What is it about one novel that makes it better than another?
There are several components of a novel: the plot, the characters, the style, the pacing, the voice, and more. Readers have different preferences and what one reader likes, another will hate. Sometimes this is difficult for authors – we want everyone to love our work!
Let’s start with something basic to talk about, our plots. You can’t really have a story without a plot. Something happens; someone does something; things get rough; things get rougher; things get better; other things happen and then things are resolved. Writers always start with an idea. That idea could be a person, a place, or an event – but can you control your plot or is your plot controlling you? Can you summarize your basic idea in one line? What about one paragraph?
Peter Rubie writes in his guide “The Elements of Storytelling” that:
Once ideas come to us, they must be shaped. Remember: Keep it simple. Encapsulate your idea in a sentence, or a short paragraph, using one of the following phrases:What if…? Or Suppose…?
For example: Suppose… a group of guys get together and hire a hit man to kill the president of France and then find they can’t call off the assassin. (Frederick Forsyth’s “The Day of the Jackal”)
One thing to notice here is that, by redefining the idea this way, you automatically also come up with characters. The only rule at the plotting stage is to get down on paper the basics of the story in a lucid manner.
Peter shares some good advice here for getting our plot started; of course, we know how important summarizing is when it’s time to write a hook, a synopsis and a query letter.
Noah Lukeman, literary agent and author, writes:
Many writers spend the majority of their time devising their plot. What they don’t seem to understand is that if their execution – if their prose – isn’t up to par, their plot will never be considered.
A good book has several strong components and maybe a few weaker ones… maybe the characters are excellent but the pacing is off. A great book will hit all the major components. I know that I’ve read a book and been thrilled with the pace, the tone and fallen in love with the characters – but the plot was weak. It had numerous holes and required too much reader suspension of belief. We have to have a place to begin and in development stages, plot is one of the best areas to focus on.
For fun and games: I found the Plot-o-matic a plot building tool for movies.
So, let’s talk about Plot.
What are your thoughts? Did you begin with a plot or a character? Did you have your core plot planned from A to Z before you started writing? Did you start with a germ of an idea and just let the plot come to you? Have you practiced summarizing your plot in as few sentences as possible? If so, how does it sound?