A plot is about the elements of a story that go into making it better. As an aspiring author, however, it is wiser for you to follow a well-known formula until you have the requisite experience to know how to create unusual and intricate plots.
For a start, remember that there is a difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction. Commercial fiction is usually plot driven which means that the story is heavy on the action and light on character work. In literary fiction, which tends to be character driven, the pace of the story is much slower, with less action and more complex characters. The following are examples of more common plots used in the majority of successful novels.
The most popular plot is called ‘the quest’. At the start of the novel, the protagonist will find his life suddenly turned upside down. From then on, he is tested in physical, emotional, intellectual and, sometimes, financial terms. To make things worse, everything and everyone is against him. Ultimately, the protagonist will be triumphant.
‘The prize’ is a slight variation on ‘the quest’. While the protagonist is not in any kind of danger, he still has a goal or ambition he would like to achieve. Success isn’t likely because his circumstances are against him. Eventually, he overcomes all his hurdles to prove himself and achieve his goal.
In ‘the race’, a group of rivals want the same goal, but only one can win. Each character has to struggle with his personal problems. All characters battle fate, and each other, to become the eventual victor. The cornerstone of this plot is the tension in the story. The reader is constantly wondering if each character will triumph over his adversity and, at the same time, consider who the final winner will be.
‘The contest’ is all about head-to-head confrontation between two powerful and equally matched opponents. The stakes in the story become higher when the two rivals are closely related; for instance, a divorcing couple fighting for custody of their child or a father and son disagreeing about how to run the family business.
In ‘the puzzle’, the protagonist has to follow a series of clues and unravel a mystery. Solving the puzzle is at the heart of the story. Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery novels are an example of the sort of books that use this kind of plot.
‘The chase’ is a variation of ‘the puzzle’ where the protagonist has to locate the enemy before he commits a horrible crime. Sometimes, although the protagonist and the villain may know each other, the villain has always succeeded in the past. This time round, the protagonist cannot, and will not, fail.
Use any of the plots given above as your starting point when planning your novel. Then, even if you change a single element of the plot, your story will have a new direction and you will have a tale with an original plot.
WritersandArtists.co.uk. Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)
Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).
By Aneeta Sundararaj
This article was first published on Suite.101: http://suite101.com/article/types-of-plots-for-your-novel-a382457