The plot in a narrative is like a main route in a road or river system. It’s the central story line that carries characters, conflicts, and tension building in a narrative to that climactic moment of resolution. It is an essential component. And, like any other aspect of writing, it is important to understand what the plot is so that as you begin to create a storyline you have a better handle on how the story will flow. Plotting is the mechanism that builds tension around your characters and how they navigate through it as the story progresses. The plot of a story is the action button, and how cause and effect come together.
Many writers struggle with plotting and deciding whether to outline and create a template for characters and storyline to follow, or write organically where the story and characters struggle through the turning points and mounting tension. Outliners tend to encounter issues with cause-effect because they have too much set in place and lose the flexibility and creativity trying to get characters from one to the other. While organic writers lose the direction of the story, despite having a logistical outcome, they still tend to hit dead ends. There are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches and the solution to overcoming those weaknesses can be found by asking the following three questions.
How would a person naturally respond to this situation?
This question draws the focus in on the believability of both the causality and characters. One way to address this question is to read newspaper articles about everyday events/people, people watch at coffee shops or parks. Generating lists of natural reactions can help to create the most believable characters while also providing new scenarios or situations for characters to react in.
What can I do to make the situation/scene more intense?
Creating escalation is critical in order to keep the action flowing and the plot interesting. Escalation keeps the reader flipping pages. Understanding how to first create tension and escalation, then learning to build it in the narrative comes with practice. Escalation and tension are layered and interwoven in various ways. For example, there are social struggles, emotional battles, physical confrontations. Each of these are avenues that can produce ample opportunities to create escalation.
When and how do I end my story with the ‘a-ha’?
There are two primary ways to end a narrative. Some writers prefer to provide their audience with finality—wrapping it all up in a nice, clean classic end, called a Closer. Others like to take a sharp left turn and throw a curve-ball into an ending the audience never saw coming, this is the Clincher. Deciding whether your story should end with a Closer, or a Clincher, can be determined by the overall theme of the story. Does the story have a more classic, clean flow? Or, does the story continually twist and turn? Closer endings can be just as memorable as the jaw-dropping Clincher. Each have a unique and distinct way of resonating with the reader.