Developing a plot

A good plot helps bring readers in and drives your story forward.

Plotting out your story means planning the sequence of events that determine how your characters change and grow. Ultimately, your plot is the path that will guide your character. Even though you know where it’s going, your characters (and your reader) will not.

Constructing a plot often involves deciding when and how to reveal things to your characters and to your audience. You have control over how much the reader knows about the world in which your characters exist, as well as their fate.

Like the authors in the video discussed, many authors approach planning the plot of their story differently. Here are a few things to consider when crafting your plot:

  • Consider whether you have a single or multiple plots.
  • Examine each plot point through your protagonist(s) and antagonist(s).
  • Try plot mapping key points, even if it’s just listing moments that matter to the narrative.
  • If you need a little more guidance, try the first novel-writing guide from the best-selling Save the Cat! story-structure series, which focuses on the plot points writers need to address.

Your plot will show key moments where your characters experience conflict — either with others or with something they want, as author Dani Shapiro explains. 

“Everything that we do as human beings is as a result of a decision that we’re making. Of a feeling that we’re having. Of a fear that we’re having. In some way our history is acting upon us,” Shapiro said. “And that propels us into action. So you have characters that are being propelled into action because of their inner lives. And then lo and behold you have plot.”

To begin constructing your plot, start by considering a “through line” or central theme. Used in acting but also in novel writing, you can fill in: “At the end of the story, [character] needs to [action].” By considering your character’s motivation or ultimate goal, or considering this for multiple characters, you’ll begin to see your plot take shape. 

As you write, you can even consider revising your plot and making sure your key idea or through line still rings true.

“So for me, I plot two or three times during the book and it becomes a little bit more specific,” said author Barbara Freethy. “… I do find I’ll take a left turn and it’s better than what I had thought of previously. So I don’t like to be too tied in to a certain thing.” 

As you try different plotting methods, consider the stakes and amount of risk for the character each time. Build as you progress. 

“You have to make sure that you have an escalation when you’re plotting. So you start with a compelling incident and then you keep building it up,” Freethy continued. “But you never want to take your foot off the gas. You want to keep going. You want to keep propelling your story forward.”