Have you ever made it halfway through a book, only to be distracted by something and walk away, never to pick that book up again? One of the key causes of this is a straight, flat, plotline. A narrative that continues at a fixed pace, in a predictable manner, and whilst it may be enjoyable to read, there is no real hook that keeps you desperate to turn the page.
So how do you ensure your plot is engrossing enough that your readers won’t walk away?
The answer is to make your plot a rollercoaster they can’t get off.
Your plot should be a constant rolling of highs and lows. We all know that the trick to getting a reader invested is to make your character want something. Give them a desire that is going to drive them towards a goal. Every climb of the rollercoaster is a step towards that goal. When they reach the peak, that’s the moment of triumph, the point when they can see the whole world and believe that they are winning.
But we all know what happens at the top of a rollercoaster.
You go down. Fast.
Your plot should be no different. Give your character victories, and let them savor the taste, then follow promptly with a crushing defeat. Slam that poor sucker into the ground, flip him upside down, and dunk him in the river.
Do this repeatedly throughout the course of your plot, don’t just save your defeats for the end. Every time your character (and reader) think they are getting closer to their goal, throw something in the way to knock them back.
An example of this done well is Pierce Brown’s Golden Son. In the first chapter, the protagonist is partaking in his final exam at a prestigious academy. Winning the academy is vital to his main goal, and ultimate success. And it seems that he has indeed won. The enemy is defeated and his friends are already toasting him and planning the victory party. Things are good. Until an enemy ship emerges from behind an asteroid. It’s a decrepit thing, the protagonist thought he killed it days ago, but it’s been waiting for him, and now it’s too late to change course. The ships collide, and just like that, the game is lost.
The rest of the plot continues in much the same manner, with the protagonist clawing his way to triumph, only to be smacked off his perch and sent plummeting. The reader has no option other than to start the next chapter so as to find out if the rollercoaster will rise again.
Desires give your readers something to invest in.
Goals give your readers something to strive for.
Victories give your readers something to celebrate.
But Defeats are what keep them coming back.