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Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Most writers know there are only somewhere between 7 and 36 plots you can use for your novel.

You can't be worried about plagiarizing, or stealing someone's plot or subplots while you're writing. All of the plots that are out there have already been used; it's your job to use one of them in your own way.

So, how do you go about doing that?

We've all heard the writing trope about what plot is and what plot isn't. "The queen died" is not a plot. "The king died and the queen died of grief" is a plot. The reason that it's a plot is because the latter shows causality. Something happens because of what has happened. It's a cause and effect relationship, and that's what keeps the reader reading. Without causality between plot points, you'll have an episodic novel (or short story).

So how do you ensure you're writing plot?

So What are the Plots Available to me?

Well, that depends on who you ask. If you're the type of writer that believes in 7 plots, then they might be:

  • Overcoming the monster.

  • Rags to riches.

  • The quest.

  • Voyage and return.

  • Comedy.

  • Tragedy.

  • Rebirth.

If you're the type that believes there are 8 types of plots, then they might be:

  • Overcoming the Monster.

  • The Quest.

  • Voyage and Return.

  • Rags to Riches.

  • Rebirth.

  • Rebellion.

  • Tragedy.

  • Comedy.

It doesn't really matter. The basic plot for any story, really, is this: A protagonist/hero wants something desperately, goes after it despite opposition, and as a result of a struggle, comes to a win or a loss. That's a quote by my friend and mentor (and a fantastic writer), John Dufresne.


Some Quick Guidelines on Plotting your Novel

Once you understand that your novel must have a plot, then it's time to figure out how you're going to make it happen. Just as an aside, there are plenty of writers who don't believe in plots. They think the writing will suffice, or the idea of the novel will intrigue the reader enough that they'll keep reading. They won't. Readers want things to make sense in the stories they read, and they'll only continue reading if the writer promises them something and follows through with what they've promised. To do that, you need a plot.

You can outline your plot before you begin your novel, or you can write by the seat of your pants (which is called being a pantser). Either way, you need to have cause and effect between your plot points, because that's what tells the reader the "why" of why things happen to your characters over the course of the novel.

But are There Really No New Plots?

Sorry to break the bad news to you, but no. There aren't. The best you're going to get in that area is mixing up more than one plot together, and that second plot is likely going to be a supporting subplot of your main plot. And that's okay--it adds another layer of intrigue and interest for your reader to grab on to. Try reading any of your favorite novels, and analyze what happens. What do they want? How do they go about getting it? What gets in their way? Once you have all of that information, chances are you'll be able to pretty easily identify which plot or subplots are being used. And that's not a fault by the writer. If the writing is good, the writing works. And that's all you want from your readers--to get them reading and keep them reading, because they enjoy your book.

Want to Learn More About How to Plot Your Novel?

Do some writing exercises where you plot out your novel using a template or excel spreadsheet. Think about the inciting incident that changes your hero's life. What happened? Why did it happen? And what did your hero do about it? Once you have that down, then think of the next thing that might happen that will provide your hero with their next issue/problem/hurdle. And because they struggled against this new conflict, and either won or lost, what happened because of their win or loss. Create the trouble for them, because trouble is what novels are about. Do this until you reach a worthy conclusion/resolution to the problem they initially set out to resolve. Then work in the details. Good luck, and happy writing!

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