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How to write a great plot

3 min read

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.

Ray Bradbury, in “Zen in the Art of Writing

When I saw that question popping up in reply to one of my Instagram stories, I knew exactly what I was going to say. “I don’t know. And I will never know for sure.”

Ask me about writing a plot. The answer is easy. You list the main events of the novel as they form a sequence in front of you. They make sense for you or according to a traditional plot structure. There are myriads of them to choose from.

Now, when you add an adjective before “plot”. Everything gets relative. I tell you why.

  • What I think as a great plot may not be great to you. I may hate your favorite kind of plot, too.
  • Great plot structures we love can be ruined by bad writing. As well as traditional cliché plots can surprise us if the writer has an irritating gift to write.
  • “Great” can have a thousand meanings. Do you want to be a bestselling author? There’s a plot structure for that. You wanna write in a specific genre? Some plots define genres.
  • Other factors like culture, moment, language, or, more specifically, target readers are essential to telling if a plot will work or not.

So, I won’t tell you HOW you can WRITE a great plot, but I will share what I know about how you can TRY.

John Truby wrote in The Anatomy of Story that the “plot involves the intricate weaving of characters and actions over the course of the entire story, it is inherently complex. It must be extremely detailed yet also hang together as a whole. Often the failure of a single plot event can bring the entire story down.”

List Cron wrote in Story Genius that “what your reader’s brain craves is to synchronize with your protagonist’s brain as she struggles with a difficult situation, one that will have a clear-cut consequence—that is, a consequence that we can envision and so anticipate. It’s virtual reality at its finest, giving us insight into what we might do if we were in a similarly difficult situation.”

turned-on desk lamp near calculator
Photo by Yusuf Evli on Unsplash

In my opinion, what makes a great plot is a story I can relate to, envision myself struggling with the conflict created by the author, and see the plot points hang together as a whole.

How can you try that or check if you’re doing it right?

  • Put it on a timeline. It doesn’t need to be linear or chronological, but your plot has to make sense in a timeline.
  • Make sure your character has an obstacle or a purpose. There’s nothing worse than characters being there idly floating over the pages of the book without a reason.
  • Make sure the struggle is real. I think we immediately lose interest in the story when we don’t buy it.
  • Timing! Or check if you’re not jumping too soon or too late to the next plot point.
  • Kill what’s not relevant. Think of each part of the plot as a preparation for the next one and the end.
  • Don’t underestimate the end. Sometimes I read books that clearly show that the writer was in such a hurry to finish the story, and they fail to end it well. Great writers are not an exception to that.

So, I hope this helps you somehow.

Now, for the comments…

What makes a great plot in YOUR opinion?

2 Comments

  • Julian

    I read Story Genius by Lisa Cron and it was amazing to see how naturally my initial outline fit the 3-act structure, and how simple tweaks could enhance the story! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Shobhana Jha

    Memorable sequence of events and resonance with the reader is what according to me makes a good plot. Something which one wants to recall even after finishing the read. More than the actual plot, it is how it made the reader feel which leads to a super story.

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