2 Easy Ideas To Help Define Your Plot

defining plot

I really need to work on ‘plot’.

Which sounds strange, because I’ve published two novels with great plots (if I do say so myself) and a handful of short stories.

But plot is actually my biggest weakness.

I really like thinking up characters and situations, but I have more trouble reflecting on what my main character’s primary motivation is and how it can drive the story forward.

To help with this, I like to try to narrow down my plots to an elevator pitch:

‘When an inciting incident happens to a character, they have to overcome conflict/obstacles, to complete their quest.’

The Edge of Darkness’ elevator pitch is: ’25th Century cyborg former prisoners of war uncover a conspiracy on board a transport ship to Old Earth and mutiny to save their lives and families.’

Storm of Blood’s elevator pitch is: ‘An Australian teenage demon hunter must infiltrate a coven of witches to find out who is leading the illegal blood magic rituals.’

I also find that writing a pseudo blurb first helps me narrow down what the plot is, and what my character’s motivation is. The blurb can always change, but it I write it beforehand, it can also work as a very loose plan.

For example, take the two blurbs I’ve used for The Edge of Darkness.

Version 1

“Cyborgs don’t get to control their own lives. Their own destinies.”

I did not choose to become this way. This corrupted, innocent body. Who in their right mind would willingly choose this life?
But those whose machine parts become too damaged to continue to operate under normal circumstances are recycled… their human half meticulously removed and disposed of… and the machine part to be reattached to a new human…
Was I ever a part of someone else?

At the end of the interstellar war, Max Ryan, an unwilling cyborg living on the Rock, a notorious prison planet, is rescued and sent to live on the transport ship Eden as it travels home to Old Earth. Max never thought she’d be doing anything else other than baking the ship’s bread for the next five years. But when she uncovers a conspiracy bigger than the war that enslaved her in the first place, she is in for the fight of not only her life, but those around her she has grown to love.
A dystopian novel exploring the themes of love, class, race, gender, and power.

Version 2

I did not choose to become this way. This corrupted, innocent body. Who in their right mind would willingly choose this life?

Max is just one of thousands of unwilling cyborgs sent home after the interstellar war. With the threat of recycling haunting her every move, she can’t even touch the only bright spot in her life: strong, handsome Ethan. Love means nothing to a cyborg – they’re not even human. The robotics makes them incapable of love. They can not marry. They cannot raise children.

So why does Max’s heart race when she meets Ethan again on the long journey home? Why does his forbidden touch feel so good, and set her blood burning? And why are so many cyborgs recycled when they are otherwise healthy and able to perform their work?

With the strange alien Authorities watching every move, Max uncovers a conspiracy bigger than the war than enslaved her in the first place. To find an escape from the horrific nightmare that her transport spaceship home has become, Max must race to find the answers and save the people she cares about, before her world and everything she knows is lost to darkness.

In Version 1, I focus much more on the cyborg/deep space/conspiracy aspect. In Version 2, I switched the focus to be more emotional, mentioning the romance which is a big plot point, and actually spelling out Max’s motivation and the consequences of failing her quest.

Version 2 spells out much better who my main character is, what she wants, what the obstacles are, and hints at what could happen if she fails.