The English novelist E. M. Foster defined plot as a series of causally linked events. One of the surest ways to strengthen your plot, therefore, is to ensure that your scenes are tied together through cause and effect.
Aristotle referred to this important aspect of a story as unity. He believed that if a scene makes no difference to the characters of a story then it has no place being in it. Unity, or causality, is fundamental to the well-written tale.
What is Good Plot, Anyway?
‘The father died and then his wife died’ is not a plot because although the two events follow upon each other they are not causally linked. ‘The father died and then his wife died of sorrow’, however, is a plot because the first event causes the second.
Plot is at its strongest when it stems from a character’s goals, needs, wishes and desires pitted against those of an opposing character or force.
In my award winning novel, The Land Below, for example, the hero’s desire to explore the world beyond the confines of his underground existence drives the plot. It explains his actions and reactions to events around him.
Fledgling writers sometimes believe that a series of action-packed scenes makes for gripping viewing or reading – that pace and action is what people want from a story.
Although this may be partly true, it is not all that people want from a tale. If characters have no higher purpose other than to beat each other up, if scenes provide no new information, if scenes fail to deepen or explain character, or if characters survive only to repeat the same action in a different setting, they will fail to generate plot because of a lack of consequence.
Linking scenes through cause and effect in order to show that actions have repercussions, therefore, is indispensable in generating a good plot.
A good plot is generated through linked scenes that are driven by characters with conflicting goals, wants, needs and desires.