Create a Compelling Plot with What-But-Therefore

Lynette M. Burrows

You can have interesting characters in a striking setting and have a boring book. Plot structure can create tension that keeps the reader engaged and eager to finish your book. But learning how to plot is confusing. Many writers have their own theory on how to create an interesting plot. Some argue the number of types of plot structure and they name anywhere between one (man against man) to seven. Others talk about the elements of or the stages of plot. Those folk teach five, six, seven, nine, or more elements they call stages, or doors, or plot points. They say to use a diagram or an outline or to write freely and figure it out as you go. What’s a writer to do? Learn as much as you can. A good place to start is 7 Plot Structures for Pantsers by John Peragine. If you’re looking for a simple and effective tool for creating a cause-effect, can’t-stop-reading plot use the WHAT-BUT-THEREFORE method.

Image is of an open book with an illustration on the two visible pages. The first page shows a grassy area with a small pond, a flowering tree, and mushrooms. A picnic basket and blanket are beneath the tree. On the second page is a dry and cracked section of dirt with flames leaping from the top of the page. How does the What-But-Therefore help you get from one page to the other?

What is Plot?

At its most basic level, plot is the chain of events that make up a story. But a basic chain of events does not make a story. Consider this pared-down version of Rumplestiltskin by the Brothers Grimm:

The miller says his daughter can spin straw into gold.

The king gave the girl a room of straw to spin into gold.

The girl made a bargain with a droll little man.

The girl spins the straw into gold.

The king marries the girl and she becomes queen.

The queen gives birth to a little girl.

The droll little man wants his end of the bargain.

The queen guesses his name, and he goes away empty-handed.

Illustration from Rumplestiltskin showing the imp dancing around a pot on a fire in a forested area with a charming cottage in the background.

As a plain chain of events, this classic story has no tension. It’s boring. 

A more complex definition of plot is the sequence of events which causes a character to react in a way that affects the next event through the principle of cause-and-effect. With this definition, you can still create an unexciting story. The tension must rise.

The way I make certain story tension grips the reader is to use a What-But-Therefore outline of each scene.


Read More

Read how the What-But-Therefore sentences work for Rumplestiltskin on the Writers in the Storm blog. (Sorry, I had the link wrong but it’s fixed now.)

A Note to My Readers

Thank you for your patience. I’m consumed with the packing up of nearly thirty years of furniture and life accumulations so my floors can be refinished. For readers of my newsletter, I am moved into the basement and a little less than halfway through the huge task of having my floors refinished. Next month you’ll get a glimpse of the before, life in the basement, and (I hope) a few of newly painted rooms and my beautifully refinished floors. I estimate the move back in will finish near the end of August. I plan to return to my usual blogging and writing schedule then. In the meantime, enjoy this post on WITS or stay here and search for similar how-to write posts.

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