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Top 10 Tips to Structure Your Story's Plot
by Samantha Stone

Structuring your story goes beyond merely plotting; it involves the characters, scheduling obstacles, deciding on viewpoints, and maintaining pace. A well-structured story makes your story easier to execute, and execution is everything in the very competitive field of fiction writing.

Think of baking a cake. You don't just end up with a cake at the end of gathering your ingredients and heating the oven. The steps in-between finding a mixing bowl and smiling down at that finished cake take preparation; so does engaging storytelling.

Use these 10 tips for structuring your plot to keep your story moving and focused, and your writing time will be much more productive.

1. Figuring the Angles

Decide how best to tell your story. This can include whose point-of-view to use, deciding which point-of-view, which obstacles to setup first, etc. Brainstorm the angles.

2. Whose Story Is It?

Deciding which point-of-view to use will help structure the rest of your story's plot. With first-person point-of-view, you are limited to where that character is; an omniscient point of view – unlimited third-person – might tempt you to hop around within characters and give too much away too soon in the plotline.

3. Where to Begin

Your story's plot is structured around what happens after the beginning of the book, but the story may not start there. Resist the urge to begin too far away from the inciting incident, that launching point that propels your characters and plot.

4. Hurdles

Keep your story moving with obstacles for your character to overcome. Stagger these hurdles so that the character builds off the last event, learns from it, and uses that knowledge – or ignores, at a cost, a lesson not learned – to overcome or fail at the next hurdle.

5. Proper Pacing

Your story's pace will gain and lose speed as the storyline unfolds, but don't let it lag. Put obstacles in your character's way to keep them climbing; an easy road walking downhill is less engaging than a struggle uphill (unless this is a downward spiral of events; that's different). Increasingly difficult obstacles that must be overcome will propel your plotline.

6. Adding Characters

Mixing in more characters can automatically complicate, heighten, and move your plot. Use them to strategically push your protagonist into action. In some genres, an adversary may become an ally to your protagonist, but don't force a character into a plot.

7. Red Herrings and Blind Alleys

Along with setups, these false clues and dead-ends can be used to slow or maneuver a plot into a different direction. In these journeys to nowhere, allow your character to develop. In A Song of Ice and Fire, Brienne's escort of prisoner Jaime forces the knight to see past the woman's homeliness. In mystery and crime fiction, false leads can help cloud the real guilty party with legitimate distraction.

8. Climax and Resolution

The climax should epitomize your plot points. This is the big moment, so place it at the right spot in the story. Not all loose ends must be tied up; your resolution should satisfy the reader, but not appear too pat or manufactured.

9. End It When It's Over

Know when to end the story. Yes, you may love your characters, and yes, your readers want to read more about the story/character – so write another story or continue the characters in a series. Know when to stop. You need not have a recap or lingering, languishing farewells.

10. Setting Up the Sequel

If yours is a multi-book storyline, set up the sequel for other later books in the first book. This is where your plotting structure is crucial. Answer enough questions in the first book to get the reader to read the second book, but don't give away too much; leave enough interest to continue the storyline.

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