Four Ingredients of Story: Plot

This week, we come to the third and most exciting ingredient in the Four Ingredients series – plot. If character and setting are the fuel of your story, plot is the match that sets it alight. It’s what keeps the reader hanging on, to see what happens next.

Use all the fancy tricks you like, but there’s nothing to beat a well-spun yarn. With all the techniques we’re told about in writing classes, or during interviews with great authors, what’s often forgotten is that writers are storytellers. And being able to tell a story well is an underrated skill.

The plot is the action of a story. It drives a story forward. When a story is well plotted, it’s hard to put down. We’ve all had that wonderful sensation of being swept away by a story, of staying up far later than we should to read just one more chapter. They’re the sort of stories that critics describe as ‘unputdownable,’ an ugly but accurate word.

Plot-based novels draw on a number of techniques to keep their readers hooked.

Conflict: Without conflict, there is no story. Conflict makes a story sizzle. It’s the clash between characters, between ideas. It can be purely verbal or explode into violence. If you’re a more character-driven storyteller, you can use conflict between the two to create tension and build a story.

Dialogue: Dialogue gives writers a shortcut. It lets you pass on a lot of information about your characters and setting to your readers, without having to go into long, chunky descriptions. And it keeps the momentum of a story going.

Action and atmosphere: If you veer more towards plot in your storytelling, you need to be careful that your story doesn’t end up being a string of events, with nothing to fill in the gaps or add flesh. Team your action with an evocative atmosphere, using the senses and you’ll have an unbeatable combination.

If you want to improve your plotting skills, look to the newspapers for inspiration. News articles are based on the five Ws of Journalism

What happened

Who is it happening to

Where and When did it happen?

And above all

Why did it happen?

Use this 5 Ws formula to establish your plot. It might even be a good diea to write it out as if it were a news article in the paper.

The thriller is the perfect example of a plot-driven story. They’re full of twists and turns and keep you guessing. What story has kept you up all night and why? Feel free to share.

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