Keys to a Killer Plot


This month we’re focusing on plot-driven stories! They’re pretty self-explanatory: stories that are driven by plot. They tend to focus less on characters and more on gripping, page-turning external conflict. Whether you’re writing a whodunit mystery, spy thriller, or dystopian sci-fi, a strong plot is guaranteed to get your readers coming back for more. Keep reading for tips on how to construct your killer plot.


Outlines

While not always necessary, outlines can be a useful tool for writing plot-driven stories. They can help you identify and map out big plot points, so you can see your story as a whole before writing individual scenes. Think of it like a bird’s eye view of your story; you’ll be able to see the larger consequences of certain events and what’s coming next.

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Using an outline can be a controversial topic in the writing community, similar to the ongoing Plotter vs. Pantser debate. But I think the general consensus is that outlines can be helpful, as long as you allow yourself room to improvise and be spontaneous with your story. Don’t write yourself into a corner!


Plot Devices

Plot devices can be helpful to look at when crafting your story’s plot. If you get stuck in a certain scene or you don’t know what comes next, consider turning to plot devices to work your way out. The use of plot devices is very common in film, so you can find some great examples from screenwriters and directors as well as writers.


Some common plot devices are centered around objects. Since plot-driven stories don’t focus strongly on characters, incorporating important objects into your plot is a clever supplement. The MacGuffin is a particularly famous device. It’s basically any object that your characters need to find, destroy, or hide, or else. Very common in spy stories (like the Rabbit’s Foot in Mission Impossible), it’s less important what the MacGuffin is than what the characters have to do to get it. And more importantly, what goes wrong as they try to get it—because again, we want the conflict!

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Tropes

Many plot devices can fall under the category of tropes. Tropes often carry a negative connotation in the literary world, but they’re important for the success of any story (which is why tropes is one of our Core Concepts during Writer’s Games!). They aren’t always cliche or need to be avoided at all costs. Tropes allow writers to tap into common narratives and help their readers connect with the story. They become well-known because they do a good job of advancing plot.


You can use tropes in new and exciting ways, perhaps by pairing two together in a unique way, or applying a trope to a circumstance where it doesn’t normally appear. For example, using common romantic tropes in your hero’s and villain’s interactions (which is quickly becoming its own trope: enemies to lovers).


The Plot Twist

Plot twists are tricky to write, but when done well, they can elevate a plot to new heights. They should be used sparingly and shouldn’t be thrown in just for the sake of surprise, as this could lead to your readers’ confusion; they need to be intentional and make sense to your plot. Combine a plot twist with earlier foreshadowing so the reader can look back and think, Of course, how did I not see that coming!


A good way to do this is by planting an object or piece of information earlier in the story that seems irrelevant until the big reveal at the end. Remember that seemingly harmless fountain pen your character used to sign their name? Well guess what: it was the murder weapon! Whodunits like Knives Out or Agatha Christie’s novels have some great examples of this.

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You don’t have to be a genius to write a killer plot. When reading a book or watching a movie with a wild plot twist, it's easy to assume that the writers are way cleverer than you are. That’s the effect they’re going for, making you believe that this is the only way the story could have gone. But remember that they can see all the pieces ahead of time; they’re able to try out dozens of endings to see which one works best. All you get to see is the end product. So trust the process and trust your plot, and you’ll end up with something that will make your reader think, Wow, that’s brilliant!

 

About the Author: Lindsey is currently working towards her BA in English and Creative Writing at Brandeis University. She loves writing short stories and has more recently taken an interest in writing poetry. She is also an Editor-in-Chief for her school literary magazine, Laurel Moon. You can usually find her reading, crocheting, watching Marvel movies, or bothering her cat, Sister. She hopes to be a writer and an editor in the future to continue to help others improve their work.


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