What makes for an effective plot? How do you keep a tale moving?
Plots are really the simple part. Can’t you think of five right off the top of your head? Most writers can (and do).
The difficulty comes in the development—creating the story effectively and believably, with the right cadence to pull all of the elements together. You can outline any book out there (including your own) by simply jotting down what happens in each chapter. But is that the plot? Or the storyline?
The plot is the gist, the point, and part of the theme of the book. And the storyline is how you get from point A to point Z. I.e., the plot is the entire forest, and the storyline, the trees. Both organization and structure come into play here as well, the organization being the roadmap that the structure bolsters up.
So, once you have your plot clear in your own head—boy finds girl; boy falls in love with girl; girl dumps boy; boy spends rest of the novel trying to win girl back—the real work begins in regard to moving along the plot, otherwise known as the fleshing out of the storyline.
Many factors come into play within the specter of creating interesting and believable storylines and plots.
֎ First and most important (in that everything hinges on it) is focus. Most often I see storylines that ramble. One might begin with a bang-up cliffhanging scene, which really pulls in the reader and sets a great tone, leaving us champing at the bit to turn to the next chapter. But then, that next chapter wanders off to Brazil somewhere (a setting which then never reappears in said book), often with different characters entirely, and the thread of the narrative is lost.
What just happened to your plot? Your storyline? The protagonist in whom I’ve just invested my trust to take me through the course of this book? In other words, where are we, and who the heck are THESE people?
֎ Or, the narrative is going along fine, except the writer keeps drifting off on tangents that sort of relate, but don’t add one thing to the plot or characters. An old adage in this business says to not take readers down a road that doesn’t lead directly back into the main stream—those readers just may take that road and not come back (i.e., put down the book and not pick it back up). A good litmus test for every single scene in the book is: Is this vital to my plot/characters? Can I lose the scene and lose nothing of real value (except, of course, brilliant writing 🙂 ?
֎ Pacing is key, and by design. It doesn’t just happen. This relates to focus, as again, without it, everything pretty much falls apart. But pacing includes a variety of factors, even the cadence of your voice. Do your prose and sentence structure relate directly to the type of book you’re writing? As an example, the long, rambling nature of Faulkner’s prose would be completely out of place in a Thriller, where the style required through so much action is short and crisp, in places, almost staccato. Next, are your plot points strategically placed? Plot points are what make your story move. You’re looking overall at roughly three major plot points, and a host (nine or so) of minor ones.
I see a lot of belabored minor points—where the writer spends way too much time beating the reader over the head with some issue—and conversely, big holes remain that the reader can’t bridge. Spend your time creating the important things, and then you can tell the lesser ones. Yes, some of this is by feel. But much of it’s logic too. And when you focus on the nuts and bolts, the feel will eventually come.
Writing is an odd amalgam of art and skill, with the latter feeding the former at just the right times.
See, writing books is simple. Just decide on your plot. Then outline how you get from A to Z. Organize it with effective plot points. Make sure the pacing fits the book. Stay focused. Simple. We only run into problems when we confuse simple with easy . . .