It’s not too hard to run a Google or Yahoo search to find templates on how to create a good plot. Most can be formulaic in nature, other plots can vary, so as to stand out on their own. The basic premise of them all is even more simple. You have a good character (Protagonist) and a bad character (Antagonist) and it’s the conflict between them that leads to an eventual resolution.
Breaking away from that pattern can be dangerous, because certain readers are expecting the story to end in a certain way. An example is the Romance genre. The story must have s happy ending, or it’s not considered a Romance at all.
Science Fiction and Fantasy has no such restrictive formula. There are certain things that are required to make the genre Science Fiction and Fantasy. One of course, is to have science as part of the /galaxy/solar system/world/plot/discussion within the story. Fantasy can have the same things, but have elements that use magic or have anything to do with fantastical creatures/character types.
Readers of Science Fiction and Fantasy are more forgiving when it comes to the format of the story. It can have a bad ending where evil wins, or a good ending, where good wins. Thus we can further break down the plot of most books. Good versus evil.
For a time, publishing houses in the mid-90s wanted to break away from the good versus evil cycle. Plus if you wrote about unicorns, forget making any submissions. They were being unicorn saturated, with the bulk of fantasy stories had something to do with a girl, child to teen, and a unicorn. I’ve heard stories where some intake editors who got to page one and found it to be one of those types of novels would shred the book before returning it to the author who wrote it.
Today, it would be easy to stick with formula plots and make the book work out very well. However, I don’t want a good plot. I want an exceptional, fantastic and well-rounded plot that will grab my readers by the seat of their pants and squeeze for extra thrills! I want a plot that will cause shivers to go down a reader’s back, delivering a sense of wonder.
It’s what I strive for, and to do that properly, I can’t use the same-old regular stuff most people expect and merely get through to the last expected page. I’ve developed a multiple-staged process to developing an exceptional plot, and this is how I generally start out.
I create the Antagonist and their back story first. That very back story will have an attachment to the not-yet invented Protagonist. What is important about my evil characters is they don’t see themselves as evil. They see their goals as good, and ultimately important for survival not just for them, but other people they care about.
I invent the Protagonist and write their back story, and have it related to the Antagonist in some way. Be they a sibling, or a neighbor, or a childhood sweetheart, some type of connection must be there. It’s what draws them together, or keeps them apart, but it’s a key piece of the novel. The Protagonist may see the actions of the Antagonist as evil, or they may sympathize at first, only to realize the true depth of the problem later on.
Next I invent the victims. Be they unnamed people, soldiers, side characters, whoever they are, I have them predestined as a target of the Antagonist. Some may die, others may live, but there they are, and I put down a mention as to their need to be in the novel. Say a novel about a war, we need soldiers, some of which will die in combat. That helps keep the common sense in, and the plot holes out.
It’s here that I invent the location the story takes place in. It doesn’t have to be earth. It can be anywhere in the universe.
Once that is done, I ask out loud, “Who benefits and who doesn’t gain anything in this kind of story?”
Once I have that, I ask myself, does my Protagonist and Antagonist have a flaw I can exploit? I roll a six-sided dice for that. 1 or a 2, no flaws. 3 or a 4, one flaw for the Antagonist. 5 or a 6, one flaw for the Protagonist.
Next, I create a list of twenty flaws. Then I roll a twenty sided dice and assign it. Those flaws can be but not limited to: Fear of falling. Lactose intolerant. Can’t stand the sight of blood. (Can you imagine a vampire who faints at the sight of blood?) Fear of clowns. Frequent nightmares. Insecure around the opposite sex. Clumsy. Always getting lost in public places. Stutters. On and on I can go with these.
What I roll up, I stick with and make it reasonable within the story. Before I know it, the plot is no longer an expected map, and thus starts the immersion within the comedy, or the serious moments that make writing a novel so much darn fun.