All About the Action: What is a Plot-Driven Story?
You’ve just finished a novel you couldn’t put down. The pacing was spot on and everything about it made you want to keep flipping the pages to find out what happens next. You’re going to be exhausted for work this morning and you really shouldn’t have stayed up until 3 am to find out if they found the killer. If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, then it’s probably because you were reading a plot-driven story.
If you’ve ever considered writing a plot-driven story, you might be wondering what exactly that term means and what elements you need to write one. In this article, we’ll break that down and give you some tips for writing your own plot-driven book.
What is a Plot-Driven Story?
A plot-driven story is a narrative that places a strong emphasis on the sequence of events that make up the tale, with the primary goal of keeping your reader entertained through a series of conflicts, obstacles, and resolutions. In this type of story, the plot is the driving force behind the narrative, rather than the characters or their internal conflicts.
The term “plot-driven" can be somewhat subjective, as there’s no set definition or formula for what constitutes a plot-driven story. However, some common elements of plot-driven stories include a clear, well-defined structure with a beginning, middle, and end; a strong central conflict or goal that drives the action of the story; and a series of complications and obstacles your characters must overcome to achieve that goal.
In a plot-driven story, the focus is often on external factors, such as action, suspense, and pacing, rather than on internal factors such as character development or introspection. This doesn’t mean that characters are not important in a plot-driven story, but rather that their role is often second to the demands of the plot. Characters in a plot-driven story are often defined more by their actions than by their internal thoughts or emotions, though that doesn’t mean these aren’t important.
Thriller and suspense novels are often plot-driven, where the focus is on creating a sense of tension and urgency through a series of high-stakes conflicts and narrow escapes. In this type of story, the plot is often driven by a central mystery or threat the protagonist must solve or overcome, and the pacing is designed to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Remember that book you stayed up so late reading? This is why.
Another example of a plot-driven story is a heist or caper, where the focus is on a group of characters working together to pull off a complex, high-stakes heist or con. In this type of story, the plot is driven by the various obstacles and challenges your characters overcome to achieve their goal, and the pacing is also designed to build suspense and tension as the heist unfolds.
While plot-driven stories may be less focused on character development or introspection than character-driven stories, they can still be rich and complex narratives that explore a wide range of themes and ideas. You’ll find plot-driven stories in genres from science fiction and fantasy to crime and romance.
Elements of a Plot-Driven Story
Let’s look more closely at the specific elements of a plot-driven story.
A well-defined structure: A plot-driven story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The story should be organized in a logical and coherent manner so your readers can easily follow the sequence of events.
A strong central conflict: The plot should revolve around a central conflict or goal that drives the story forward. This conflict should be clearly defined and the stakes should be high to create tension and suspense. Make it end-of-the-world (in the eyes of your protagonist) type stuff.
Complications and obstacles: A plot-driven story should have a series of complications and obstacles that must be overcome in order to achieve your character’s goals. These obstacles should be challenging enough to create ongoing tension and conflict. It can’t all be too easy.
Pacing: The pacing of a plot-driven story is critical. The story should be fast-paced, with a series of escalating conflicts and obstacles that keep the reader engaged and invested in the outcome, but also allow for some breathing room so your reader can have a moment to catch up.
Action and suspense: Plot-driven stories are often focused on external factors such as action, suspense, and tension. The story should be filled with exciting and suspenseful moments that keep the reader on the edge of their seat.
Resolution: A plot-driven story should have a satisfying resolution that ties up all the loose ends and resolves the central conflict. The resolution should be logical and consistent with the rest of the story and provide a sense of closure for your reader.
Tips for Writing a Plot-Driven Story
If you're planning to write a plot-driven story, here are some tips to consider:
Start with a strong concept: A plot-driven story often revolves around a central conflict or goal. Make sure you have a strong and unique concept that can be explained clearly. Often these types of stories can be summed up in a single line. For example, here’s one from the Hunger Games: In a world where the oppressed kill each other for the entertainment of the elite, a girl – hell bent on survival – takes her sister's place in a televised death match and finds she must choose between her life and her humanity.
Outline your plot: Before you start writing, consider creating an outline of the plot. This will help you keep track of the events and pacing of the story, and ensure that you maintain a clear and coherent structure. If you’re more of a discovery writer, it can be useful to just jot down a few major points before you start writing.
Create compelling characters: While plot is important, your story will also need strong and relatable characters to drive the narrative or no one will care about the plot. Develop your characters with unique backgrounds, motivations, and flaws that will add depth and complexity to the story.
Use strong and active verbs: To keep the story moving, use strong and active verbs that convey action and movement. This will help maintain a sense of urgency and momentum throughout your narrative.
Keep the pacing fast: To keep the reader engaged, the pacing of the story should be fast and exciting. Introduce conflicts and obstacles that increase in intensity and keep the reader guessing.
Use description and exposition sparingly: While description is important for setting the scene, too much description or exposition can slow down the pacing of the story. Use it only when necessary and focus on action and dialogue to keep the momentum going.
Create a satisfying resolution: A plot-driven story should have a clear and satisfying resolution that ties up all loose ends and resolves the central conflict. Make sure the resolution is logical and consistent with the rest of the story, and provides a sense of closure for the reader.
Famous Examples of Plot Driven Stories
If you’re looking for some examples of plot-driven stories to get a sense of how they’re structured, here are some ones to check out:
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi: A high-fantasy story set in a world inspired by West African mythology, follows the journey of a young girl named Zélie, who embarks on a quest to restore magic to her kingdom and fight against a tyrannical regime.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This contemporary YA book explores themes of race, police brutality, and activism. It follows the story of a young Black girl named Starr, who witnesses the police shooting of her childhood friend and becomes an activist in the fight for justice.
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: This historical fiction novel spans several decades and follows a Korean family living in Japan. It explores themes of identity, family, and survival, as the family faces discrimination and prejudice in their adopted country.
- The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This blend of historical fiction and magical realism is set in pre-Civil War America. It follows the story of a young slave named Hiram, who possesses the ability to teleport and uses his powers to fight against slavery and oppression.
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: This novel is a speculative fiction story that explores themes of migration, displacement, and identity. It follows the journey of two lovers who escape war-torn Middle East through a series of mysterious portals and struggle to adapt to their new lives in a foreign country.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: Two half-sisters in 18th century Ghana and their descendants are explored over the course of several generations in this historical novel. It explores themes of slavery, colonization, and identity.
- The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin: This novel follows the story of four siblings who, as children, visit a fortune-teller who predicts the dates of their deaths. The novel explores the ways in which this prophecy shapes their lives and relationships.
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen: This novel is a spy thriller set during and after the Vietnam War, told from the perspective of a double agent. It explores themes of identity, loyalty, and betrayal.
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: This book follows the story of a newlywed couple, Roy and Celestial, whose lives are upended when Roy is wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to prison. It explores themes of marriage, race, and the criminal justice system.
- The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin: This blend of urban fantasy and science fiction is set in a version of New York City where the city itself is alive and has been born into human form. It explores themes of identity, gentrification, and community.
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