Of all three major story elements, plot can arguably be the trickiest to master. In simplified terms, plot is the progression of events in a story. That doesn’t mean chronological order however—alongside linear plots there are parallels, flashbacks, episodic, circular and so many more plots.
Mastering plot however, doesn’t need to be difficult. There are some great exercises to help stretch plot-building muscles.
Reverse the Story. Pick a story you know well such as a fairy tale or a ghost story and begin at the end. Write the story as if the characters are having to explain to someone else what happened. This is also a great way to work on dialogue—set your characters either in an interview or a casual drink at a bar with a stranger. Tell the story from the end to the beginning.
Eyewitness. Grab the climax of your favorite story in any format and create an eyewitness that now has to recount what they saw. Use flashbacks and clues to help tell the complete story, but remember your witness only saw the climax. Think of what they were doing during other events and how they would know about events they couldn’t see.
Parallels. Pick two characters and write about their days up to an important event such as a date, interview or accident. Remember to switch off every so often as they should be completing different actions at the same time. This is also a good way to practice point of view if your characters only meet for the first time at the end.
Bonus Exercise: Steal Like an Artist. Coming up with a plot on your own is hard, so sit down with a pen and paper and turn on a TV show. Write down the events as they’re shown—but replace all the characters with placeholders such as archetypes or job titles. When you’re finished watching, rewrite the plot by either adding in something extra (such as magic, aliens, vampires, etc.) or changing the time period of the story.