Looking for proven methods for plotting a novel? It can be a struggle to create a captivating plot. Even when a story starts out with a great premise, sometimes we lose interest during the writing process, or a story becomes less exciting along the way. In these cases, it can be difficult to pinpoint where the story went wrong.
But regardless of how or what you write, there are ways to keep your readers (and yourself) captivated from the book description to the very last page. When you do this consistently and purposefully, readers are sure stay glued to your book. (Plus, staying on track with your strategy helps combat writer’s block).
Strategies for Successfully Plotting a Novel Every Time
You don’t have to use every single one of these tips in every novel. However, utilizing multiple plot strategies can add dimension and intrigue to your storyline.
1. Create an unusual main character
One of the most fail-proof strategies for plotting a novel is to create an eccentric or unusual main character. Think of traits that will captivate your readers. Traits such as wealth, beauty, being the underdog, or having an unusual skill have been common themes in literature throughout the ages.
Keep in mind that your main character (MC) should be strong enough to overcome any conflict and defeat any villains that come along. This keeps the storyline interesting and will keep readers on the edge of their seat. After all, if your main character is very strong, very capable, that means the stakes have to be really high to pose a challenge.
2. Show the reader why they should care
Ok, so now you have this really cool main character, who’s strong and capable. You’ve made a great start in plotting a novel.
But… why should anyone care?
Think through your character’s motivations. What do they hope to achieve in life? Why does the book’s conflict matter to the MC? Once your reader knows why this character matters, you can leverage their emotional attachment, even right there in the book description.
3. Create a formidable villain
Just as the MC needs to be strong and capable, so does the villain. How else are they supposed to defeat a capable hero, or even come close?
Villains are vital when plotting a novel. The villain contributes greatly to your ability to up the stakes. Creating a truly formidable villain sets you up for continual upping of said stakes throughout the entire book (or series).
The key here is to make your villain seem unstoppable, even though your hero is well-equipped to stop them. In other words, don’t “dumb down” your MC’s abilities. When both the hero and the villain are powerful, the story will be more interesting.
4. Introduce a mystery
Nothing grabs a reader’s attention like a good puzzle to solve. This is one really effective strategy for plotting a novel that will captivate readers.
Take this line from author Graham Austin-King’s new novel, The Lore of Prometheus. “John Carver has three rules: Don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit.”
Right away, you’re intrigued. Readers will want to know 1) Where those rules came from? ; 2) Does that gambling strategy work? ; 3) What dead people? ; 4) Is John a supernatural being, as the title “Prometheus” seems to suggest?
Mysteries are almost a novel gimmick. People naturally want to know things, so feeding your reader information a bit at a time is almost guaranteed to keep them on the edge of their seat. (That is, after you’ve established why they should care in the first place).
5. Give the main character an opportunity
Depending on the main character (and genre), this can be anything. Maybe your main character failed to attract the love of her life, and overcoming the conflict of the book is an opportunity to get his attention.
Or perhaps your MC has a debilitating disease. If he can overcome the conflict, he may be able to access healing magic and have a second chance at life.
Be creative. And remember, the polar opposite of this opportunity is the lack thereof (the threat posed by the villain).
6. Illustrate the main character’s hardship(s)
This can be another strategy that helps you make the reader care about the MC. What hardships have they faced in the past? Bullying? Loss? Depression? PTSD?
These hardships not only shape your MC, but offer a chance for redemption and self-affirmation in the conclusion of the main conflict.
For example, Harry Potter struggles with bullying and acceptance in The Philosopher’s Stone. By Book 7, he’s not only gained acceptance but has also faced the biggest bully in the history of the wizarding world.
(Yes, I do know how many times I reference J.K. Rowling when I talk about writing. Sorry, not sorry. )
7. Build meaningful relationships in your characters’ lives
It’s hard to create a high-stakes plot if your MC has nothing to lose. Even those “got-nothin-left-to-lose” heroes still have something to lose. Otherwise, why do they bother fighting?
Building these relationships while plotting a novel (aka, before you start drafting the book) will also help you develop the character more fully.
(I know you’re anxious to start writing, already. If you’re a pantser like me, go ahead… nothing I say will stop you! But just know you’re going to have to go back and make revisions).
8. Use character perspective(s) to build tension
I typically write in third-person. This allows flexibility in choosing which character’s perspective to use when telling certain parts of the story. Since third-person puts the reader inside the characters’ minds, it’s impossible (and artificial) to hide anything from the reader.
You switch characters at a vital moment in the plot to keep the reader from knowing what another character is thinking during a particular scene. This helps keep certain things secret until the crucial moment, while still letting on just enough to create tension.
9. Use genre traits to drive the plot
Each genre has its own traits that should be integral to your plot (if they aren’t, maybe you should reconsider your genre). In fantasy, there’s a sense of wonder and discovery–usually the discovery of magic–that typically becomes central to driving the plot. The MC learns magic to defeat the villain… the hobbits journey across Middle Earth… you get the idea.
In Sci-Fi, the science is what drives the plot. In horror, it’s (you guessed it) the acts and emotions surrounding horror. With romance, it’s the relationship itself that keeps the story moving. And in other, newer genres, like paranormal, the supernatural being’s abilities become a driving force.
10. Don’t save all your plot twists for the very end
Here’s a weird idea I heard at a writing conference (and actually implemented for what I consider one of the best improvements I could’ve made to Green Lady).
Identify a plot twist you’re saving for the end of the book, and introduce it in Chapter 1.
I know, I know.
You just died a little, thinking about this amazing twist you’ve been holding dear, maybe even for years. But if your plot twist is really good, it might also make a good premise. Even if you’re way past plotting a novel and are actually in the process of drafting, you can still consider this technique.
There’s a lot of value in allowing your reader to know the twist, but keeping it secret from the characters. This is a really effective way to keep your readers on edge, yelling at your MC about how blind he is to the treachery of those closest to him. Or other such plot twistery.
11. Allow the main character’s natural traits to solve the conflict
Whatever traits you chose for your MC in Step #1 above… Please. For your sake and all of ours, use those traits!!
I mean, how silly would it be to read a sappy romance featuring a rich bachelor who never tries to use his wealth and influence to woo the girl or solve the conflict? (We all know rich bachelors have to solve their all problems with money. Duh).
Or, imagine watching an entire Wolverine movie where Hugh Jackman didn’t show off his muscles. Wouldn’t you feel ripped off? (Haha… ripped…)
Now, get started!