As we continue this editing series how we can develop a great story by having all the layers in place before actually writing, or if you’ve already written your book, how to make sure all the layers are in place.
The second layer in developing a great story is developing your story’s plot.
Surprisingly the story’s plot extends beyond points of action in your story and reaches into the area of the characters and how they interact with the story’s trajectory.
How to Edit the Plot
- How well do you know your characters?
- How do your characters interact with the story events?
- How well do you create suspense, conflict, and context throughout plot?
How well do you know your characters?
Knowing your characters is more than knowing their outer attributes. Knowing your characters internally is key to mapping out a rock solid plot. Let’s explore some ways we can really get to know our characters.
If we describe our characters in terms of physical appearance, that’s great because it gives readers a visual representation; however, if we describe our characters by what drives them, then we open the door for readers to understand how our characters live and breathe. Which, by the way, enhances the plot.
For example, a librarian who doesn’t particularly like books, but is simply driven because of the patrons who frequent the library might offer an interesting plot and chain of events.
How do your characters interact with the story events?
Every story has that one character who makes the story shine, much like the key actor in a film. Which character comes to your mind? I’m thinking of D.C. Morse in the BBC series, Endeavour, and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.
With our librarian, perhaps she feels remorse from an event in her past, and she seeks to cover her own feelings by paying attention to the library patrons. What if this self-serving action sends her on an adventure as she gets to know each person, therefore helping her through her own inner struggle? What chain of events would have to happen for this to be resolved?
How well do you create suspense, conflict, and context throughout plot?
Alfred Hitchcock said, “Emotion is an essential ingredient of suspense.” And, I would also add, an essential ingredient of conflict and context in the plot as well.
Back to our librarian. Would she argue with one of the patrons, or go out of her way to help another reunite with a family member? What if she was suspicious of one but not of another? If one of the patrons was homeless, would she let him sleep in the library, sneaking him in after closing? What if a young patron checked out the same book week after week, and the librarian was reminded of her own childhood fascination with books and experiences anxiety from the memories? What happened back then? And what would happen if someone found out now?
And if another patron, who did not have enough money for a library card, possessed sticky fingers, would she turn a blind eye, because she knew they were researching for something important, and this person always returned the books? What would happen if they didn’t, and the library director found out and confronted the librarian about this employee infraction? And really, why did the librarian feel motivated to let the patron take books home without a library card?
A Few Examples
Lillian Avery in Anchor in the Storm (Waves of Freedom series) by Sarah Sundin wants to prove herself by getting a job as a pharmacist. But when she gets the job, she’s thrust into more than just working at the pharmacy—by mistake she’s discovered a drug ring. How she reacts to each situation sends her deeper into the events, until she’s caught right in the middle of the struggle. . .
In Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano, Aurelie Harcourt struggles to find a home with her deceased writer-father’s wealthy family, she embarks on the adventure of finishing his last story, and is thrown into a whirl of trouble with her new family—who seem to thwart her every effort of finding out what happened to her mother.
Secret Sauce to the Plot
My favorite editor, Maxwell Perkins (who worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald and other authors of that time), said to “just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.” I love that because it brings home the reality that if we don’t write, we’ll be staring at a blank page. And heavens, we can’t edit a blank page!
Each writer and author benefits from exploring their characters inside and out, while asking “what if?” at every turn when crafting their novel’s plot because it’s really the secret sauce to writing a great story that captivates people, agents, editors, readers, marketers, and the person who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book and read it.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to engage in the conversation with you! Drop your question or comment in the chat below, and I’ll look forward to responding!
What is something unusual that your character possesses that could enhance your story’s plot?
What are three ways your character interacts with the plot?