What Is a Good Plot? What Makes a Good Plot?

Posted by Peace Owen on March 8, 2022

What is a Good Plot?

It's the age of the internet, and every other person (and me, LOL) wants to become a writer. Now that's all well and good, but how can you become one of the few that actually become icons in this highly competitive industry? 

Since the easiest and surest way to stand out is to start with a compelling story, I like to think the place to begin your journey to fame—is your story's plot.

Like any other work of art, writing starts with forming ideas, imaginations, dreams, and thoughts. And when these condense into coherent, detailed, and articulate words with (or without) a timeline and characters, emotional stakes, and progression, then you have a plot. 

The storyline in itself is neither good nor bad.

It's only an idea, after all. However, what you do with it will determine how good or bad it becomes.

What is a Plot?

A plot isn't merely a string of occurrences; it's a carefully orchestrated telling of events that might include breaking up their temporal order, taking out certain pieces, or emphasizing other components. It is in that manipulation that a simple story becomes a plot.

Robert Kernen

Note that your plot is not your story idea. 

Yes, this makes up a massive part of your plot, but when it becomes the only thing you're working with, you're in for a disaster. 

I'll illustrate this using two books from the same genre: Romance.

Book One Story Idea

Ms. Hardt takes the cliched "girl-meets-billionaire-bachelor" troupe and puts a very modern spin on it. Her plot probably sprung from the question "What if a social media influencer's PA who has big dreams of becoming a photographer for National Geographic runs into a mysterious billionaire bachelor who can change her life forever?"

Book Two Story Idea

Here, Nina Lane dared to peek behind the fairytale curtain, and pose the question "What happens after "Happily Ever After?"'

The two ideas are full of potential, yet one of the authors allows her idea to become her whole plot, and her story turns out stagnate, while the other allows her idea to blossom into a detailed plot. It shouldn't surprise you then, that one of the books turns into a career-making franchise, and the other becomes a mind-numbing and exasperating read. 

But just looking at these two brilliant ideas, your creative juices begin to flow, and you can think up a dozen ways to complete a new story. 

Execution can either make your plot into an all-time classic or ruin your (and probably your writing career) for good. 

These are real books, by the way, and if you want to know which one turned out as better executed, you can go on to read the books. Or I can share my review if you ask nicely.

It is true that sometimes when thinking up ideas on what to write, it seems like all the good ones are already taken. Of course, this isn't even remotely true, but even if it is, it's still not the end of the world, you know. 

Two people can write full stories based on the same idea and have two entirely different outcomes (just ask your English-Lit teacher). 

Alright, now let's find out what makes a plot a good one.

What makes a good plot

  1. A Strong Story Idea: The best ideas are the ones no one has thought of yet. But if you can't think up any, that's okay too! Take the clichés and put a unique spin on them. They are clichés for a reason. They get you every time (seriously, ask Marvel and DC scriptwriters).
  2. Subplots: Wrap up subplots quickly, ensure they don't take on too much vigor and distract from the main plot. Don't get lost in unnecessary exposition or world-building.
  3. Compelling Characters: Characters are the meat of your story. They can give a boring story life. Let your audience watch your character(s) grow; they must show credible growth (positive or negative). You can do this by throwing challenges, obstacles, and problems at your characters. It also helps to move them from one location to the next as the plot moves along.
  4. Pose a Dramatic Question: This question asks what challenge the characters (especially the MCs) would face along their journey. Would they be internal or external, high stakes or comical? Often, this will determine the genre of your story.
  5. Pace and Timing: Books that drag on too long come from plots that aren't clear enough to the writer. Also, be sure to remember that even if the story doesn’t follow a chronological timeline, it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Before you try your hand at writing your big story, practice and practice making a good plot. Work on stories that come to you and spend lots of time thinking up new ideas. This way, you might stumble onto your big break sooner than you know! 

Here are some exercises that can help you:

  1. Take some cliché storylines and co-opt them into something different
  2. Think up new ideas peculiar to you
  3. Look out for events that could make a big story in your daily life or the world around you and practice shaping them into something exciting.
  4. Take a character, build them up in your mind, give them emotions, quirks, and all that. Let them take on life in your mind. 

I look forward to seeing your name on the cover of a book on my shelf!

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