Tuesday, 30 August 2011

High Stakes & Potent Plotting

Step into my World? 
Intrigue and Supense - Chiller Plotting?
All the steps in creating a plausible plot in thriller writing (in my opinion- but feel free to disagree!) must come from the premise of an antagonist (villain) wanting one thing and a protagonist (hero) wanting the direct opposite. This, I believe, creates the basic conflict that will drive the story to its final climactic end. Layered in and around this conflict may be more subplots and story lines that enrich the central story. In other words the story is multi-layered and thick with intrigue and suspense. As far as I can see, all the really good thrillers of recent times seem to be written this way. And it is this potent mixture of forces set one against the other that is the engine behind a rollicking good story.
The stakes in a thriller must also be very high so that menace and threat are around every corner. Of course, the greatest threat (and the one many successful stories have thrived on) is world domination or a catastrophic event that threatens the entire world. For example ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Alien’ and various James Bond’s epics. The plotting for a novel like this may start fairly worryingly but then the plot (or story arc) should rise to epic proportions and stakes go higher and higher as more danger and conflict is piled on and more people realise the gravity of the situation. A frantic race against time is also often used as a plot device to ratchet up the tension and create even higher drama.
But it doesn’t always have to be about threats to the entire world - it may simply be threats to a main character’s nearest and dearest. And in this case the best way to raise the stakes is for the reader to strongly identify with the characters in peril and so worry for their safety. Every thriller plot cannot be all about action. Suspense, good character development and rising tension can do the job of raising stakes equally well in even the most urban of thrillers. And engendering empathy is integral to the plot too.
In my writing, when I have a basic premise for a novel, I set about developing strong characters with a full back story and personal history that makes them the person they are in the story. The Protagonist and the Antagonist are compared side by side to ensure they will clash and want opposite things and that then sets the story in motion, I hope... I start to design the scenes with conflict and tension and maybe add subplots (which will eventually tie into the story line) to create more obstacles for the protagonist - many will come from the antagonist, of course - that he/she will need to overcome to succeed in their quests.
I try to see the story outline as a whole graph of rising problems which get ever worse until the final climactic scene. Then it is all downhill to the resolution and, hopefully, satisfying ending.
This is just a quick snapshot of how I go about plotting. But how do you do it? Do you do something similar or maybe not plan at all?


  1. Great post! I have such a hard time outlining plots. I like to just write and see what happens, but then I always have to go back and fix it! Sigh. Some day I'll learn to do both simultaneously! LOL

  2. I'm like you. I start with the basic plot-protag/antag and then when I start to know the other characters, work their problems (subplots) around that. Loved the post.

  3. I start with an idea, then discover my protag. From there I work out who would want to stop them, whether that's a person or a situation. I like to have an idea of what's going to happen before I start. The one time I just took off, I ran out of steam pretty early on!

  4. I'm always interested in how others plot, so thanks for that! I always think about what I want the MC to learn, set her on the wrong path, then decide what the turning points will be.

  5. I loved reading this, as Talli said, I love hearing how other people plot. I'm not a huge plotter. When I started my WIP I started at the beginning and I knew the ending, how I got there I let my characters find their way. That was until I entered the Debut Daggers when I had to write a synopsis, so I had to figure out the middle!

    I absolutely agree with you about the layering. It adds depth and you definitely need to know how your characters tick.

    Great advice.