Without a doubt we can say that some of the best stories that you remember are because of their mind-blowing plots. If you haven’t read “Fightclub” by Chuck Palahniuk yet, get ready to get your mind blown away.
Another thing that makes the stories so great is the strong characters who set the entire theme for the story and leave a long lasting impression on the readers.
“Why So Serious?!”
Does this dialogue ring any bells, or do you remember the character of Amy Dunne from the novel “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flinn. ?
If you take a closer look at the best sellers, you will see that they have aced the two key elements :
- Having a plot which didn’t let readers keep the book down.
- Characters that readers were able to resonate with
Understanding how to write amazing plots and building strong characters is a very valuable skill to have as a writer.
Let us take a quick look at the various elements of a Novel.
Elements of a Novel
Almost every story, great or not so great, follows a basic three-act structure,
- First Act : The setup that leads to the life-changing event in a character’s life.
- Second Act: The middle where the protagonist follows the journey in the new world.
- Third Act: The final part of the story that presents the final confrontation of the novel.
There is no right or wrong way to write your novel. But if you wish to have your readers hooked to your story, then you these six elements are going to help you out.
- Plot : It can be described as what happens in the novel. What conclusion is being reached and how it was resolved by the characters.
- Characters : They are the beings that populate the novel. A novel typically has one or more main characters and many supporting characters that contribute towards the story
- Theme : It can be considered as the message or the emotion that the story wants to convey. The reason behind telling the story and the moral that it brings forth.
- Setting : This defines where the story takes place. Which time period is the story from? What kind of traditions are accepted in that world and what is the history of this world? These questions need to be answered while deciding the setting for your novel.
- Conflict : If there are no conflicts emerging in the story and all the characters are having a good day, the story won’t be interesting enough. Conflicts can be emerged by increasing the tension between characters or creating differences.
- Point of view : The narration of the story is referred to as the point of view. This can include first-person (I, me, my, we), third-person limited (one perspective, he, she, them, names) and third-person omniscient (same as limited, but with an all-knowing narrator).
Let us understand the two most important elements a little better.
What is a Plot?
The plot is the sequence of events arranged to make up the story. It is how the reader learns more about the characters, the setting, the theme, and the other elements of the story.
Plots in a story can either give it life or whisper death to it. It acts as a key factor in compelling your readers and keeping them hooked to your novel.
Any good story answers two main questions:
- What happens?
- What does it mean?
The plot of a story defines what is going to happen, whereas the theme of the story defines what it means.
Elements of a plot
To build a compelling plot, let’s start by understanding the different parts of a plot.
- Exposition : It is the beginning of the story and this is what sets up the mood for the upcoming events. Exposition is where the main characters of a story are introduced and major conflicts are revealed.
- Rising action : This is when the main problem or conflict is addressed by the protagonist. While the rising action always leads up to the climax of the story, the protagonist ends up encountering a crisis that creates more tension.
- Turning point : Also known as the climax of the story, a turning point is when the main character/s decide to deal with the events occurred previously.
- Falling action : This comes immediately after the climax and showcases the aftermath of the turning point events. Depending upon the consequences being good or bad, falling action sets up the stage for the ending of the story or novel.
- Resolution : This is where the story ends. The ending can be happy or sad, it can leave the readers satisfied or make them ask questions. Goal of the resolution is to narrate what happens after the conflict has been resolved.
Tips to Build a Great Plot
Great plots are built around the logic of a simple cause and effect factor. If something happens in your story, there will be consequences which follow. For example: if person A kills person B, person C is going to seek revenge and come after person A.
Here are five tips that can help you build a great plot:
- Generate curiosity and make readers ask questions : Add events into your story and make the characters take actions that leave your readers curious. Why did the protagonist say that? Why was that man scared?
- Relate different events : Instead of adding every new idea into your story, curate it with conflicts and events that relate to each other.
- Obey the fictional logic and rules : If you decide to put your characters into a fictional world, set rules and logic for that world and ensure that your plot follows that logic.
- Think outside the box : Create surprises for your reader. Think outside the cliche surprises and throw your reader completely off with an unexpected twist.
- Give readers a reason to stick around : Instead of writing plain and simple events, create conflicts, make your characters go on exhilarating adventures, maybe even add some hidden love interests amongst the main characters.
Now that you have a clearer idea about building plots, let us take a look at Character Development.
Importance of Character Development
Typically a story has many supporting characters and 1-2 main characters. Characters are an important element in any story as they make the story whole. Some novels are intriguing because of their characters even though the plot might not be so great.
Character development can be defined as the process of creating personas and narrating the changes they go through as the story moves ahead. The emphasis isn’t on just letting the readers know about the character of a story, rather it is to allow the readers to know how the character is growing through out the story.
And thus, developing these characters also plays an important role in the development of the story. A character may show qualities like courage, honesty, love, and justice but seeing how these qualities change overtime is compelling, to say the least.
Types of Character to include in Your Novel
Before you dive into building strong characters, you need to understand the different types of characters that you can include in your novel.
Protagonist : The hero of the story, around whom the story revolves. In most first-person novels, they are also the narrator of the story. Majority of stories have only one protagonist but you can have more than one as well.
Deuteragonist : Also known as the second-in-command character. They are the closest to the hero and can be called as the sidekicks in the story. This person is very important, especially for the protagonist.
Antagonist : Mainly known as the villain, Antagonist is someone who causes all the drama in the hero’s life. Typically antagonists face the harshness of the world and are ready to take dramatic actions to change the world.
Love Interest : It’s the person that your protagonist will fall in love with, even if it’s only temporary.
Mentor : The character who guides the protagonists through their journey and teaches him/her about the world and new techniques. However, most mentors die at some point in the story.
Narrator : A narrator is someone who tells the story. It can be the hero, the sidekick, or even you narrating it in third-person.
Secondary Character : Secondary characters join the protagonist in his/her journey mid-way. They are a huge part of the story but the story clearly never revolves around them.
Tertiary Character : These are the characters that play an important role in the progress of the journey but are the lesser-known ones. The Professors in Harry Potter are an amazing example of tertiary characters. They teach harry important things but are never the center of the story.
Flat Character : These characters usually appear for one scene and are never seen again throughout the story. They are introduced to complete a small event or hand something important to one of the main characters that contributes to the development of the story.
Steps to Build Strong Characters
Here are a few steps you can follow to build strong characters:
- Step 1: Identify your characters and define their roles in the story. You need to know who your main characters are and which ones will be playing the supporting roles. This is where understanding the different types of characters in a novel comes into play.
- Step 2: Know your characters inside out and get inside their head. Asking character development questions, understanding their motive, and defining their backbone can be very helpful in understanding your characters better. Remember that your characters and their motives might change just like real people.
- Step 3: Research about your character. Look for similar characters, it will help you build a set of more realistic and relatable characters. If your character is a therapist then research about that profession and try to understand the life of a therapist.
- Step 4: Write strong dialogues that resonate with the personas of the characters that you’ve built. To do this again you have to get in the shoes of your characters and come up with the correct dialogues. The key is to show the basic qualities and emotions of your characters with each dialogue. Consistency with dialogues will help your characters win the reader over.
- Step 5: While writing a novel, always emphasise on showing rather than telling. Instead of telling that your character is honest or loyal towards a certain character, put your characters into situations that shows these key qualities. Showing over telling is the most common writing rule but is also the most important one.
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