Plotting to save your life
You have a great idea for a book. This guy meets a girl. So they fall in love. The End.
Sounds a little boring. Maybe the girl is in love with someone else, so the guy has to bump off the other guy so he can comfort the girl. Wait, this is beginning to sound more like horror than romance. That’s cool you can just change the category. But it is still boring.
Your story has a case of linear plot. It starts here, goes there and not a whole lot more. We already have a pretty good idea of how it’s going work out so why bother?
Your story needs a talking donkey, and no not the one from Shrek. What I mean is you need something completely unexpected that derails the trip from here to there. Think of your plot as a road. Flat boring, maybe the scenery is nice, but how long can you look at scenery. So lets shake things up. Let’s turn that plot into a roller coaster.
First thing you need to do is add some urgency to the situation. Make the passage of time count. This is your time bomb. If the hero or heroine take too long the world will end, either literally or metaphorically, your choice.
Now our hero is sweating; they don’t have forever. Good, so now we make life miserable for them. What is the one thing that they really, really want? Make it impossible. Send the girl to Antarctica, have the hero come down with something really nasty. Just as he’s ready to give up he gets a sliver of hope. She sends him a postcard with a penguin on it, oh wait he supposed to give it to his best friend.
Now you have conflict. All stories need conflict. People fight with each other, with the world, with themselves. Think of it as hot sauce for your story. It adds some punch. There is nothing better than conflict for shaping a character and plot line into something that will keep your readers guessing.
The important thing to remember is you can’t just add random conflict to the story. It needs to move the plot along. Each conflict must change something. A fight between the two boyfriends won’t matter if something doesn’t shift because of the fight.
The idea isn’t to make it impossible to know for certain what is going to happen next. We don’t want totally random. Drop hints about the big blow up ending. The story is as much about the journey as the ending, so make sure you make the ending worth the ride. Remember that time bomb? Now your story is more roller coaster than road. People are screaming and hugging each other and it’s flying around corners and doing loops. Your story has life. It has a talking donkey, it has a PLOT.
Now once you have a plot, you will need to understand the mechanics of story. Inciting incidents, plot points, pinch points and all the rest. The good thing is if you tell a really interesting story, those mechanics will pretty much take care of themselves. The reason you want to understand them is for editing and revising. If your story is off balance, go back and check to see if you have all the pieces.
Instead of explaining it all here, I’m going to point you to K.M. Weiland’s super fantastic blog where she explains everything using movies and books to illustrate. Check it out.