Plot Devices: Constructing a Novel

This week I have been plotting out my new novel tentatively titled The Painful Best.  In the process of creating characters, tying the plot threads together and creating some terrible red herrings for my readers to follow, I have been going through some new and interesting things to do to my new novel to make it the most exciting read possible while touching on the theme of how we should make the most of our lives to help others.

The Painful Best is a science fiction parable about what happens when we Christians waste our time with selfish pursuits rather than following through with being sheep, namely trying to meet the six basic needs of human beings laid out in the “Sheep and the Goats” passage in Matthew 25:31-46.  The parable can also be applied in a more secular way, because all of us need to do more to help our fellow man without judging them.

Mainly this week I’ve been perusing several plot devices that I will attempt to place in my novel and have listed some of these below:

  1. Layers – If one is writing a novel, one must indeed layer the storyline so that readers do not know everything all at once.  Revealing little bits and pieces to the reader, like leaving bread crumbs along the trail, is much better than creating a predictable plot.  The reader will put the book down in a hurry if they know everything from the outset (I know I would).  Two good examples of novels that do this are Blake Crouch’s Pines and  Hugh Howey’s Wool.  Both of these novels allow the reader to experience a far away place that seems like it is right next door, but as the reader is shown more and more of the environment, it is understood that the world we were dropped into at the beginning of the book is not what it seems to be.  I love books like this, mostly because I love puzzles and mystery, but bringing elements of mystery into the science fiction genre makes for much more exciting reading.
  2. The Love Triangle – Yes, I know.  It is something that seems trite and overused, but it is still the most popular plot device known to man.  It worked for Twilight (blech!) of course, but it has worked for so many other great books.  One way to make the love triangle more interesting is to let one of the eligible bachelorettes or bachelors be the villain in the story, thereby heightening the tension for the reader.  Will she/he fall for that evil guy/gal not knowing that he/she is really a bad person, all the while being fawned over by the hero who can’t get the love interest to give him/her the time of day?  What if Hermione was sweet on Draco Malfroy in the Harry Potter books?  Another way to mess up the love triangle is to kill off one of the lovers and then replace them with someone else not as lovable, causing the two persons left in the love triangle to miss the person who died even more.  There are many ways to foil this plot device and make it new, but it is up to the writer to create this.
  3. Back Story – I create a detailed back story for every character who appears (even briefly) in my novels.  I know this seems like a lot of work, but writing (after all) is.  I have found that when I create detailed back stories for all of my characters even the flat characters in the novel seem that much more real and interesting.  It is well worth it to create these back stories, and I find that most of my plot will rise out of the back stories of my characters.
  4. Twists – I love these.  I love to fill my novel with false climaxes, red herrings and dichotomous decisions that have bad consequences no matter the outcome.  In true life, people make bad decisions and then have to live with them.  Last Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead revealed something about Daryl and Merle Dixon that made me actually feel sympathy for Merle, even though he is indeed a villain, a racist and a monster.  I will not go any further than that (because I don’t want to spoil the episode if some of you have not seen it) but when the incident happened in the episode that revealed this fact, I was nearly brought to tears.  It could have had something to do with Norman Reedus’s performance (because it was awesome) but the story twist was what reached me emotionally.
  5. Resolution – Ending a story arc is as important as beginning and weaving one.  If a story arc does not finish or questions are left unanswered, the reader tends to get upset at the book.  I am not saying that cliffhangers are not allowed, as I used this device when writing This Broken Earth, but I am only saying that sometimes your reader will fall in love with characters that you did not expect them or design for them to fall in love with.  In this case, make sure that all of your characters have a resolution of some sort.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

5 thoughts on “Plot Devices: Constructing a Novel

  1. You know how in the “Ocean’s” movies, the con artists have those shared nicknames for their cons (“Lookie-Loo,” “Baker’s Dozen,” “Hell-in-a-Handbasket”)? I’d like to see us as writers have more (besides “Red Herring”) lingo like that for our plot devices. Just saying.

  2. Great post. Don’t under estimate the triangle. As a former therapist, triangle of relationship of current and past relationships along with current people we as humans are involved with is powerful and is often played out over and over in real life.
    i like the layer idea and yes, to build suspense, I don’t want to know all at once wheat is going to happen. I also like to be shown what is going on, leaving my imagination to come up with the visual, than being told what is happening.
    Good Luck and keep writing.

  3. I agree with all your writing devices except for the Love Triangle!

    Adding romance to a story is always difficult, at least for me, but there are so many other ways in which a romance can go wrong, I can’t see why the love triangle is so popular.

    Romeo and Juliet had politics and family to contend with. Then there are inter-racial problems and the prejudices they entail. Or how about if the lovers have differing views on religion? Or politics? Or even ethics? Or one hates animals while the other loves them. I know some of those things sound trite but in real relationships they can often make or break a budding romance.

    Apologies for the rant. Love triangles are a pet hate of mine. 😦

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