Viable stories use time-proven principles of storytelling: characters, plot, theme, and structure. But what goes into a designing a killer plot?
What Is a Killer Plot?
A killer plot is a series of interesting events that force characters into conflicts, and while struggling to achieve scene goals, they convey the emotions readers crave.
Those events help writers identify the plot ingredients. However, we still need a recipe. That, my writing friend, is why writers are readers.
Killer Plot Recipes
To see further down the road, writers stand on the shoulders of successful authors. From that perch, glimpse plot recipes in bestselling novels.
Killer Plot Ingredients
Like making an omelet, bestselling authors blend a short list of ingredients into a recipe, producing many variations, so blend carefully and own it!
- Premise: According to John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, in one sentence, the premise has the potential to convey character, plot, theme, symbol, and event, including a sense of the protagonist and his or her transformation.
First, think of premise as true north, guiding the plot’s series of events toward the story’s conclusion. Second, it makes your story easy to understand and share in a one-line description. Third, premise reduces your story to its essence so you can make sure plot events provide the required support. Fourth, it not only provides inspiration but gives you the opportunity to explore the full story (i.e., start to finish). Fifth, the premise challenges the writer to produce the best story.
- Genre: The chosen genre influences the story’s conventions, themes, and scenes.
Because readers have read countless books and watched even more TV shows and films, bestselling authors understand what must be delivered to satisfy the audience’s preset expectations. The identification and use of genre specific conventions and scenes help fulfill readers’ expectations.
- Setting: The right setting in a story can enhance the mood and tone, taking on qualities akin to essential characters.
A setting can deepen every scene, help portray the story’s cast, deliver and enrich the backstory, convey emotions, build tension, and provide a unique reader experience. Settings can be used as a motif that influences the overall story, or it can convey a specific meaning to the protagonist or antagonist.
- Stakes: The stakes determine what motivates the chief protagonist to continue pursing a goal despite insurmountable external and internal obstacles.
The story’s hero envisions the negatives associated with failure, motivating continued efforts to attain some goal despite physical and emotional barriers. For example, those negative consequences (i.e., stakes) propel the protagonist forward because of powerful emotions (e.g., mental anguish), and real danger (e.g., potential physical, psychological, or professional death).
- Secrets and Twists: To fully satisfy reader expectations, a killer plot relies on narratively sound yet unexpected secrets and twists.
The goal of secrets and twists is to surprise and delight readers with fresh approaches to the genre-based novels they love. Secrets and twists are the “spices” that can make your plot unique.
For example, these time-proven ingredients invite you to:
- Study the recipes of bestselling authors.
- Experiment with the blend of ingredients.
- Spice up your recipe with delightful surprises.
You’ve got this, so cook up a killer plot!
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What’s your favorite killer plot recipe?
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