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I'm a plotter, meaning I plan and develop my books before ever writing the first draft. I've given a good deal of thought to character, stakes, and the other parts of novel creation, and I feel like I have a solid understanding of those areas.

The same can't be said for the plot.

I don't think I create bad plots. My readers (I've written several small fan fiction pieces) seem to agree with me. I do think my plots could be better, a lot more interesting, and add a lot more to the story.

I have some ideas of what I can do to add to my plots, but I still feel like I'm missing the large picture. I have most of the parts, but I'm not sure if I have all of the parts.

This has led me to ask the question: What constitutes a great plot?

Is it twists that you never saw coming? Is it a complicated web that becomes clear only at the end? Is it something else I haven't identified yet? What makes a plot great?

Note: This question is not a duplicate of this question. That question deals with creating a connected plot across a series of books. This question deals with simply creating a great plot, connected or not, whether for a series or a single novel.

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    If you are a plotter, why are you asking the question? I would assume that a plotter is either trying to foment a coup or, in a writerly context, can cook up good intrigue. Hmm. I'd say it depends on the type of novel you are writing. In some types, plot is not important; in others, it's basically one of the only points. – Lambie Jan 20 '17 at 22:59
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    A plotter is simply a person who plans what they are going to write, rather than discovering it through 'free-writing'. This can include any part of the novel, not just the plot (setting, characters, stakes, tension, theme, etc.). It doesn't necessarily mean they are good at creating plots. – Thomas Myron Jan 21 '17 at 0:53
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    With all due respect, to say you are a plotter and then say you want to write good plots, is, on its face, confusing, even though you explained the word. – Lambie Jan 21 '17 at 16:45
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    For me, there is a difference between ideolectually appropriating a word, which is fine, and the dictionary definition of it. – Lambie Jan 21 '17 at 17:44
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    You may use any language you choose. I have done a search and this was the only instance I found...Over and out. – Lambie Jan 22 '17 at 1:06
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There are no great plots. There are great stories and there are lousy stories. Great stories and lousy stories can have exactly the same plot. The soundness of a story lies in the rising tension of the story arc. The greatness of a story lies in the telling.

There are, I think, different kinds of great story. There is the story whose greatness lies in it high moral seriousness (like The Brothers Karamazov, Heart of Darkness, or King Lear) and there are stories whose greatness lies in their high comedy (such as Much Ado about Nothing, Jeeves and Wooster, or Pickwick Papers). But it is never in the plotting, always in the realization, in the perception of the human condition and the deftness in which it is told.

Being a plotter may give you a sound foundation for the mechanics of telling a story, but it is never going to bring you to greatness in itself. It is in the agonizing businesses of seeing and recording the fate of your characters in all its grittiness and pathos that you will find greatness or fall short of it.

Art is blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Art is pain and madness and unbearable joy. None of this is ever found in the outline, it cannot reside or be discovered anywhere but in the making of the full text.

  • I agree wid ya there. So, we agree again. And there are stories that are practically plotless. – Lambie Jan 20 '17 at 22:57
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    Indeed there are. Plots are the bones of story, not the flesh. And there are invertebrate stories. – Mark Baker Jan 20 '17 at 23:05
  • Ha ha. Mushy goo. Or gooey mush. I'm fine with just about all writing with one exception: sci fi with monsters dripping goo. – Lambie Jan 20 '17 at 23:16
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There are so many different plots that can be written. The majority of them can be narrowed down to even more broad terms until every story is just a variation of around a dozen different types.

There probably isn't a definitive answer for 'what makes a good plot', because I've read almost identical stories done both badly and well. There are a great many different ways the same plot can be written, so ultimately the plot will not matter in the grand scheme of the quality of a story.

The important thing is that you, the author, understands and knows what you want the plot to be. To understand from the beginning where the story is going, and write the story from beginning to end. The story is a journey, after all, and not the destination.

Personally I feel like there is nothing worse than reading a book and having it flip from what I expected it to be to something else. This isn't to do with having a twist in the story, but more to do with the author trying so diligently to avoid the reader guessing the plot twist that they write one story, get to the twist, then begin writing something else.

Good twists come from when the writer writes the book in a way that the story is progressing towards a twist, and then the story continues afterwards. Bad ones come from setting up the story specifically in order have the twist in, and then the story changes so monumentally it feels as if it becomes a different book.

This can happen without twists as well. Sometimes writers will begin writing a certain plot, then part-way through things just change for seemingly no reason and it feels as if the story is two different entities put into a single stack of paper. As the author it's important to go back and ensure that if the book does develop and change over time, the earlier part of the book that is already written is also adapted in order to fit the change.

So overall, a plot is really defined by its consistency. The story that the reader begins needs to be the story that is finished at the end, whether that's over a single book, three, or even seven. Even if the plot starts off as an overcoming the monster plot and changes into a tragedy two-thirds of the way through, it's important that this is reflected in the writing.

I wrote in this answer to your own question about mixing two different genres and ensuring the reader understood what they were reading from the start. The same applies with the plot: if it does have a twist and turns the plot on its head, there needs to be hints dropped in near the beginning so that the reader is not completely blindsided.

Even just having a single straightforward plot from beginning to end, it's important that the same story is continued throughout. I'd go as far as to say that the defining thing that separates good from bad stories is how well the writer focuses on writing the same piece of work consistently from beginning to end.

Note: this will also apply to 'sub-plots'. Whilst two parallel plots can be developing within the scope of the same story simultaneously, their strength individually will rely on them remaining the same from beginning to end.

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From my experience as an avid fanfiction reader, what makes me dislike a piece of fiction is the writing, not the plot in general.

I've seen many writers with amazing plot ideas, but without the writing skill to back it up. this is the biggest factor that makes me stop reading. Alternatively, i've seen quite generic plots, but because they were very well written i eagerly wait for more.

But, if you want a more interesting plot all i can say is that you take care in the perception of the events taking place and ensure that the series in which the events of the story happen make sense. complicated webs are interesting on a broad scale, but can be frustrating and confusing.

One last thing i want to mention (though i am not sure of its relevance to your question) is to ensure your characters are affected by the plot points in your story. The best feeling i've had when reading a piece of fiction was when near the end of the story, there was a brief mention on how the character had changed (from childish and acrobatic to more mature and serious). it was a very brief throwaway line, but it made me think back on how the character had grown and developed along the story, to the point where she was almost unrecognisable from the person she started off from. this change was not sudden, but caused by the many events within the story and it took until the very end before i even noticed how much she had changed. Simultaneously there have been instances where i have seen little to no character growth even along extremely personal plot points which i found extremely frustrating. therefore, in order for your plot points to impact the audience, you need to explore how the character is effected by it.

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What makes a great plot?

There isn't a formula for a great plot. Rather, it is a mixture of many factors combined. I would say the primary one is:

  • Pacing, buildup and calculation

As a reader, I have always been amazed by things like foreshadowing and pacing, buildup as well that leads to an amazing twist or moment. When these are timed well, designed and fit they absolutely awe me. And if you can't tell, this is something that happens in life.

I began with that previous point to lead to this. I believe the best plots are things which resemble actual life, actual problems and actual things. For example, in nobody's life there is absolute happiness 100% of the time. It's just not how it works. There are twists, turns, thrills. It's the same with a plot, in honesty. Without the twists and turns, the thrills that create the excitement in our lives, there wouldn't be a lot to worry, to think about. The best plots are the ones with twists and turns, uncertainty of where it will go, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.

You mentioned a complicated web. I would say that that is actually a bad thing. Over complicating the plot in unnecessary ways can just make the reader confused - which I have experienced in pieces I've read in the past. The 'complicated web' is actually something I think is created by uncertainty. It appears complicated, like a web of traps and pitfalls, because there is so much uncertainty and unsureness.

How can I make a great plot?

Firstly, let's get this out of the way:

  • Don't be afraid to take inspiration.

What I'm writing is heavily inspired by four different things, with highlights from a million other things that have all influenced my novel. Don't be afraid to take inspiration because no matter what, you're idea won't be original because there's 7 billion human minds on this Earth who all have an imagination and likely have already thought of the idea. Secondly, inspiration is very helpful.

  • Do the 'sorting out jumbled ideas' technique.

In your sleep have you had loads of great snippets of story? Well, I have that all the time. The common case is to have lots of random ideas or scenes. To create a plot from these ideas, you should get out a big sheet of A3 paper and write out all the ideas all over it in big, crazy writing so you can see it easily. Then, you can try and look over those ideas, turning them into one cohesive idea.

The way to do that that has worked for me is to try and categorise them, putting the thoughts from one idea and plugging that into another. For example, a person that appeared in one thought, you would put that person in a different thought, etc, etc.

I hope this helped.

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Your question is quite complex and one that has stupefied many a writer. Remember that to come up with a great plot you must be willing to put the work that comes with having a final draft that is a great plot. I believe, above all else, that having a great plot is not something you can work on. It will be something you can work on maybe for the rest of your life. A great plot is like a goal in life. If you ever achieve your goal you may relish the days you worked in achieving that goal. All that said, from the description of your quetsion it looks like you're already well on your way to a great plot so keep at it and good luck.

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    Yeah, stupefied is good here. – Lambie Jan 20 '17 at 22:59
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I just wanted to add something. Part of a satisfying plot is escalation of tension. Escalation of tension even applies to low-drama pieces.

Some describe this as a try-fail cycle, as in try to resolve a problem, fail, which results in the problem getting worse or more complicated, and then try again. There is no rule for how many times the resolution attempt should fail. Some do suggest that less than three attempts seems to suggest the problem was not very hard and therefore not a big deal.

One pattern I see in really satisfying plots is this: There is a problem yielding an unthinkable outcome. The try-fail cycle continues until the unthinkable thing happens, expanding the problem. This bigger problem is what's ultimately resolved.

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What constitutes a great plot?

Plots come in all shapes, so it is difficult to identify common specific characteristics, as they must forcefully be vague to apply to all manners of plots

First of all, plots must have economy. Whether the tale is nearly plotless or has so many threads it's labyrinthical, the author must find exactly what is too much or too little. I'm currently reading a book which has almost no plot and it works precisely because of its minimalistic approach, even if I usually prefer tales with several plot(s) and subplots.

Secondly, there must be balance between plot(s) and subplots, and between the various plot points. Each element must be stressed to the right point and one must tread carefully to make sure nothing overshines / undershines. Every element must work for itself and for all the others at the same time.

Thirdly, there must be cohesion. All the plot(s) and subplots must be perfectly connected, nothing to burst suddenly without the appropriate (subtle or not) foreshadowing or simply preparation of the 'stage' for the surprise burst. Every single plot point must join everything else seamlessly.

Not one of these three points take precedence, in my opinion, as they are all equally essential.

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A great plot is a plot that can engage the readers from start to finish. It has nothing to do with the twists according to my thinking. Again this depends on the audience you are writing for. The flow of the plot should be consistent and it should be moving forward and it should not have elements that are just added to drag the plot. These things or characters should help the move plot forward, it should be logical. The reader should not feel that bored. Even if its a simple straight forward plot, it should be engaging, there is no one formula to come up with a great plot, its hard work, you may need to tinker with it a few times before you can come up with a solid chapter without any loose ends. Your plot should be able draw your audience in line with your thoughts. Best way to write is place yourself in the characters that you write about and see if you would sound good with those dialogues. Does the dialogue sounds good, can it be made better, does it sounds humorous, does it deliver the intended punch. Most of all the flow should be logical.

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Analyze some books you found particularly satisfying. This will help you identify what works well for you as a good plot.

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