Keeping on Track: The Use of a Plot


Vision 70


Keeping on Track:


The Use of a Plot


Dr. Bob Rich

Bob's Writing

Copyright © 2012 Dr. Bob Rich, All Rights Reserved




There are two ways to construct a story:


  1. Create some characters. Put them in a setting, and let them do what they want.

  3. Construct a detailed plot, and expand it into a story in a number of well-defined steps. I think a story written intuitively, with only the vaguest idea of where it is going until it gets there, produces better writing. If you have this attitude, you're pretty well guaranteed to present everything from the point of view (POV) of people in the book. After all, the author's job is to bring the characters to life -- then get off the stage.


But. . . .


But you need heaps of experience to do this well. I have edited many books that are full of author intrusions (which interrupt the reality of the story and should be cut out with scissors), and wander all over the place with no unity or connectedness, and are full of bits of subplot that go nowhere and are never brought to a conclusion. Even the whole book sometimes fails to reach a conclusion.


This makes a story no fun to read. It is un-publishable. I invariably advise the author to treat this book, however promising it may be, as raw material for writing the second attempt, rather than something that can be fixed.


Until they develop an automatic rudder through experience, they should follow the second path of detailed plotting.


Here is my advice to a recent editing client, whose book was written in wonderful, lyrical language, and had fascinating content:


Please read through once, studying my recommendations. Then I suggest you put the book aside for a couple of months to let it go "cold," then do an entire rewrite.


When you resume, start by constructing a plot, like this:

  1. Describe the entire story in one sentence. This is the tag line.

  2. Expand this into a 200 word blurb.

  3. Go into more detail, writing a synopsis of 500 to 1000 words.

  4. Now construct a bulleted list of points that gives all the steps in the development of the story.

  5. Expand each bulleted point into a chapter summary. Each of these will be between 100 and say 500 words.

  6. Expand the brief description of a chapter (its entry in the chapter summary) into a series of scenes. Each scene has a location, a witness from whose point of view it is presented, usually other characters, action taking place, and a justification regarding how it advances the story.

  7. Finally, write each scene. The first paragraph will give the witness's name, and some immediate inner event like a bodily sensation, a thought, perception or the like. It will also immediately locate the scene with very brief snippets of description woven in.

This means that the story hangs together in a logical way. It contains nothing that fails to advance the plot. Everything is written from the point of view of a character.


One of the benefits of constructing a plot like this will be to remove the jerkiness in the narrative. Everything should have a logical connection. This is not to say you can't have subplots, but that they are woven in smoothly.