Week 7, Step 7: “Writing a Convincing Plot-Line”

Now we’re starting to get to the middle of the book where it feels really hard to develop a plot-line. The beginning and the end of the book are relatively easy to write. But getting to the finish line is often very, very difficult. So today we’re going to talk about writing a convincing plot-line that will help anchor your story, make it all the way to the end, and ultimately take your characters – and your readers – on the adventure of a lifetime.

The first thing we should talk about is your main character or characters. Your main character needs to be very realistic, meaning, he/she can’t be absolutely perfect. Your character has to grow through the story and change into someone who’s better by the end. Or possibly be someone who gets gradually worse and then is either redeemed at the end, or destroyed. Either way, they can’t stay the same. They have to have a period of growth which ultimately leads to the climax and then gets resolved. You need to decide what weakness your character has that he or she will try to conquer throughout your story. Here’s some other questions that you need to answer about the characters in your book:

What’s their goal in life?
Their goal in the story?
What drives them?
What do they want?
Are they optimistic or pessimistic?
What are their hobbies?
Are they quiet or outgoing?
Are they athletic or clumsy?
Are they confident or timid?
How are they different from the other characters in your story in personality type and goals?

Each of those questions needs to be answered for each one of your characters. If they don’t have a drive or a purpose they should not be in your story.

You also need to make sure that your characters aren’t the same. They need to have different goals, personalities, likes, dislikes, character traits (like being patient, kind, a good leader, and so on), outward appearance, etc. One thing that really helps me is giving each character in my book a few characteristic gestures. For example, my main character, Jarah often “shakes her head to clear her thoughts.” Ezra, one of Jarah’s good friends, is the fun-loving one and I often mention “Ezra’s signature teasing grin.” Now, you can’t overuse these. You have to just sprinkle them in, otherwise your writing won’t be very good. But putting in a few of these common actions will make it easier to relate to your character and easier for the readers to get to know them and tell who’s who. Also, be very observant of your close friends and relatives to figure out different personalities that you can use for your characters. Jarah’s best friend, Amissa, is very reserved and logical while Jarah is very outgoing and creative. Jarah’s mother and father are exact opposites.

Lastly, with characters, my biggest struggles was figuring out how to write boys. After all, I’m a girl. I don’t know exactly how boys think or act in certain situations. I had the hardest time with Eitan, Jarah’s oldest brother who plays the romance character in my story. At first, nobody liked him. He was a complete wimp. I had to get one of my friends from my writing group, Jake, to help me turn him from a guy written by a girl to a real man. Jake took my story and critiqued all the parts where Eitan had a significant part. Jake told me how he, as a guy, would respond in situations and what guys would not do. For example, I learned that guys don’t gasp. Oops. :-) So make sure you have someone of the opposite gender check your story to make sure that all the guys/girls are realistic and believable.

Now that we’ve covered the basics if character development, let’s talk about plot. Basically you need to pick your conflict and have the pace of your story get faster and faster and more and more suspenseful until the climax, and then there needs to be a short resolution. Here’s a diagram to demonstrate what I’m talking about:

However, I don’t completely agree with this diagram for one main reason. Does your life always move one direction, either always getting better or always getting worse? Mine definitely doesn’t! Every life has up and downs at least every week, if not every day! I like this picture if the pyramids (below) to help illustrate this point.

There starts out with the plot moving forward, but then the little dip of the first pyramid where fears, doubts, or something else gets in the way and keeps the character from advancing to their goal. Then it ramps back up again and this time you know the character is going to make it, but then something else gets in the way. And finally there’s the climax and the resolution. Make sure that you put those ups and downs in your story, particularly in the middle where things can get difficult to write or move towards the climax. The journey needs to be real in order to grab your readers. Find some little dips and some cool character twists to get you there. Be creative and have fun figuring out how to make your characters grow. :-)

Suggested Homework:
1. Draw your own diagram showing the gradual climb, but also the little dips. Put the major events on your diagram so that you stay on track.
2. Work on answering the questions I laid out for your characters.
3. Get someone to help you make sure your characters are realistic and believe, particularly the characters that are of the opposite gender. Ask your reviewers to keep an eye out for this, as well.

  • Sarah

    I think that this is where I struggle the most with my writing.
    I truly think that this will help me with that.
    Thanks!