The length of a plot – when to start and how to finish

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Plot

Every writer wants their readers hanging from their lips. It is our mission to take them on an adventure filled with unexpected events, strong heroes, and relatable struggles. But how do you introduce your plot? And how long should it last?

A plot should run throughout the whole story. Open with it as quickly as possible and end with it as late as you can. This way you will grasp the reader’s attention from the get-go, creating a feeling of engagement and leaving them with a sense of fulfillment. 

Here are some tips on why and how to start, continue, and end your plot.

The plot pushes the story

Your plot exists of multiple events that will drive the story forward. Without this movement, the character is unable to explore and grow. Things cannot unfold, and nothing is happening. In other words, you are just writing fluff.

You must start your plot as quickly as you can. When I just started to write, I often made the mistake of wanting to introduce the reader to the settings and the characters first. The result was that the story grew on me immensely, but the readers put it away after the first page. It just lacked action.

See the plot as a promise you make to your reader. When an event happens right at the start, you must resolve it by the end of the book. The bigger the event, the more drawn in your reader will be. An example of this is the opening of Mr. Mercedes from Stephen King. In which a big horrid event set everything in motion. He promises the reader a rollercoaster from the get-go.

The biggest struggle with the plot, for me anyway, comes at the end. When I just started, I thought it was fun to end with a cliffhanger so people would read the second book. The problem was that I never wrote it… resulting in angry readers. I learned from that. Never leave a stone unturned in your writing. Tie up all loose ends before jotting down that last period. 

If you are struggling with your plot, it might be helpful to keep your eyes on the structure. One of the best know story structures is the hero’s journey. Lay it down on any story, and you will recognize the steps. Watch the video below for more information.

Start your story with a bang

When I pick up a book, it’s because I want to escape the real world. TV just does not do it for me. But when I pick up a book that plunges me into an adventure from the get-go, I am hooked. 

If you start your story with a bang, you give the readers a little taste of what they are getting into. Take Harry Potter, for example. The first few pages are filled with mystique, magic, and fright. Two worlds clash, the magical one and the normal one, and a baby is stuck in between. It is a perfect promise of what is to come. 

Draft

I do not give my readers time to settle down anymore. When they pick up one of my books or stories, they will be smack in the middle of the action right away. For example: in my Dutch book Als het licht verdwijnt, I have the main character wake up in a coffin. In my upcoming book The Hunt, the story starts with the main character, Harper, facing a horrible choice. 

If you want to grab your reader’s attention, punch them in the gut. Nothing like a good tussle to wake them up.   

Link everything together

Writing a killer opening scene is only part of the fun. Your plot has taken off, but now you have to make it come to life. When you use cause and effect, you can create a chain of events that link together. This adds value. It pushes your story forward logically and creates a believable world.

I do love myself a good plot twist, but I make sure to save it until the end. It does not only surprise the reader, but it also avoids whiplash in the middle of the story. Twist after twist might leave the reader nauseous. I rather provide them with a smooth exploratory ride and a hidden drop at the end.  

plot

Avoid static

The first book I wrote was over 300 pages long. Now that I am older and more experienced (hehe, indeed… not wiser), I realize it was at least 150 pages too long. Just like every other beginning writer, I stuffed my stories with fluff to get to a certain word count. Do not. It weakens your story and diverts from your plotline. It is static.

Don’t make stuff happen to fill your story. Don’t make stuff happen, because you want them to happen. How often have you read a book set in a magical world, where the main character so conveniently learns they have a superpower right when something is going to harm them? When it is not linked to previous events, it becomes unbelievable. It is nothing more than an easy and lazy way out for the writer. 

Leave your reader gasping

I said it before, and I will say it again: tie up all loose ends when you finish your story. Most readers are repulsed by open endings. Especially if you just lived and breathed the life of a character for 300 pages long. 

Sure you can hint at a new adventure to come, but close off the current one. If there are still things unresolved, the story is not finished. Do not drag it out though. When the solution to the problem has been found, wrap it up and go.  

If you want to insert a plot twist, save it for as long as you can. Show it in the last few lines when possible. Make it the last domino to fall, to make the picture underneath visible. Tease, but never leave your reader unsatisfied.

Plot

The plot, from beginning to end

There you have it. When you start your plot as soon as you can, you will grab the reader’s attention. Making sure that all that follows interlinks with each other will create a believable chain of cause and effect. You end the plot by wrapping up the story and tying a bow around it, leaving them satisfied and gasping for more. 

Isn’t it fun to be a writer? Go, create your best story yet! 

 

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