The most important element of any story (with a few exceptions) is the plot. The plot is a series of interconnected events that give the story direction. Keeping a plot interesting isn’t as easy as many people think. Your readers may decide to give up if the pace is too slow or if the plot isn’t believable enough. To help you craft an exciting plot, here are just a few tips that could help when planning out your novel.
One – Quickly Set the Stage
Most stories begin by setting the stage. This involves introducing the characters and describing the world that your characters live in. This background information is known as ‘exposition’ and it is key to any story. However, you need to be careful of providing too much exposition. The quicker you can set the stage, the more quickly you can get to the action – and the more likely you are to grip readers. It’s important to note that you can use dialogue or action to help set the scene. You can also save some background info for later in the story to maintain some mystery.
Two – Foreshadow Events to Come
Subtly alluding to events later on in the novel is known as foreshadowing. It can be used to build suspense and also add plausibility to events that may otherwise be unbelievable. Chekov’s gun theory is one foreshadowing technique that could be worth considering – the famous playwright believed that an object should not be introduced to a story unless it plays a role in the narrative (for example, a gun on the wall should only be introduced if it’s going to be used later in the story).
Three – Work Out Your Inciting Incident
An inciting incident is the event that starts the plot. After you’ve set the stage and done some foreshadowing, you want to introduce a big event that gives the rest of the story a clear direction. Most stories choose one of the following inciting incidents – either a character embarks on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Meanwhile, in a murder mystery novel, the inciting incident is typically the murder.
Four – Create Goals for Your Characters
Giving characters goals can also help to give your plot direction and can also help readers root for characters. These goals could be directly related to the inciting incident, or they could be completely unrelated. To keep the story excitingly unpredictable, consider adding different characters with conflicting goals (the most famous example being ‘the love triangle’).
Five – Lay Out an Obstacle Course
Your protagonists don’t just need goals but obstacles to overcome. Laying out lots of obstacles can make the journey all the more gripping – readers will stay engaged in order to find out how your protagonist overcomes each obstacle. Some obstacles should be clear from the beginning, however others can be thrown in as a surprise.
Six – Maintain Suspense Along the Way With Cliffhangers
A cliffhanger is an unresolved ending which leaves the reader eager to know what happens next. Many stories use cliffhangers throughout by cutting away from the action at a pivotal point and then later returning. This could be achieved by cutting to different characters or by jumping around in time, which leads to the next point…
Seven – Do Some Time Travelling
The traditional way to tell a story is to tell it in chronological order. However, many of the greatest stories don’t do this. Some stories begin at the end, and then spend the rest of the novel recounting the events up until that point. Others throw in flashbacks or jump forward in time only to double back and fill in the gaps. Just make sure that the reader knows exactly which time period they’re in.
Eight – Give Characters an Arc
Some of the best characters are those who change throughout a novel. Redemption arcs are sometimes used to turn villains into heroes – at first, they may have bad traits, but they eventually redeem themselves by doing the right thing. A corruption arc is the opposite of this in which a hero becomes a villain through corrupt ideas. Of course, there are other ways a character can have an arc such as overcoming fears or letting go of selfish goals.
Nine – Add a Shocking (But Believable) Twist
Everyone loves a story with a twist. This is an unexpected event or unexpected piece of information that is usually revealed towards the end. For a twist to be good, it needs to be genuinely shocking but also believable. Throwing ‘red herrings’ at the reader can be a way of misdirecting them. Just make sure to add some very subtle foreshadowing so that the twist doesn’t seem completely random.
Ten – Tie Up Loose Ends
Once your plot has reached its climax, you then need to tie up any loose ends. Which character conflicts are still unresolved? Are there any mysteries you’ve failed to answer? The best writers consider all of these loose ends and plan early how to tie them up. You shouldn’t be scrambling around at the last minute to find a conclusion. End on a high!