“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
When you plan to start a novel there is nothing but a blank sheet before you. It is up to you to convert that blankness into a piece of excellence or a paper hardly good enough to wipe your dirty hands. The question is what how and where a writer should begin. There are a few elements of novel writing that forms the basis of a great novel, as we have discussed before. One of them, in fact the most important of them is The Plot.
What is a Plot?
If you’ll ask me to define a plot, it is the architecture of a novel linking and weaving the whole storyline through a series of events build around one or many characters to reach a conclusive ending.
How should it be?
Which author doesn’t want his/her book to be bestsellers? Answer is none. You and every other writer out there wants that their novel should be great to read and even greater to sell. Thus it becomes important that the beginning of your book has that spark which will lift the spirits of the reader and compel them to never put it down before they’ve reached the conclusion.
However, in order to achieve such a marvel, there are things that your plot must contain.
- You should have affection and attachment towards the central character(s)
- Change should be the only constant thing in your storyline
- Keep throwing questions at the characters, give them encouragement to find the answers, and take them to the answers gradually, but in a meaningful and enthralling manner. The suspense elements keep your readers interested, but remember, revealing too much or too little can both be hazardous to you.
Anatomy of the Plot
Broadly the plot could be divided into subheads in order to understand and build your plot more easily.
- Protagonist faces a challenging situation (whether positive or negative).
- Protagonist makes a decision to act that change his/her life.
- The course of events in the protagonist’s life in fulfilling that decision.
- The conclusion.
For example, in the famous Lord of the Rings novels, early in the story Frodo Baggins with the help of Gandalf the grey learns that he is in possession of a powerful and evil ring. He is, then, faced by a situation where he must escape from ring wraiths with the ring to meet Gandalf at Prancing Ponies. To meet Gandalf was a decision that changed Frodo’s life forever, and he was thrown into an adventure. However, reaching Prancing Ponies didn’t conclude the story; in fact, it only led him into a greater part of the plot. The plot line is concluded in the end when the Ring is destroyed.
Points to remember while Creating the Plot
- The protagonist must be put to a Challenge as soon as possible in your storyline, preferably the first chapter. The Challenge must lead to motivation which is evident, and must bear an importance in the Protagonist’s life, such that it is impossible for him to carry on without dealing with it. For example, Paulo Coelho in his book ‘The Alchemist’ begins the story with the mention of a recurring dream experienced by a shepherd named Santiago, which motivates him to learn the true meaning of the dream, and later follow a quest to find the treasure that was prophesied in the dream.
- From simple Goal to life-dependent Cause. Through the course of events the challenge, the conflict that bothers your protagonist should take a massive form, as if his/her whole life depends on it. For example, Frodo is concern to evade ringwraiths and reach Prancing Ponies turns to saving the Middle Earth from Sauron by destroying the One Ring.
- Constant supply of hardships or perils. Not a single chapter or scene in your story can afford to be boring. Each one should come up with a new hurdle in the path of the protagonist, or a new accomplishment would suffice too. If it not possible to bring up new challenges constantly, you must at least find ways to bring twists and turns in the existing conflict. Now, it is up to you how you shall find those little twists to keep your readers captivated.
- Managing POV’s. Ideally, a book should contain a single protagonist, and the story should be narrated from his point of view. Alternately, you can have multiple protagonists and have the story narrated from their point of view. The advice would be to keep your protagonists limited to three. Why? Because, firstly, you’ll have to have subplots created for each of them, with the same anatomy (discussed before) your plot uses. Too many sub-plots put together at the same time might confuse your readers. Also, it would get difficult for you too in maintaining the Wow Factor of your story.
There are other choices of POV’s too, which we shall discuss in another a subsequent article about POV’s.
Caution: Your readers are reading your story because they want to read your story, never ever drift too far from it.
- Creating Sub-plots. Having said that too many sub-plots might confuse your reader, I would like to emphasis on the phrase—sub-plots put together at the same time. It is a requirement of a novel to have many sub-plots weaved together in a way that even if they’re entangled they do not confuse your readers and add to the progress of the story. Multiple sub-plots keep your readers interested. Nevertheless too many sub-plots that drifts far from the main storyline can have just the opposite effect.