I was contacted recently by a friend of a friend. You know how that works. Somebody tells somebody else that they are writing a novel, and somebody says, “Oh, I know an editor. You should contact them to help you with…” Fill that in as you like. Now, I don’t at all mind helping writers of all levels. I’ve given countless hours of my personal time helping writers transform stories into better versions of said story. I do this because I want everyone to be successful. I do it because I care. I do it because quality matters. In the situation above, it was clear to me that this particular writer needed to learn some craft elements before they published. Their story had no plot.
As a writer, it is important to make sure that your story is the best possible story it can be before you publish (either self-publish or traditionally publish). If your story starts out good, but ends poorly, or if it starts out good but sags in the middle, then the story isn’t as good as it can be, and you have work to do. If the story doesn’t make sense, you have work to do. It the story is boring, you have work to do. Your responsibility as a writer is to learn your craft to the best of your ability so you can create the best possible reading experience for your audience. You do want to make a sale, don’t you?
The thing that keeps your story from sagging in the middle or from ending poorly, or from being boring, is plot. This should be the first thing that you put into your writer’s bag of tricks.
Plot, for all practical purposes, is the events that happen within a story from beginning to end, and it includes the order that the events happen. Plot forces something to move somewhere, and plot forces something to change. It could be your character, or your setting, or any other variation. Plot means something happens. And something has to happen.
If you look on Wikipedia you can find The Seven Basic Plots and an explanation of each plot type. You can also find The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti explained on Wikipedia. And there are tons of books on plot available at your public library, and tons of writing resources on the internet. Just look around.
The general idea of the plot types is that every single story can be broken down into one of these plot types, and that writers can use these plot types to help themselves create a story that moves something. It’s the plot that can make your story dynamic. It is the plot that can make your reader turn the page, even at three in the morning when they should be sleeping because they have to get up and go to work in three hours.
Let’s be clear. Plot is important. Learn it.
Knowing the plot types will help you plan and write your story. If you know what has to happen on the page, it will help you make things happen on the page and figure out the hows and whys. And you will save days, months, and years of writing unpublishable meandering words.
Take the time to learn the plot types, especially as they relate to your genre. Make something happen on the page so your readers can’t put your story down.
(more on plot next time)