Next to characterization I think the plot is the most important element in a story. You can create wonderful characters, but if you have them doing dull, uninteresting things then you will lose your reader. So how do you develop that compelling plot that will keep your readers glue to your book?
There are many ways to go about plotting your story. To me plotting is like putting together one huge jigsaw puzzle one piece at a time. Some people start out writing their book from a detailed outline and some by the seat of their pants, letting scene after scene come to them as they develop the story on the computer. I do a little of both. I have a story arc written down with the high points and how I am going to get there. I kind of think of it as climbing several mountains to get to the end of my book.
I have used what I call visual plotting in some of my books where I have a long sheet of paper divided into three sections (three acts). At the end of each section I have a pivotal scene in my book that ups the stakes for the hero and heroine which moves them into the next section of the story.
Using the long sheet of paper, I place cards with scenes in the order I want them to come. Writing a scene on a card allows me to move it around until I have the scene where I think it will be most effective. After I do that I go back and look to see why I have that scene in the book. I color code the card for different aspects of a story like conflict (external and internal), motivation, goal, background information, subplot development. By color coding the cards at a glance I can see if each scene I’ve developed so far has several reasons for being in the book. If it doesn’t, I either remove the scene or beef it up or change it until the scene has multiple reasons for being in the book. The color coding also allows me to see if I have enough scenes devoted to a certain aspect of a story. I will use different color codes for the hero and heroine. That way I make sure I have covered what is necessary for each main character.
This particular technique can also be utilized after you’ve finished the rough draft to make sure each scene is necessary, builds toward a high point and keeps the plot moving. Pacing is important in a plot. If the story is good but slow moving, you will lose some readers. This technique can help you see the sagging parts. Then you can go back into the story and fortify the scenes that are lacking. Sometimes we can be so close to our story that we don’t see what is missing without visually laying it out before us.
This is only one technique of plotting. A writer must find what works best for her. Experiment with different techniques to discover what you like the best. But above all, enjoy putting that huge jigsaw puzzle together. It comes across in your writing.