As discussed last week, plot is the structure of the story. It is what happens during the course of the story and in the order those happenings take place. It is cause and effect. And without a plot, there is no novel or short story, merely a bunch of words on a page. There two schools of thought with regard to the importance of plot versus characters in today’s fiction. While action stories, thrillers and most crime mainly focus on plot, contemporary women’s fiction and sagas are traditionally more character-led. But the best of today’s fiction has a great plot and equally great characters, plus all the other components that make up the best of today's fiction.
Plot requires three elements to create a quality fiction story: theme, questions, and conflict.
(i) Theme: The theme of your fiction story or novel is the message it imparts. The theme of a story makes a statement about society or behaviors. It can be anything from "good guys always win" to "it pays to lie and cheat" or “embracing change”. Whether theme is overt or hidden is up to the writer.
(ii) Questions: In the course of a story, if the author can whet the readers’ appetites as to what will happen next, or how the characters will solve a particular dilemma, they will be intrigued and continue reading. A tip to catch the reader's attention is to pose an early question, and, ideally these questions should continue throughout the story until they are answered at the end.
(iii) Conflict: Conflict, defined simply, is the problems or obstacles that arise within your story's plot. If there is no conflict, there will be no interest. When a conflict occurs, it gives the characters something to do, to overcome, and to grow from. Conflict creates growth, and without growth, your fiction story will be flat and uninteresting.
These three plot elements are necessary for writing a good fiction story or novel. The best plots are well paced, with some scenes fast and furious and full of drama; others slow and meandering, perhaps the scenes of internal dialoguing. Creating an interesting plot, or story line, is essential to attracting and engaging readers. This can only be accomplished by formulating a theme, questions for the reader to ask, and conflict. Writing a fiction story without these plot elements is rather like painting a picture without color, shape, or meaning.