How to Write: Plot
Ever read a book where you. Just. Don’t. Care? There’s danger…and ooh, the hero saved the day. Big surprise! You guessed that from the start.
So here’s some ideas to make your plot a cliff-hanger and drama-filled rollercoaster…
1. Two bad choices
Give your protagonist a choice…but make both of the options bad.
Save the boyfriend, or the world? Rob the bank to get the ransom money, or let the hostages die? Walk away and live with regret, or stay and die?
Even small choices can matter, as long as it adds an extra notch to the problems.
2. A real possibility of failure
We know James Bond will always save the day and get the girl…but what if he doesn’t? What if there’s a real chance of failure? We’ve got a sinking feeling; it could actually happen, the baddies could win, the author might be going to surprise us…
And then: phew! He did pull it off! The world is saved!
But that little moment of doubt, that little inkling of worry…it just ratchets up the fear factor.
3. Build the tension
The morning starts with one small task; the dog’s not well, take it to the vet.
And then the car won’t start.
And then a bullet goes through the windscreen.
And then the apartment’s surrounded by goons.
And then the President’s called because there’s a nuclear crisis – and the dog just threw up on your hero’s shoes.
Add a bigger problem, and a bigger problem…and that first thing has still got to be done. Just keep ratcheting up the trouble.
4. A solution causes more issues
Sure, your hero has just done that favour for the Head Honcho of Something – but now they’re in deep shit with Head Honcho’s enemy. Well, that didn’t go as planned!
The nuke’s been redirected away from the Major City – but sending it off towards the moon isn’t as sensible a solution as it might have first appeared…
The hero has done some Diplomacy, and negotiated a reasonable compromise? Now everyone’s annoyed!
5. Throw a curve ball
Running around, saving the day, sorting the problems – hello, parking fine! A messenger turns up from a long-lost uncle. Someone’s dog is stuck up a tree. Where’s my wallet?
This works even better if it’s a moral thing; sure, the world’s about to end, but can your hero really afford to ignore the little old lady who’s just fallen over? Yes? Well, he’s not much of a hero then, is he?
Sure, they’re all quite extreme examples – you’re probably not writing a superhero. But consider what could be added into your plot to ratchet up the tension. Consider the consequences of your protagonist’s decisions. What could you do to make sure they do have to make difficult choices? What can you do to get your reader rooting for them, and then drop them straight in it? How much chaos and trouble can you cause, just to see how – and if – your protagonist gets out of it?
After all, that’s what makes the good stories!
Green Sky & Sparks