The main problem for someone moving from non-fiction to fiction is the development of a plot. It is especially frustrating to someone who already knows how to string words together and "write well", who can express himself in the medium, to be unable to write a story.

I found a book 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias, that covers very general large-scale structures. But is there anything like lists of detailed facets that can be perused? For example, a survey of plots concerning an abduction: what are the different reasons and motivations that have been used in successful stories?

  • Have you tried The Writer's Journey for a breakdown of how do create Hero's Journey plots? amazon.com/Writers-Journey-3rd-Mythic-Structure/dp/1615931708 Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 21:17
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    Remember that not all fiction is plot-driven. If you're interested, check out the literary-fiction shelves at your local bookstore. There's usually a plot, but it supports the characters rather than vice versa. Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 13:40
  • That might be what I have in mind, @KenMohnkern.
    – JDługosz
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 16:38

4 Answers 4


Study writers known for being especially good at it or being at the vanguard of writing style. (or...building plotlines) I'm into the new "anti-Disney" style I see more and more.

  1. Stories don't have to have a happy ending
  2. Plot holes can be left dangling
  3. Purposely angering or frustrating the audience works great!

ALL artists ultimately seek authentic, emotional moments. I don't care HOW my readers react, mainly that they DO.

FOR me, the modern master is David Chase. (spoiler alert). Chase spends most of season 3 of "The Sopranos" building up to final "payoff" moment. The plot and everything about it points toward Dr. Melfi giving Tony the name of her rapist. Lagging us all the way up to the final minute of the final scene.

-[loooooong pause]....

  • Tony- "There somethin' you wanna tell me?"
  • [looooooonger pause].................
  • Melfi "No."
  • [fade to black]
  • [roll credits]

Chase led us down a comfortable primrose path of revenge, protection and love. Then he pulled it away ... "no carrot" I'd never seen this style (I've seen it copied!) so I credit him w/ it.

It is also worth noting that in season 3's "Pine Barrens," Paulie & Christopher screw up a collection stop, so they try to kill the guy, bind him and drive south to bury him. "The Russian," ultimately escapes and is NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN. That's a DEEP plot-hole to leave dangling; Tony launders all his $ through the man's best-friend.

Create feelings; any way you can. Connect with your audience on a human level, even if you intend to frustrate 'em, cause 'em anxiety, anger, who cares? it's boring writtig that evokes zilcho. The plot(s) will start to develop organically as you create.

Writers should have no need to be boxed into any plot method or structure. Prose is best when boundless.


I'd suggest reading a lot of folk and fairy tales, and classic story collections like "The Arabian Nights" and "The Water Margins." The reason is that those stories are almost all plot, they've stood the test of time, and they have emotional/archetypal resonance. We tend to be most familiar with a few simplified Disney-version fairy tales, but there are thousands of such stories from all around the world, and some of them can be quite elaborate and complex. Of course, your story probably isn't about a princess, a peasant and a dragon, but maybe in your version the princess is a wealthy heiress, the peasant is a blue collar worker and the dragon is a big corporation. Or maybe in your modern version, the gender roles are reversed --or both protagonists are the same gender. But the same underlying plot is at work.

You could also try fictionalizing something from real life. Even when writing non-fiction, you have to coax a compelling narrative out of the events, and here you have the added advantage of being able to change the facts to suit your narrative needs.

As a final suggestion --maybe you should seek a co-writer. Not everyone is good at all things. I'm sure I'm not the only person out there overflowing with plots, but weak on the execution.

  • water margin is a great suggestion for studying plot! Good to see this being mentioned. Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 10:11

If, in the end, it has been detailed in a 'how to' book it will have been done and so therefore you don't want to do it. Except for large scale structures nobody can tell you how to construct a plot: that is the difficult thing to do. Many people can be taught to write well: vary sentence structures; use a variety of vocabulary; etc. Coming up with original ideas for plots is something completely different. Although I spend a lot of time encouraging it, I don't think it can be taught.

  • "...it will have been done and so therefore you don't want to do it." You're saying that the key to success is finding an original plot? I'd disagree with that. Tell me a story I've heard before in an original voice, with interesting characters, with a strong point of view and I'll follow you anywhere. Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 13:09
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    CS Lewis: "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." ... I think one should focus on what the piece conveys without worrying if all the plot devices it uses are original. Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 13:33
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    Ken and James Points taken: plots don't have to be original. However, I still wouldn't want to get my plot out of a book of plots. Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 16:36
  • I'm looking for aspects, not a canned plot: if an abduction would drive the action, why would someone be abducted? There are lists of poisons etc.
    – JDługosz
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 16:42

Any hollywood writer would tell you that this is "super easy".

how to craft plot.

  1. have a prophecy or a bunch of prophecies. if you don't want to be overly bound to the prophecies.. just have some wise men explain that prophecy is a tricky business.

  2. have an existential struggle. Doesn't matter what it is: someone trying to kill someone, economic depression, war dragons, zombies, virus, zombie virus, aliens, cgi army, or just one really bad guy. The threats don't really require explanations and if they are sentient beings they don't even need any relatable motivations. It could be power, immortality, or just the joy of ending the world. It doesn't matter (no one cares)

  3. a journey: now here is where you create your cast of characters. you might want a slightly larger cast these days, to subvert expectations and kill off some of them once in a while. The audience LOVE the Chosen one, the one that was promised, etc. etc. you can play it straight, or you can have a number of possible candidates to keep the readers guessing.

  4. Baubles: this drives the journey. It can be absolutely anything.. the characters need something to do.. so you give them something to do.. like chasing random shiny stones through the galaxy/universe. Or it could be a flash card for an amnesiac to remember what to do the next day.

  5. You need a setting.. pick something you are familiar with .. if you are familiar with nothing.. create a fantasy world... or just copy a theme you want.. (aliens, end of the world, climate change, sky beam, cgi army are all very popular).

This my friend is how MOST professional fiction writers do it.

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    You left out: 6. Travel back in time to the 1960s and publish these stories on the cheapest quality paper and sell for 10¢ each... 7. Screw over your partner Jack Kirby and take all the credit.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 18:58

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