Most plots have some type of structure. But when I start a story, structure is the last thing I consider. I don’t think about what plot type it is. That takes some of the magic out of writing. I just start with an idea or premise, which I jot down. Then I meditate on it until I have a good idea how the story is going to play out. I make general notes about the characters. Now I can write the story.
I’m somewhere in between being an outliner and a “seat of your pants” author. But, as I discovered in revising my novel, the more detailed outlining I do before I write, the easier the editing will be, especially in a novel. This way, I can see the big picture I have in my head on paper and catch plot holes before I write the entire book. I will know where the turning points are and if they need to be changed. I am trying this on my next novel. Hopefully, editing it will go smoother.
by Adam Huddleston
Infuriating to some, fascinating to others, a non-linear plot in writing or film can be very thought provoking. I, for one, am a fan of non-linear narrative.
What does it mean for a work to be non-linear? A simple definition is that it is a plot that does not follow a chronological path. This can be obtained by using multiple plot lines, character flashbacks, or internal narrative.
Literary examples include: “Wuthering Heights”, “Slaughterhouse-Five”, and “Cloud Atlas”. Examples in film include several Quentin Tarantino pieces such as “Pulp Fiction”, “Reservoir Dogs”, and “The Hateful Eight”. One movie told almost completely in reverse is “Memento”.
While some readers or movie viewers are put off by the fact that they have to work to make sense of the narrative, I enjoy piecing the plot together. It makes for a fun trip through the story and gives a feeling of accomplishment by the tale’s end. I highly recommend giving some of these books and movies a try and see what you think.
By Cait Collins
While I admit to not being an in depth plotter, I do admire those who do spend time plotting out their story. I’ve known writers who know to the minute when the hero will propose to the heroine. They have detailed character sketches; know whether the hero will bring roses or gardenias. Will they vacation at the beach or in the mountains? Will the heroine wear Michael Kors or Levi’s?
Timelines stretch across one wall of the office. Sticky notes are moved from one point to the next. Every move, every word, every decision is meticulously planned. There is no deviation from the first word to “the end”. The story or novel is almost perfect from beginning to end. I do envy those writers. They know where they are going. They make it work.
On the other hand, I enjoy the times my characters throw a monkey wrench into the plan. So he doesn’t fall madly in love with the heroine. What’s wrong with them being best friends? That’s a rewrite. But it works for me.
The amount of research and planning that goes into writing a short story may change the amount of time and detail that goes into the preparation. Genre may also change the game plan. The point is each one of us must embrace the method that propels us forward in our writing adventures. It may mean we experiment from time to time. Or try to fly in a different direction to get the job done. The method is not as important as completing the work and being happy with the result.
Rory C. Keel
Christopher Booker, in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, outlines seven types of story plots.
Overcoming the Monster
The protagonist sets out to defeat something that threatens him/her or a group they belong to.
Rags to Riches
A protagonist is in some way misfortune, usually financially. Throughout the story, he/she acquires things such as power, wealth or a love interest.
The protagonist sets out to acquire an object or get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way.
Voyage and Return
The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him or her, returns with experience.
A humorous character faces a conflict that becomes more and more confusing but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event.
The protagonist is a hero who makes a mistake that brings about his/her downfall, evoking sympathy.
An important event forces the main character to change his/her ways, often making him/her a better person.
The Perfect Story
Generations of parents passed down bits of wisdom to their offspring in the form of stories before he could write those stories down. “Tell Me a Story” gave way to “Read Me A Story”; a long-held family tradition.
The story holds our attention because of conflict. At the core of every story are three basic plots for conflict.
Man against Man
Man against Nature
Man against Himself
The story that holds our attention whether it’s a blockbuster movie or bestselling book, contains a form of all three.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
To me, plot is the road map of your story. It’s how to get from point A to point B to point C, and so on. Therefore, it’s helpful to have a general idea of how you want the story to go. Write it down. Keep it where you can see it, so you won’t get off track.
In editing my novel, I noticed that I could have a romantic mess between my heroine and these three men in her life. She could be forced to marry one and secretly in love with her best friend’s betrothed, while the last one tries to get her attention because he’s in love with her. But I’m not writing a romance. It’s not the purpose of the book. It’s about her pleasing her father when others think she’s crazy to do so.
In writing, nothing is set in stone. You may change your mind in the middle of the book, or your characters may change it for you. But knowing where you want the story to go helps with plotting, like a map helps get you to your destination.
POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE
What’s the Problem
By Nandy Ekle
You have people and these people speak. But what do they do?
I used to feel rebellious when someone said, “What do they want. They all must want something.” I always believed that a story was simply about what the characters were doing. But then I realized there was no depth to a story where characters just walk around doing things and talking to each other. There has to be a reason for that they do and say.
This reason is your plot.
This thing the character wants is what drives the story. And it doesn’t even have to be a conscious thing. It can be a goal they don’t realize they have, like surviving a bad storm. But there is a goal.
One of the best examples of goal-driven plot, in my opinion, is the Harry Potter series. At first, Harry has a goal he doesn’t realize he has, but this goal continues with him all through the series. The goal becomes more apparent to him through the story, and by the end, he is so committed to this goal that he’s willing to pay the ultimate price.
Your homework is to analyze your favorite story for the deepest goals. Tell me what you discover in the comments below.
by Adam Huddleston
Here is a blog submission from 2017 pertaining to plot.
I can’t recall exactly where I got this from (could have been on this Wordsmith Six site for all I know) but I found it to be very useful.
First plot point:
First pinch point:
Second pinch point:
Second plot point:
Show protagonist in “normal” (current) world- Protagonist is incomplete (reveal flaw/insecurity/secret want)
Inciting incident that forces protagonist from normal world- Increased awareness of need for change
Introduce key secondary characters; establish setting & tone- fear/resistance to change — comfortable in current life
Protagonist must make a choice/decision- Overcomes fear/resistance to change
Plot point #1: Journey begins as result of decision Mental/emotional commitment to change
Protagonist begins “living” in the new world Protagonist is disorganized (imagine the feeling of first day in new school)
New complications arise Protagonist is tested and begins adapting to new ways/questioning the old
Complications grow –Complications escalate to new crisis Protagonist is slowly growing, but still inauthentic–not committed to changed self
Mid-point: crisis forces new decision/direction Protagonist is confronted with their flaw/desire (often is the antagonist who holds up this “mirror”)
Protagonist catches breath (even if complications are brewing behind the scenes) Reward scene: protagonist has accomplished something and has brief moment of victory
Complications develop new level of complexity Begins accepting consequences of new life
Thoughts on Plotting
By Cait Collins
Every writer has to experiment with ways to plot his stories. There is no one right way to craft a story. Personally, I prefer to sketch my characters. I write just enough so that I know the basics. Once that’s done, it’s up to the character to tell me who he is. Same with the actual story development. I have a few plot ideas but they can work on their own, or they can intermingle. I decide where the story takes place. And then I free-write.
I will admit that the free association has led me down some strange paths, But in unraveling the twisted paths, I often find a lead that creates new possibilities. I guess you could call me a “pantser”. I write by the seat of my pats. It may not be the most practical method of storytelling, but it works for me.
What is a PLOT?
Rory C Keel
March is PLOT month here at Wordsmithsix.com. We are exploring all the information we can find that will give us understanding as to how a plot will help our stories.
So, what is a plot and why is it so important to a story? Well, James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure put it this way, “Plot is the power grid that makes it happen.”
A plot is what ties a story together from beginning to end.
To help you develop a good plot, ask these questions.
- What is this story about?
- Is anything happening?
- Why should I keep reading?
- Why should I care?
When I began my writing journey, I thought these questions had to be answered about the story before I could start writing, bogging me down. These are questions that need to be asked at the end of every page, as you write. This helps to advance your writing through the next page by the answers you find to the questions and keep your story tied together.