A good plot is the key to a page-turning story that keeps your reader interested.

As the organiser of the Kingsmead Young Writers’ Competition, one of the things we have noticed from the many entries we receive is that many young writers don’t know how to create a PLOT to build interest and suspense in their story.

A page-turning story has the reader wanting to know more and asking: “And then what happened?”  If you tell us all about your favourite pet, don’t just tell us what they like to eat or do, make a story about it.  What happened when they tried to steal the roast chicken off the dinner table?  Or the day you took them to school with you?

Brainstorm time!

Decide what your story is about and who the main characters are.  Use a big piece of paper to brainstorm ideas and characters and plot how every aspect of the story is linked. Let’s look at the elements of a good plot.

The Story Mountain

A story is all about taking your readers on a journey.  Imagine climbing a mountain – the plot is the story line or series of events that take you from the bottom of the mountain to the top and down again.

The plot tells us what is going to happen to your hero, from beginning to end.

Your plan for your short story can be a simple outline, which can change as you write. Just make sure you keep the different characters acting ‘in character’ so they don’t do things that are unbelievable or not in keeping with their values.

Plot breakdown


This is where you introduce us to the world of your story and your characters. Make it interesting and grab our attention.

Don’t say:  Anna was seven years old and she loved her cat called Bonkers.

Say: Anna had a special friend – and her friend had whiskers and sharp claws that liked to grab her toes and wake her up in the morning! 

Get straight into the action.  You can tell us more about Anna and her cat Bonkers as the story unfolds. Start with your character doing something. 

“Anna woke up very late one morning because Bonkers did not bite her toes. In fact Bonkers was not even in her room.

“Bonkers, where are you?” called Anna softly.  There was no sound and Anna was about to call her again when she suddenly remembered that today was the day of her BIG MATH TEST and she was going to be late!”

Make us want to guess what happens next.


These are the events that interrupt your main character’s everyday world, a rising tension that leads us to the big problem. For example, Anna gets to school just in time for her test but she is upset and can’t concentrate, so she thinks she failed.

But then her teacher can see something is wrong and when she hears Anna’s story, she decides all the children will go after school to help Anna look for Bonkers.

Always create a problem.

Without a problem, you don’t have a story.  The reader needs to care about your characters. We need to be wondering, where is Bonkers? And will Anna be able to pass her test and find him?


These are little problems, like sticks and stones that clutter your path as you climb the story mountain. If the plan to find Bonkers was too easy, you’d lose your reader’s attention.  Perhaps, just as they hear a “Meow” in the street, they realise that it’s coming from a drain pipe and Bonkers is stuck.  Each child tries to reach her but she’s too far and they are too big. Now they have to come up with another plan to get her out.

Ask yourself: “What if…”  So you could say “What if… the smallest child, who never gets to be a hero, manages to slip down the drain pipe and rescue Bonkers?” Or what if, the child who moaned the most about having to come look for Bonkers, is the one who can save Bonkers?

Now the ‘monster’ (big) problem comes up:  Maybe it starts to rain and the drain pipe starts filling up with water!  Or they realise that instead of just one cat down the drain pipe, there are two more, or maybe Bonkers has her new-born kittens down there with her?  Or maybe the ‘monster problem’ comes from Anna herself.  She wants to be in the limelight and save Bonkers, so she pushes the little hero aside and tries to climb down the drain pipe but she gets stuck!


Now we reach the climax – often called  ‘The Big Day’ or ‘The Big Blow Up.’  

This is the moment when the confrontation happens.  The problem is faced head on and we either have success or failure. For example, Anna manages to reach Bonkers and pull her out just before the rain water fills up the drain pipe. Or Anna gets pulled out the drain pipe by the person she least likes in her class, or the little hero manages to slip down and rescue Bonkers.


This is where everything gets resolved.   The problem has reached its crisis point and it has been solved or the mystery has been uncovered. This section of the story contains the main character’s feelings and the outcome after all the drama has happened. For example, what are Anna’s feelings as she realises the person she least liked at school is not so bad after all? Or how does she feel now that she has learnt she can share the limelight with others and the ‘little hero’ can save the day?


Now your story journey is over and you’re down the mountain, but your characters are not the same as they were when they started. They have learnt something about themselves, the world and each other. This is where everything is tied up, but you can hint at a new beginning.  For example,

“Anna’s mom bought her a new alarm clock. And Bonkers doesn’t bite her toes anymore… but now it looks like the new kitten Baby Bonkers likes to jump on her head every morning!”

Leave us wanting more, but also satisfied at the conclusion.

Plot Twists

Plot twists can happen at any stage in a story and they change the direction of the story’s plot. They make it more exciting and interesting. Twists are the things we thought would happen and don’t or the things that happen in a different way. For example, we thought that Anna would save the day, but it ends up being the smallest child/biggest bully in the class who saves Bonkers.

Beautiful words are not enough

If you just have a series of beautifully written sentences (with big words) but no idea of what is going to happen (or who it’s going to happen to) then it may not be enough to make a full story.  If you can’t think of an ending, it’s probably not a story either.  A story must have a beginning, middle and end.  Even if it’s only 100 words long!

Plots are a part of everyday life

If you’re still battling to understand how a plot works, think about a plot as a plan you make when you want to do something. For example:

All your friends are coming over for a sleepover. You make a plan (plot) to steal cookies from the kitchen because you want a midnight feast and your mom won’t let you eat them now.  But then everyone feels sick because they ate too many. Now your mom has to give everyone medicine to feel better. Then one friend starts crying and wants to go home. It all feels like a disaster. But, luckily, Mom steps in and says, ‘I know, lets go look at the stars outside since we’re all up.’  It turns into a fun and exciting night as you find shooting stars. And the next morning you all bake more cookies and everyone is happy!

Can you hear the story line?

QUICK CHECK: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

A PLOTTER is someone who plots the whole story out before they write it.  This means they know how the story will start, unfold and end.  They know what has to happen when.

Other writers are PANTSERS – this means they write ‘by the seat of their pants.’ They don’t know exactly what will happen to their characters because they like to spontaneously decide as they write.  They are guided by the characters.

Both can work, as long as you have the inspiration, but being a pantser can mean you run out of steam in the middle of your story.  You may feel inspired up until the moment when you have to decide what happens next and how you get to the end of the story. This is when having a plot or loose plan can help.


Two great reference books for children are:

How to Build a Story by Frances O’Roarke Dowell 

Spilling Ink – A Young Writers’ Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody (For teens)

If you want to write a children’s book – we have resources here. 

And 9 top tips for entering writing competitions here.

Looking for story ideas?  We have 3 great starting points. 










  1. Kingsmead Young Writers' Competition 2024 Winners Announced - The Book Tree - […] How to plot your Story.  […]

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