Having worked out exactly what 'plot' is, this week I thought I'd talk about how you create one.
There are lots of methods, of course, but this way ensures your plot will be closely linked to your characters in a believable way.
The idea, put simply, is this: make your main character (or characters) want something, and then spend 90,000 words thwarting them.
One way to structure a novel is to give your main character (the protagonist) one motivation or goal that can span the entire book. It has to be something that's important (they can't just decide they no longer care once the going gets tough) and, ideally, it should be something that can be translated into an active goal.
For example, if you decide that your protagonist's main goal is to 'look after her children', you have something that is too vague and too passive. If she does nothing new (assuming she is already a halfway decent parent), then she achieves her goal and you don't get much of a story.
If, however, you make that goal of ‘looking after her children’ into something more defined, such as to buy a cottage in the country (in order to bring up her kids in a safe, rural community), then you have a concrete goal.
A good way to get your head around this idea of concrete and active goals is to practice identifying them in existing stories (books, films or television episodes). For example, Katniss in The Hunger Games has a clear and concrete goal - to win (survive) the games. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo's goal is to destroy the ring.
Then, you get to torture your character. In my example, you think about all the terrible things that can happen to stop her from buying that cottage. Maybe she loses her job or her business fails so she no longer has the cash, maybe she discovers that her children don’t want to move to the country, or that the cottage has rising damp and a psychotic neighbour.
This technique can work throughout the writing or editing process. If you’re stuck at any point, or you feel a scene is falling flat, ask yourself: What is the worst possible thing that could happen to my protagonist right now?
You need to be the evil genius in your character's lives. This is something I find hard. I like my characters, and torturing them doesn't come naturally (I feel mean!), but I'm working on it. I know that being cruel to my characters will help me to construct better, more exciting stories.