It’s All About the Plot

Last week we discussed characters portrayed in a sympathetic light. Another type of plot relies less on the character being sympathetic, but the reader is engaged because the plot itself is intriguing enough to keep reading. For instance, books can:

  • Solve a murder. Some authors make plenty of money with a series following a detective’s career as he or she solves crime after crime after crime. Some fictional detectives are not especially likable. But here, that’s not the point. The puzzle is the point. Make sure the puzzle is compelling enough to need 300 pages to solve and that it’s hard for the reader to solve it before your big reveal.
  • Take the arrogant protagonist down. Just as readers enjoy rooting for an underdog, some readers enjoy seeing a haughty character taken down. This can be a vicarious victory because they wish the protagonist was the hateful bully in their real life. These books are can be fun to read because we see the machinations behind the takedown. Or, if the reader is experiencing the book from the protagonist’s viewpoint, the tension is in the character’s fear and bewilderment; and the reader is kept in suspense. Again, the author wants to keep the reader guessing until the end.
  • Redemption. Some characters deserve their rotten situations because they have made dreadful choices. If these choices were made because the character was a victim, they can help garner sympathy from the reader. But seeing a character grow from a terrible situation to a good one can be rewarding.

The best books involve a mixture of memorable characters and intriguing plots. Enjoy the journey as you create your own masterpiece!

Your turn:

What book have you enjoyed despite not liking the characters very much?

What is the best plot you’ve ever seen?

What tips did I miss?


26 Responses to It’s All About the Plot

  1. damonjgray October 17, 2019 at 5:47 am #

    Good morning Tamela. I have little to no authority to speak in this arena, as I could not write good fiction to save my life, and I rarely read it. So it is a strange irony that just this morning I finished book one of Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee’s “Books of Mortals” trilogy, and will begin plowing through book two this afternoon.

    The fourth attention grabber I’d add is the “Whoa! I didn’t see that one coming” element. This is where a character I love or hate is revealed to be something entirely other than what I expected. The purported hero is actually a well-disguised villain. The despised neighbor is actually the key to saving the city.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2019 at 2:26 pm #

      I love when that happens, too!

  2. Sherri Stewart October 17, 2019 at 6:00 am #

    Gone with the Wind

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2019 at 2:26 pm #

      One of my favorites!

  3. Loretta Eidson October 17, 2019 at 6:06 am #

    I’m always intrigued by authors who can put me smack in the center of the action and keep me fighting for the safety and rights of the protagonist. I would name a few authors, but I’m sure I’d leave out someone unintentionally. Despite the fact that Tom Threadgill’s thriller was gruesome, the plot was insanely well thought out and I didn’t like the villain at all. I wanted him to meet his fate sooner rather than later. Not my kind of book, but it definitely caught my attention and kept me turning the page. I prefer suspenseful plots Lynette Eason, Patricia Bradley, Natalie Walters, and others like them write.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2019 at 2:28 pm #

      I’m not familiar with Threadgill but will check out his work. I love the others you mention!

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 17, 2019 at 6:22 am #

    The best tale I’ve read of late
    left a pleasant afterglow.
    It had some folks you love to hate,
    and some you’d love to know.
    It took place in a foreign land
    rife with corrupt intrigue,
    slow-boiling pots at either hand,
    both small-time and big-league.
    Told from several points of view
    to give full illumination,
    the story reaches out to you,
    no matter what your station.
    And (now don’t peek up ahead)
    someone comes back from the dead!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2019 at 3:00 pm #

      Very good, Andrew!

    • celine October 17, 2019 at 9:34 pm #

      Always looking forward to read your comments. Them make me smile!

  5. sharonkconnell October 17, 2019 at 6:49 am #

    As Damon referred to, I love it when I get a note from one of my readers that says, “Wow! Didn’t see that coming.” It always gives me a chuckle. And adding a good villain to the story is essential to me. That’s another thing I love to hear about from my readers. LOL One of the reviews I received stated, “…creating relatable and likable characters and absolutely disdainable ones…” Goal accomplished. (author does happy dance around her office. 🙂 ) All of the points you touched on above, Tamela, are things I try to add to a story, some stronger in one or another. After all, our intent is to please our readers.

    Off hand, I can’t think of any story I’ve read lately where I enjoyed the book but not the characters. To me, there has to be at least one character I can cheer on.

    The best plot I ever read in a story is in The Lord of the Rings. That’s probably why I keep reading it over and over when I’m between new books. So many twists and turns.

    As far as adding something to your list, I think I’d add a satisfying ending, which I believe essential to the story. Having all the clues, or actions, or obstacles lead up to a great ending to the story is important to me. No unanswered questions left dangling, and no sudden mystery right at the end. It’s the reason I’ve stopped reading series. Even in a series, I think every book should have an ending that allows it to stand on its own. A sequel is much more enjoyable to me than a cliffhanger at the end of a book when I’ve spent so much time going through the story and invested my emotions into the characters of that book.

    • Lila Diller October 17, 2019 at 8:44 am #

      I agree about the satisfying ending. For instance, I just finally read the Hunger Games, and after all the many twists and turns and surprises, the ending of the trilogy wasn’t satisfying to me. But the Lord of the Rings is always satisfying. I read it often, also, or watch the movies.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2019 at 3:01 pm #

      I’m with both of you on endings! Maybe that’s one reason I love romance novels!

  6. Brennan S. McPherson October 17, 2019 at 8:05 am #

    Idk, I think of plot as being all about change. Movement creates plot over time. (Character A’s opinion of Character B “moves” in that it changes through events that influence it, like actions the characters take, or a journey they go on) And it’s all about how that movement is linked together that creates the “plot arc.” Basically, little changes lead toward a big change, or a bigger set of changes. As I plot books, it’s helpful for me to think of novels as being in four distinct movements, each movement leading toward one big change, and each scene being little changes on the way to those big changes. Subtly (or not so subtly) set up the big change to come – then give the payoff by showing it happening and making it as difficult, believable, and real as possible.

    Basic plot structure: there’s the intro to the story, then the inciting incident that puts the character on the path to the big change at the end of movement one, which is usually an increase in the stakes and a change in the goals of the main character. The change at the end of the second movement tends to be a surprise twist that further increases the stakes. The big change in the third movement is that it usually ends with a really dark moment (where everything seems ruined), and the fourth movement is all about rising to overcome it, and finally wrapping up the hopes planted in the inciting incident and first movement, by showing how the character has changed through the process of chasing those goals (i.e. he can do something now he couldn’t do before, he can face his fears, he can give up his bad ways, etc.).

    In this way, you can show a total dirt-bag going through these movements, and we’d be fascinated because we want to see how he changes. It’s less about liking the characters, and more about finding their goals and desires interesting, and wanting to see if they achieve them.

    There’s no “Best plot” that I’ve ever seen, but J. K. Rowling is one of the most brilliant plotters I’ve ever read.

  7. Lila Diller October 17, 2019 at 8:47 am #

    I both take the arrogant protagonist down and redeem him in my WIP, a Biblical fiction about Judas Iscariot. He’s the villain everyone loves to hate. But I try to show why he may have made some of his choices and what would have happened if he had repented and been redeemed. I hope it has some of those “Whoa, didn’t see that coming” moments in it. 😉

    • Brennan S. McPherson October 17, 2019 at 8:54 am #

      That’s interesting. Do you show it in a dream sequence, or his imagination? Or in actuality?

  8. Joni October 17, 2019 at 9:40 am #

    What book have you enjoyed despite not liking the characters very much? The Glass Menagerie

    What is the best plot you’ve ever seen? Witness for the Prosecution, by Agatha Christie

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2019 at 3:02 pm #

      Good choices!

  9. Roberta Sarver October 17, 2019 at 10:12 am #

    Frank Peretti, hands down, is the best plot producer, surprise-ending maker, page-turning-maker I’ve enjoyed. It’s been years since I’ve had time to read his works, but when I did, he made me start looking over my shoulder everywhere I went for a while! If you have a vivid imagination, Peretti will set it on fire.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2019 at 3:04 pm #

      I agree, Roberta!

  10. Mermaid Scribbler October 17, 2019 at 2:59 pm #

    This one is not a book, but a tv show from Korea. It took my least favorite kind of character, and it made me love her. “My Love from Another Star” was a worldwide success, but I didn’t want to see it. First of all, it featured an alien who came from another planet. Of course, once I watched one episode, I realized it was actually more like a superhero drama a-la-Superman rather than a classic Sci-fi.

    The biggest drawback, however, was that it had an unlikeable lead…at least, at first. She was not smart. She was beautiful, conceited, and vain. And…they did not change any of that through the show. Instead, they revealed more of her story to make me understand her. They showed me that she had to grow up without a great education because she financially supported her family from an early age. They showed me she was street smart instead of book smart because it was her means of survival. She became an actress as a child, and it pulled her family out of poverty, so her obsession over looks was her way of surviving, too. Then, in one heart-breaking moment, she asked the hero to pretend to be her manager. She said if she were to go to the meeting alone, she’s afraid they would see how scared she really was and that she was lose her power to negotiate. In that moment, I realized her conceit and bravado were not superficial, but the only way she had ever been able to take care of herself.

    When the character finally found out her love was from another “star” she was unafraid. She only cared that she loved him, and so she showed that deep down she valued what truly mattered. They say love covers a multitude of sins, and because her love for him was so selfless, it made me forgive her her faults. That show is a great character study because it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment that I decide to root for her, but it happens every time I watch.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2019 at 3:05 pm #

      Intriguing! I’ll have to ask my daughter living in Korea about this show!

      • Mermaid Scribbler October 17, 2019 at 4:37 pm #

        Awesome! Korea devoted an enormous amount of money to their television show development in the 80s, and they created a few movements called Hallyu (the wave). It has catapulted many their shows to international stardom, and lots of our shows are based on their originals.

        They have some great classic romances, and I love that their shows end. Watching one show is a bit like following a novel – lots of great character development and plot twists and turns, but wrapped up at the end of the season. They also have strict morality clauses (although some of their inoffensive words are translated into English as curse words – go figure). Most of the shows celebrate family, romance, and love – although like most of the world, networks offer all kinds of shows for every kind of taste. For devotees of romance, they have a great selection, especially since American television outside of Hallmark has abandoned most classic romances.

        My favorites are:

        Queen In-Hyun’s man about a man who travels to the future and meets an actress playing the part of an ancient queen. Fun and swoon worthy and sweet.

        99% of Anything – A remake of the 80s hit 99% of Something – A perfect fast-paced love story about a teacher who rescues a billionaire (whom she thinks is homeless). He forces his arrogant grandson to date her, and their changes from enemies to the most heart-breaking lovers is sweet.

        Master’s Sun – I hate ghost stories, but Korea’s hit (and sometimes miss) writers, The Hong Sisters, created a new genre – rom-com horror. It is scary and fabulous as the pitiful heroine cannot function because she sees ghosts. When she realizes a heartless businessman makes them go away at his touch, the fun begins. Lots of themes about personal space and dignity. Lots of chills and tears, and a guy who starts out as an unlikely romance hero who turns dreamy by the end. Love those two, and I love her journey to reclaim her self worth by the end. Zany and fun and scary.

        Descendants of the Sun – At times the plot is paper thin and the international bad guys are sometimes goofy. However, the first episode is perfect. The phone scene alone is worth a watch. It is popcorn and candy fluffy fun to watch, and the couple got married in real life after they wrapped. You won’t find any couple prettier to watch, and overall the show become a favorite in Korea.

        Lots to love. They offer a few on Netflix, and some for free on Viki and Kocowa. Happy watching.

  11. Mermaid Scribbler October 17, 2019 at 4:18 pm #

    PS – The character is such a puzzle at first, but as they reveal more about her, it really moves the plot. Also, there is a mystery – two in fact. One about a woman who dies and another about a look-alike from hundreds of years in the past. The plot pulled me in, but the character reveals captured my heart.

  12. claire o'sullivan October 18, 2019 at 10:41 am #

    I have always loved the character, Eustace who mocked and scoffed, brought into the world of Narnia (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and how his greed brought him low, the Lord removing the scales, one layer, one at a time. Of course, a painful process. His inability to talk, only to cry. I read this when I find myself in the same position of my own trials.

    I also love the protagonist, a non-believer, Raskolnikov. His situation goes from bad to worse and he commits murder for greed. Yet for the grace of God.

    So many protagonists that I would rather read, those who scoff, and those whom I prefer to write. To reach the lost. They are never perfect even when they accept the Lord. Mercy and grace.

  13. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D October 18, 2019 at 2:51 pm #

    I love the character of Dr. Gregory House so much, that I wrote my dissertation on him. He was such a terribly flawed person just I found myself rooting for him on more than one occasion. My students tell me that, in spite of his flaws, they would want him for a doctor because, if he didn’t kill them, he woudl cure them.

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