Plotting a novel can be a daunting task. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on your debut book or have already written eight books. Before starting your first draft, let’s discuss how to plot a novel.
What Is A Plot?
A plot is the basic idea of your story. It’s a sequence of events that come together, painting a bigger picture. The plot often teaches a lesson, is entertaining, informative, and has some moral by the end.
This part of the creative writing process begins with a basic plot. To do that, you need to generate ideas. Finding novel ideas is easy if you know where to look.
Once you have a few ideas, it’s time to expand upon them and figure out their purpose. Are they worth telling a story about? Can that idea be entertaining enough? If you think so and want to write the story, it’s time to begin plotting a book.
Do You Need A Plot Outline?
Before we go further, I want to reiterate that every writer writes differently. We all have unique styles and work ethics regarding our passion projects. So, do you need to worry about plotting a story?
No, you don’t.
Of course, your story needs a plot, but you don’t necessarily need to know the ins and outs of the plot right away.
There are three types of writers: planners, pantsers, and plantsers.
Planners are the writers that outline and create detailed guidelines for their books, often before the first draft writing stage. They have character profiles, maps of various settings within the story, and more.
Pantsers are named because they write “by the seat of their pants.” They don’t create an outline. Instead, they begin writing their first draft with their basic plot idea and see where it takes them. Then, they see where it takes the characters over time.
Finally, plantsers are a mixture of the two. They outline as they write, jotting down new ideas, and expanding on old ideas. They may write half an outline beforehand and roll with that.
With all of that said, novel plotting is still essential. So we’ll discuss how to write a plot for a story, regardless of when you decide to plot.
What Makes A Good Plot?
Every book has a theme or a moral to it. Many books have the same theme. It’s how you put a unique spin on that theme that is partially what makes a good plot and storyline. Two things make up a great plot.
Creative Elements Of A Good Plot
An excellent plot for a novel includes inspiration and imagination. The inspiration goes both ways between you and your audience, the readers.
First, you need to find inspiration for your book. It will not read well if you’re not inspired enough to write it. Inspiration is seen through a few ideas and then pushes you enough to expand upon those ideas.
On the other hand, the plot itself should inspire the readers. Maybe it’ll teach them something about themselves or help them see a situation from another perspective. So you want your readers to gain something positive from your story.
Imagination plays a huge role, as well. No one has the same imagination as you. No one can think like you, and no one can come up with the same ideas.
To tell your story idea effectively, you need an active imagination eager to come up with ideas and entertainingly tell them.
Mechanics Of A Good Plot
Novel writing is part creative and part mechanical. The same goes for the plot. And no, I’m not talking about spelling and grammar.
The overall story structure and plot should be sturdy. What I mean by that is it needs to make sense. It shouldn’t be messy.
A good plot is well-organized and doesn’t have any plot holes. It’s one of the reasons writers outline in the first place. It helps keep their thoughts organized, and they can keep track of plot points.
To keep your plot organized and thoughts clear, keeping a page of notes about character development, important events, a timeline, and the like is a great idea.
How To Plot A Novel
How to write a story plot is relatively simple. Honestly, the hardest part is coming up with ideas. But don’t worry; the main characters will usually take over and write themselves.
All books follow a similar plot structure. So no matter how many books you’ve written, a good place to start writing is following a step-by-step guide of a plotting template.
We’ve all seen that pyramid in school when analyzing books in English class. It’s known as the story arc, narrative arc, or dramatic arc. But I’ll be honest – I grew up calling it the story pyramid.
The story arc is a generic template of how a plot should be explained throughout a novel. A book doesn’t only consist of a beginning, middle, and end. In fact, those three parts are also broken into subparts.
This is the first step of introducing your overall plot. Next, your readers are introduced to your protagonist and other secondary characters. They also get to see some of the setting and time period in which the story takes place.
Also known as the inciting incident, this particular action triggers the plot. Now that we know the story, the true issue they’re facing (or will face) shows itself. Then, something happens that puts the rest of the story in motion, depending on the characters’ choices and actions.
The climax is the highest point on the pyramid and is also in the middle of the story. This occurs when something big or important happens to the plot and the protagonist. Then, finally, everything begins to make sense, and the main character needs to make some hard choices and face the truth.
Depending on the protagonist’s choice, the falling action is the result. Whether it’s good or bad, this action is what resolves whatever the conflict is. More questions are answered, and loose ends are beginning to tie up and make more sense.
Finally, the resolution is the end of the story. What are the consequences of your character’s decisions from the climax? What happens afterward? How do people get along when it’s all said and done? Ensure there are no unanswered questions (although there can be a slight cliffhanger if a sequel is in the works).
Types Of Novel Plot Ideas
As mentioned earlier, every book shares a similar theme or plot as another story. What makes a great plot is how it’s told, how the characters face those issues, and how unique it is from other books.
Also known as the quest, this plot type requires the main character to go on a journey. This brings them to an unfamiliar place, overcome a huge obstacle, learn about new people, and more. The reason for the journey is the main storyline. Why do they need to journey, and what will they accomplish at their destination?
In a nutshell, this plot type shows the protagonist (or someone close to them) going through a major transformation. It could be for the best or for the worst that has long-lasting effects.
The gift doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a tangible item. A gift could be an act of kindness or a sacrifice made by or to the protagonist.
Temptation is real. In this type of plot, the protagonist or another important character is lured away by someone or something, which causes some issues. This plot is also an excellent example of internal conflict.
An unexpected situation may arise when a mistake is made. Who needs to deal with it? Who made a mistake in the first place? The mistake often leads to dangers and consequences that the main character must overcome.
Fame, fortune, a rescue – whatever it is, the situation is essential and could be dire. The race plot type gives a sense of urgency where the characters must overcome or complete something within a certain amount of time. If they don’t make it in time, what are the consequences?
Yes, romance is also a genre. However, no matter the genre, romance also makes a great plot type. Forbidden romances can cause conflict, and so can unexpected romances. The romance itself is something the character needs to overcome together.
What Do All Plots Have In Common?
You may look at the types of plots listed above and realize that they all have some things in common. These points are all that make a plot a story-worthy plot.
Every Plot Is Character Driven
You may have noticed that all the plot types are caused by something a character does. Therefore, all stories should be driven by the protagonist. They should be relatable and likable (or not, if that’s the point) and take the readers on the journey with them.
Readers want to cheer for the main character. They want the protagonist to grow and change positively. Of course, not all stories have a happy ending, but if it hits the reader emotionally, it’s a win.
These plots can be told through the character’s internal and external conflicts.
An internal conflict is an internal struggle. The protagonist must overcome an obstacle created by themselves or battle their own mind.
An external conflict has an opposite meaning. It’s an outside struggle for the main character that has to do with something or someone else.
No matter what the conflict is, it’s how the protagonist handles it. How do they learn and grow throughout the story? Their decisions determine how the plot wraps up.
You Can Mix And Match Plots
As mentioned before, romance is also a genre. A lot of stories, no matter their genre, have romance elements to them.
For example, your protagonist may have made a mistake and gone on a journey to fix it by a specific time. Along the way, they meet new people and possibly find a love interest. That plot line includes at least four of the types listed above.
Overall, a plot should contain at least one of the above and focus on the main character. Without growth from the protagonist, there are no stakes to the plot.
What About Subplots?
Secondary plots are like supporting characters to the protagonist. A subplot helps build the main plot by adding extra details. There might also be added conflict, eventually aiding the main character in resolving the story’s central issue.
Subplots can be anything. As long as it further drives the character or main plot, it’ll boost the novel.
How To Outline A Story
A great way to build plot development is to create an outline. You can do this by mind mapping or using the snowflake method. You can also do it before you begin writing or during the first draft stage. There’s a lot to it, so we’ll discuss how to write a plot outline in the coming weeks. In the meantime, think about your book’s main plot and how you can turn it into a great story.
- Podcast Episode: Are You A Planner, Pantser, Or Plantser?
- Podcast Episode: Do You Write Your Novels Linearly Or Jump Around?
- Podcast Episode: What Do You Do When You Hit A Roadblock In Your Novel?
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.