Hopefully everybody knows how important plot is to a writer. It’s the story after all. Even if the characters and the premise are the same, if the plot between two stories is different, then the story is different. It is the life and journey of your characters. While plots among stories and genres are pretty diverse (as they should be), the good ones usually contain some very similar characteristics. Here is my humble list of things that every good plot should have.

One last note before I begin. Many people define plot through the main conflict of the story. “Man vs. Machine”, “A Stranger Comes To Town”, etc. I don’t believe this is a plot. A plot is the steps your story takes from start to finish to introduce and then resolve the main conflict. This is the type of plot that these points will address.

  • There are always one or two main characters who drive the story – Even if your story is about fifty different people, you still have, at most, two leads who will drive the action. This is not referring to points of view, but who actually drives the theme and learns the lesson.
  • Everything is bad or worse – You see it all the time. Until the credits roll, your main character is always on the knife-edge of danger (physical, emotional, mental). It usually becomes most evident about midway through the story when your character thinks he has scored a huge victory, only to realize in the next minute that things have just gotten worse than before. This is all about keeping the tension in a story and your reader turning pages.
  • Bad guys are heroes too – You know, in their own minds. They should have their own motivations and rationalizations that drive them. Since people don’t usually do things “just because” in real life, your characters shouldn’t either. Your villain isn’t greedy, he just understands the value of a dollar, besides that person probably didn’t need the money as badly. Your villain isn’t a heartless person who wants to split up two lovers, he just thinks that he would make a better match and who could predict things would get so out of control.
  • Heroes are bad too – Well, maybe not bad. “Flawed” is the word that is used most often. They are human after all. Luckily they will also learn their lesson and change in the end.
  • Genre is implied – Every genre has rules and those rules are followed.
  • Plots follow a logical sequence – While your story can jump around a little, too much will risk you losing your audience.
  • Twists are expected – A character isn’t who he seems to be, an event didn’t quite happen as it was remembered, someone who was good goes to the dark side because of the cookies, etc. If you leave out the twists your story will probably be a little boring.

Looking over this list, I am starting to think that the title should be “What’s In A Story?” Oh well. Let me know what you think!