8 elements of every great plot

the 8 elements of every great plot

1) story goal

the plot of any story is a sequence of events that constitute an attempt to solve a problem or attain a goal.

the story goal is what your protagonist wants to achieve or the problem he wants to resolve.

it will affect all the characters in your story.

it is also one of the key driving forces in your story as the motivation for the protagonist.

a world will be built around our protagonist based on the goal that includes many perspectives on the problem and makes the goal important to everyone in that world.

2) consequence

what is my protagonist afraid will happen if he doesn't achieve the goal or solve the problem?

the consequence is the negative situation or event that will result if the goal is not achieved.

avoiding the consequence justifies the effort required in pursuing the story goal, both to the characters in your novel and the reader.

the combination of goal and consequence creates the main dramatic tension in your plot. it's a carot and stick approach that makes the plot meaningful.

in some stories, the protagonist may begin by deciding to resolve a problem or pursue a goal. later, that goal becomes more meaningful when he discovers that a terrible consequence will occur if he fails. other times, the protagonist may start off threatened by a terrible event, which thus motivates him to find a way to avoid it.

3) requirements

requirements describe what must be accomplished in order to achieve the goal.

as the requirements are met in the course of the novel, the reader will feel the characters are getting closer to the attainment of the goal.

requirements create a state of excited anticipation in the readers mind, as he looks forward to the protagonists's success.

4) forewarnings

forewarnings are the counterparts to requirements.

forewarnings are events that show the consequence is getting closer.

forewarnings make the reader anxious that the consequence will occur before the protagonist can succeed.

while the story goal and consequences create dramatic tension, requirements and forewarnings that take the reader through an emotional roller coaster that oscillates between hope and fear. There will be places in the plot where it seems the protagonist is making progress, and others where it seems like everything is going wrong. Structure these well, and you will keep your reader turning pages non-stop.

Notice that these elements come in pairs that balance each other. This is important for creating tension and momentum in your plot.

5) cost

generally speaking, good plots are about problems that mean a lot to the characters, if a problem is trivial, then neither the protagonist nor the reader has a reason to get worked up about it. you want your readers to get worked up about your novel. so you must give your protagonist a goal that matters.

one sign that a problem or goal matters to the protagonist is that he is willing to make sacrifices or suffer pain in order to achieve it. such sacrifices are called costs.

classic examples of costs include the heroic tales in which the hero must suffer injury or give up a cherished possession to reach his goal. however, costs can come in many other ways. protagonists can be asked to give up their pride, self-respect, money, security, an attitude, an idealized memory, the life of a friend, or anything else they hold dear.

if you make the costs steep and illustrate how hard the sacrifice is for the protagonist, the reader will feel that the protagonist deserves to achieve the goal.

6) dividends

the element that balances costs in your plot outline is called dividends

dividends are rewards that the characters receive along the journey towards the story goal

unlike requirements, dividends are not necessary for the goal to be achieved. they may be unrelated to the goal entirely. but they are something that would never have occurred if the characters hadn't made the effort to achieve the goal.

7) prerequisites

prerequisites are events that must happen in order for the requirements to happen.

like requirements, as prerequisites are met, the reader feels progress is being made towards the goal.

8) preconditions

the last element to balance your plot outline are preconditions. they are a junior version of forewarning.

preconditions are small impediments in the plot. they are stipulations laid down by certain characters that make it more difficult for the story goal to be achieved.

ORGANIZE THEM and include them all!

it is a must to include all of these steps for each major crisis in the story. it doesn't matter what order they go into, as long as all of them (or most of them) are included with each crisis.

you may have a beginning (the inciting incident), a middle (the complication), a climax and a resolution. use these eight with all of them and repeat them if necessary!