9 tips on how to write a satisfying plot.
1) Genre awareness. Genres exist for a reason so that people can find books they will find enjoyable to read. Know what makes a satisfying plot in the genre you select. Some principles and obstacles in character relationships really exist in all genres but they appear in different ways in the different genres. It is especially necessary when talking about writing a satisfying plot.
2) Change and growth. Stories are essentially made of change. A novel is made up of many little changes that add up to create the primary change. If there is no change, there is no story happening. There is no narrative and is just a situation. Where nothing is changing that is not a relevant moment to be including or the moment isn’t pulling its weight within the plot.
Little changes in the plot should be causing changes within the character also. If the characters emotional state and just state as a human are not changing throughout a long period of time then that’s also not really relevant to the plot. The story is a story because of the character and what is happening to the character. With no changes you have created kind of a lull in your plot where nothing is essentially happening. Change and growth are the foundation of the plot.
3) Setup and payoff. This is a term that is used a lot in screenwriting, but is very important for no matter what kind of story you are writing. Setup and payoff is quite simple. As a concept it essentially just means that what you introduce into the story pays off later on. You introduce in the beginning even things that might not seem substantial which turn out to be substantial and affect the plot throughout or often towards the end. If you are feeding threads into your story and then they never affect it, those threads aren’t really necessary or satisfying. Introduce threads into the beginning and have those threads weave all the way through. Then have a causal relationship where they effect the plot in the end.
4) Have an element. Whenever that element is introduced in the beginning, it might seem important at the time or not. When that element is relevant and important, hopefully in kind of an unexpected way, that can be really satisfying later on for its unpredictability. We generally expect that a good story isn’t going to be predictable and a boring story is going to be predictable. In some books unpredictability comes from possibly a drastic plot twist where everything is shaken up. You don’t necessarily need a plot twist or a dramatic turn, but rather it just means that the plot progresses in a way that could not be foreseen from the beginning.
5) Causality. It essentially is a domino effect with every scene being necessitated by the previous scene. In Poetics by Aristotle (which is one of the oldest books on storytelling theory) he explains that a strong plot is one where you cannot disrupt or remove a single event without disrupting the entirety of the whole. For the most part, the majority of your plot has as many scenes as possible that are caused by a domino effect. Every time you are hiding the scene ask yourself if the previous scene wasn’t there could this scene still happen? Then ask yourself does this cause the next scene?
6) Mystery and revelation. You know stories are made up of questions, a plot line or a premise. It is just a bunch of little questions that make up the book. A lot of them will need to be answered for clarity, but others need to be left on the table for suspense. Ask questions a) who is this person b) what’s going on c) what’s going to happen.
Those questions will be more specific based on the actual plot and this pairs with revelation. Revelation is the other part that goes along with mystery. Mystery sets up. Revelation ties together. These two together are what make a plot satisfying. It needs to happen at the proper rate. If you don’t answer any questions your plot will be really confusing.
There is going to be a lot of information you are going to need to setup at the beginning. Those are the questions that are being answered. Answer the questions that you need to answer for clarity. Then there are going be some questions you want to leave open.
7) Suspense and snap. Suspense is a common term and is often tied to mystery. Mystery is more of an intellectual thing whereas suspense is more of a visceral reaction and the stress you feel related to unknown outcome.
Snap is the jump-scare. Snap is the culmination of suspense in this energetic moment. This is often a key moment off an important one in the plot. It is that you have been building up – so much suspense and then it snaps. Those moments especially in certain genres like thrillers you expect. Many genres cna use this kind of snap moment and it can appear in different forms. It is the actualization or action making use of that suspense you have built up.
8) Emotional balance and cohesion. I hear writers often say I want my reader to be taken on an emotional rollercoaster or I hear readers say the book was an emotional roller coaster but I would be careful with this idea. Obviously emotional range is really great and important if it is the same emotion throughout. If this emotional rollercoaster you have created is lacking in other elements like logic or causality especially, then it is actually not very satisfying. It can really impact your characterization. If your character doesn’t have a stable emotional thread whether they are an emotionally stable person or not, it can be hard to track and feel their emotions.
If they are just jumping from emotional state to emotional state to make the reader feel those emotions it can actually be really hard to invest in the character and develop a sense for who the character is. The reader is not actually getting a chance to experience who the character is or learn about them or what their emotional threat is because of this jumbled mess of emotion. Emotional range is good as long as it’s cohesive and there is causality to it.
Another aspect of this is the push and pull of hope and despair. It is essentially the idea that at any point in time in your story there should be both hope and despair. There is always despair in the hope and there is always hope in the despair. Without hope in the despair there is no point going on because there is seemingly no possible way that this problem could be resolved. Hope is what keeps the reader and the character going. Without hope there is no tension at all. Hope means that there is no conflict, everything is resolved.
9) Unrest and resolution. A story is essentially the story of unrest. In most plot lines by this model, you have a character who has some sort of emotional or internal unrest but they don’t have a way of changing it. The inciting incident gives them an opportunity to change this unrest that they feel within their life no matter what kind of form it takes. They have an opportunity to change.
The resolution doesn’t necessarily mean they have achieved what they wanted, but it means their opportunity in which they could see the kind of change in their life they wanted has come to an end. Through this example you have unrest and then the resolution caps it off, whether this is positive or negative. Whether the character has succeeded or not, whether they have changed their life or themselves for the better or not.
Resolution basically means that the plot is now going to de-energize and the reader knows that part of the story is over. This aspect of the character’s life or maybe the character’s life as a whole is not going to be changing substantially or have the opportunity to change substantially anymore. In the way we were exploring this idea throughout the story with the reader. Sometimes this resolution isn’t always fully explored, it is the imminent promise of resolution.
The reader knows that resolution is about to happen shortly after the end, but that is basically the same thing – the imminent promise of resolution. Or resolution itself signals the end of the period of unrest no matter what the characters emotional state is. It means the character can’t affect or change their life any more really to any significant margin so the reader kind of feels that sense of closure. The story is over no matter what that means emotionally that’s kind of what makes your story feel like a whole.