The Top 10 Tips For Plotting And Finishing A Book


I created Writers Write by finding a way through these problems. My writing courses are goal oriented. They give you practical tips. They give you the tools to write, and finish, a book. They inspire writers to persevere.

These are my Top 10 Tips for Plotting your story. (© Amanda Patterson)

  1. Write the ending first. This gives you a destination. You may eventually change the ending but having a goal is more helpful than you can imagine.
  2. Choose your antagonist before you choose your protagonist.  Beginner writers tend to either have a story idea without an antagonist, or they create one-dimensional villains who do not suit the hero’s story.
  3. Give your characters physical story goals. A physical story goal is one that can be experienced through the five senses. Your protagonist and antagonist should have story goals in opposition to one another. Example: The villain wants to destroy the hero’s company. The hero wants to save his company. The intangible story goals, such as ambition or finding inner strength, will be revealed as a result of this conflict.
  4. Decide on a genre and stick to it. It is disappointing to a reader if he or she  picks up a romance novel and it turns into a serial killer thriller. Research genre expectations, word count, etc.
  5. Write a synopsis. This should not be longer than two pages. Tell the whole story. Do not include back story. If you cut out unnecessary details here you will save time. You will also be able to stick to the story. It sounds romantic when writers say they let the characters show them the story. I have found these writers seldom finish novels as they are always trying out new things. This sounds creative but it is disheartening when you are trying to become a published author.
  6. Be disciplined with settings. Introduce major settings in the first quarter of your book. It is unnerving when authors introduce a new setting a few chapters from the end of the novel.
  7. Stick to two supporting characters. Amalgamate extra characters into one person. Your protagonist does not need three best friends and five love interests. The rules of story-telling require simplicity. Readers get bored when they are introduced to too many characters in one book.
  8. Break your story into scenes.  Become a film director and construct the scenes. Ruthlessly cut out any you don’t need to move the story forward.
  9. Wrap it up and write ‘The End’. End the story as soon after your protagonist has achieved his or her story goal as possible. Don’t explain what has happened and summarise the plot. Your reader is not stupid.
  10. He wins but… The best endings in commercial and literary fiction, as well as memoirs, are when the protagonist achieves his story goal but… Examples: Clarice Starling catches Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs but Hannibal escapes; The pigs take over the farm from the humans in Animal Farm but they have become indistinguishable from them; In Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela achieves a free South Africa but ends the book with the message that there is another long walk ahead.

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

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this, read How To Write A Beginning And An Ending That Readers Will Never Forget

This article has 9 comments

  1. Edward Medina

    Perfect!! 😉

  2. Seaborn Reed

    I love most of these. Great advice, thanks!

    However … No. 7 brought one name to mind: Dostoyevsky.

  3. Keith Salway

    I live in the UK so a course in SA isn’t an option. Do you offer Distance Learning courses perchance?

  4. Denise Golinowski

    Excellent tips for writers. #5 if a toughie for me, but I can see how it would really help. And thanks to Scrivener, I’m beginning to think in terms of #8/Scenes. It’s liberating not to be stuck in a linear form. Thanks for the info!

  5. Mahrie G. Ried

    Good advice -(all the 10 of lists) much of it I’ve heard before but reminders (booster shots) are helpful and appropriate. I get your Writers Write on my FB feed and both enjoy it and learn from it. (From Alberta, Canada).

  6. valerie

    great ideas, i particularly like #1 and #5. #7 is a difficult one for me, i write multi-perspective novels, so i like having between five and ten characters … i’ll let you know in a few years if it works for me 😉

  7. Tracey K

    I’m having trouble applying these tips to my genre, historical/biographical fiction. The physical story goals are already history! There is no one antagonist, as it is a story of survival in spite of massive social and cultural upheaval. The characters in the story are also historical figures, most are familiy, some are friends, some enemies. There will be many characters introduced and then left behind as the protagonist moves on. There is war, brother fighting brother, social stigma and disgrace, murder, desperation, hopelessness, romance, adventure and finally, a new beginning. Historical fiction is much different than writing pulp fiction!

  8. Writers Write

    Most historical fiction is divided into bite sized chunks. Good historical fiction writers don’t include every person and every goal – it simply becomes too confusing. Or you could be writing a text book? They focus on the people who had the most impact and who will best tell the story.

  9. Ajit Muttu

    very pointed suggestions..sensible ones..

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