I wrote the first version of my debut novel, PURPLE MOON, when I was fifteen years old—and at the time, I wrote the story for fun. For my eyes only. Because of that, I didn’t have much of a plan in place for the plot. When the story was complete, I had a best-selling author review the manuscript—and although she complimented my writing, she told me the plot was lacking. My main character needed a goal.
It was the first time I’d heard of such a thing. Why did Selena need a goal?
I soon discovered that every main character in every good story has a goal. It’s the journey that the character takes in attempt to reach this goal that pushes the story into motion.
I returned to my manuscript and implemented a new goal—and I soon began to see the plot of PURPLE MOON take on its full form. It was no longer a story that followed Selena’s day-to-day adventures; rather, each scene held purpose. Each chapter was built into the framework of this journey toward Selena’s goal and drove the story forward.
So what’s the secret? How can you apply this concept to create stories that your readers won’t want to put down?
Start by following these five steps…
1 – Establish an inner desire and external goal.
If you’re a character-driven novelist like I am, it might be difficult to decide on a plot goal for your main character. But guess what? If you know your character inside and out, then you most likely already have the material necessary to uncover their external goal.
First, pinpoint your character’s inner desire. To find hope? Love? Acceptance?
From there, you’re going to create an external goal that will take her on a journey toward attaining this inner desire.
2 – Pull smaller goals from this over-arching goal.
If you want to keep the momentum flowing, then it’s important that each scene pushes the story forward. It’s difficult to do this throughout the duration of a novel-length project—unless your character has smaller goals to reach that are connected to the over-arching goal.
But don’t make it too easy for your character! It’s the struggle that will spark tension amongst the pages, and it’s this tension that will keep readers sitting on the edge of their seats.
That brings us to our next point…
3 – Make it rain.
Think about it: Do you like to read stories about characters who have everything good going for them? I doubt it.
When the character struggles against forces (and people) that keep her from reaching inner and external goals, then the reader will continue flying through the pages, eager to see if the character survived (figuratively—and literally, too, in some genres!).
4 – Create high stakes—both physical and emotional.
Sure, your character might have a goal—but is it important? Why does it matter to your character? What will she lose if she doesn’t reach this, and what will she gain if she does?
It’s these high stakes that will cause your readers to care for your main character. And when your readers care, then you’ll most likely have them hooked for the rest of the journey.
However, if you create stakes, then you need to understand your character’s motivation…
5 – Understand your character’s motivation.
Your readers will need to know why the character is compelled to reach this inner and external goal.
For example: If your character is a 17-year-old girl who is searching for acceptance, then maybe the external goal could be that she’s hoping to find her first summer romance.
Why is this important to her? What’s the motivation?
Maybe her parents are distant and have never shown her the love that she craves. Plus, if she gets a summer romance, then she could prove to the bullies at school that she isn’t a misfit—and perhaps she could finally make friends during her last year of high school. (Simple story structure, but you get the idea!) It’s this motivation that will create a plot that is realistic rather than simply formulaic.
Now, before I begin on a new project, I do this prep work before writing the entire story rather than afterwards.
Doing this gives me the opportunity to create stories that my readers can’t put down—stories that invite them to join in on an adventure. And no, you don’t have to be a plot-driven novelist to achieve this kind of magic!
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Is it hard for you to develop a plot for your stories? Do you have any other advice for driving a story forward?
Tessa Emily Hall is an award-winning author who writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show teens they’re not alone. Her passion for shedding light on clean entertainment and media for teens led her to a career as an Associate Agent at Hartline Literary Agency, YA Acquisitions Editor for Illuminate YA (LPC Imprint), and Founder/Editor of PursueMagazine.net. Tessa’s first teen devotional, COFFEE SHOP DEVOS, will release with Bethany House in 2018. She’s guilty of making way too many lattes and never finishing her to-read list. When her fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, she can be found speaking to teens, decorating art journals, and acting in Christian films. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website: http://www.tessaemilyhall.com.