A novel plot must have an intriguing beginning, a complex interior, and a satisfying finale, all this based on the inner development of a main character we can love and care deeply about — otherwise, why would anyone continue to read? Plot and character are inexorably joined and both must be given adequate consideration.
Plot is a line through time and space during which a main character, the protagonist, progresses from an initial condition, mindset, and situation, is confronted by a variety of predicaments, and emerges as a changed, improved, more knowledgeable and savvy individual. Though there’s one major storyline, the main character will react to other characters, each having their own intent, and these encounters may formulate subplots that complicate the life of our protagonist.
Before writing a novel, get to know your main character thoroughly as a primary effort in pre-noveling preparedness. Place a well-developed character into an eventful situation and you’ll intuitively know which direction he’ll go, but if your character is a mere stick figure in your mind, you’ll most likely struggle with plot issues and not have a clearly defined direction. Therefore the novelist’s first and most important task is development of a self-willed, vibrant main character, even if that self-will is directed at self-effacement and obedience to another party in the novel. That in itself is a choice — and we need to let our characters make choices.
Secondarily, prepare a complex and intriguing beginning situation, a series of probable events during the novel, and a possible ending – though you may want to leave yourself open for a better ending if your characters lead you to one. If you think of only ten possible events that might happen during the novel, you may run out of ideas before you get through the third chapter. It would be better to brainstorm a list of one hundred things that could happen. Then use the best ideas on the list when it comes time to write out the novel. Subplots enrich the fabric of the novel and provide a complex, entertaining reading experience.
It is our job as novelists to endow a character with meaningful problems to resolve. And it is important that our main character is the one to resolve them! It won’t help the main character’s evolution to let problems be solved magically, or to let other characters be the heroes! No, the plot should glorify the inner development of one central character — our protagonist. This person may do some terrible things — make awful mistakes – may mess up life in a thousand ridiculous ways — but in the end must emerge victorious over outer threats and inner frailties.
During your noveling attempts you’ll probably manage to make lots of mistakes along with winning some major victories. Novel writing is a learning process. We are always practicing new ideas and techniques — getting ready for the next one. And the next. A painter doesn’t paint just one canvas, and novelists usually don’t write only one novel. Instead we learn new styles and apply a variety of moods and modes to our work. Each novel is an attempt to do better than the last. Each is an opportunity to improve on skills, handiwork, and achievements.