The plot is what fictional characters do during the course of the story. Some novels are action oriented (plot driven), while others are relationship oriented (character driven). But even in relationship-oriented novels, the characters must DO something.

As you begin plotting, consider the best way to get the hero and heroine and villain together quickly. Create a way to keep the hero in the heroine’s and villain’s lives, a reason to stick around. Within this activity, reveal the goals the main character will try to reach during the novel. This is the first section of your book—the beginning. It is the most crucial part. If you don’t start out with an exciting “hook,” your reader won’t get any further.

Next, think of situations that will change the characters, for better or worse. Create scenes in which pivotal information about the characters’ pasts and their internal conflicts comes out naturally—but make sure they are doing something to bring out these revelations. This constitutes the middle. Make sure there is plenty of conflict in every scene, goals that are thwarted, obstacles that seem insurmountable.

Every chapter, scene, and line of dialogue must advance the plot. If it doesn’t, chop it out! Don’t let a character spend an entire page reminiscing about the past, either in thought or dialogue, for no apparent reason (other than that you, the author, want the reader to know about this). Something must bring those memories to mind. And don’t interrupt an action scene with lengthy internal musings. If someone is pointing a gun at the hero’s temple and saying, “Give me your wallet,” a brief thought may flit through his mind, but he won’t stand there for several paragraphs thinking about something that happened years ago. He’s going to react! Later, when he has collapsed on the concrete and is leaning against the building shaking from head to toe, he could have a slightly longer flashback. But even that should be interrupted by another action. Background information must be woven and filtered into the action. Like salt, it should be sprinkled, not dumped.

The conclusion, or end, is separated into four distinct parts: crisis, black period, awakening, climax, resolution. The crisis is where everything blows apart for the hero and heroine. They have been facing steadily growing challenges and obstacles throughout the book, and they seem to have completely failed. There’s no way they’ll reach their deeply desired goals. This leads to the black period, where the hero and heroine are separated—if not physically, at least emotionally and spiritually. Then comes the awakening, where one or both characters realize that a fear needs to be faced and conquered, a goal needs to be changed or forgotten, the love relationship can work if he/she does whatever suits your plot. This leads to the climax, where the lead character puts everything on the line one last time. He goes for broke, holding nothing back. And it works! Resolution: Goal achieved (either the original one or a revised one). Characters have changed in positive ways. They learned something along the way that made them a better person.