The One Thing Every Writer Should Know About Plotting

Beginner authors often say, ‘My story is about a woman who wants to be respected / accepted / loved.’

This is a common problem with first time novelists. They haven’t realised the biggest key to story-telling success is for your character to have a physical goal.

Wanting to find ‘love’ or ‘acceptance’ or ‘justice’ isn’t enough. If your character is loved, accepted or vindicated after achieving a physical goal, you have a story.

Example: If your character has to escape from a life-threatening situation he will find out how physically tough he is, and how emotionally resilient he is. He will gain respect and self-respect.

To define a physical story goal a character needs:

  1. to get something physical
  2. to cause something physical
  3. to escape something physical
  4. to resolve something physical
  5. to survive something physical

More examples:

  1. If you want to write about a woman who wants to ‘find herself’, make her travel somewhere.
  2. If your lawyer wants justice, give him a client whose life needs to be saved.
  3. If your lonely male character wants love, give him a situation to deal with where he can find the love of his life.

Characters always have abstract story goals. Never let them become more important than the physical goals, which have deadlines, and are experienced through the senses. When the protagonist achieves his physical goal, the story ends and his abstract goal is a by-product of this success.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

by Amanda Patterson

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  1. Mahrie G. Reid

    So true – and it is surprising how many beginning authors don’t get it. You have to have a physical vehicle (plot) to carry the character’s journey (story.)
    Thank you for explaining it so succinctly.

  2. Writers Write

    Thank you for the feedback, Mahrie.

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