you want a great script. Make sure you think about the story you’re trying to make, not just the one that you’re writing right now. Keep thinking of ways that you can improve and never be afraid to cut a scene.