The Books that Taught Me the Most About: Plot


So I started writing a post about the books that have taught me the most as a writer. And I’m not talking about the “How to Write a Novel” books…

No, I’m talking about the fictional books that were so well-written or had an important element (voice, character, plot, etc.) working for it so well, I couldn’t help but stop and take notes, and keep it on my shelf for frequent rereads.

And then I realized I had so many books in so many categories I couldn’t possibly fit it all into one post. In this way, a series was born!

So today: the books I’ve read that have taught me the most about plot.

Plot: an essential element to a well-told story. Also, my arch-nemesis. I’ve written before about my struggles with outlining but the issue with not outlining is that you lose the thread of the plot and stop being able to see the forest for the trees. When I get lost and start staring hopelessly at my seemingly plotless stories, these are the books I turn to the most frequently for help:

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins  Confession: I did not fall madly in love with this series in quite the same way that the rest of the world did, but I did enjoy it, and I did learn from in. The first novel in the series (and to a lesser extent, the second) is incredibly well-plotted. The beginning is filled with tension, up until the inciting incident (Katniss volunteering for the games); the build-up to the actual games is incredibly well-done; and the rest of the novel once they get to the games, is filled with perfectly paced highs and lows, all leading up to the incredible climax and conclusion. A great book to study anytime I get stuck.

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie  An oldie, but such a goodie. It is hard to make a character-driven novel well-plotted, but this is exactly what this book is. Ten strangers arrive on a secluded island under mysterious circumstances, and one by one, they die. It’s multi-POV, so we get the action unfolding from each character’s perspective, and the way Christie weaves their individual fears with the way the plot unfolds is pure mastery at its finest.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle  Another book I’ve outlined in the past to help me with plot. This book, whose appeal reaches so much further than its intended middle-grade audience, starts off perfectly with its dark and stormy night, then quickly moves on to its fast-paced interstellar adventure, culminating in a climax and ending that to this day makes me cry.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling  When it comes to a perfectly-plotted novel, there is no one I’ve found out there doing it better than JKR. You can look at the flawless plotting of the series as a whole (it’s incredible how all the threads she weaves come together from book 1 to book 7), but if I had to to hone in on one book specifically, the third book (which also happens to be my favorite) is the one I’d choose. The way the seemingly unrelated minor threads (Dementors, Hermione’s secret, Professor Trelawney, Scabbers the rat, for goodness’ sake) end up becoming vital to the climax and therefore plot of the novel–it’s incredible. If you’re having trouble plotting your novel, I highly suggest you do a reread of this one and take note.

That’s all for now. What would you add to this list?

And coming up: the best books for characters, prose, voice, and theme! (Along with any other category I may think of along the way–open to suggestions!)

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