Wednesday, January 28, 2015
A Good Read + A Plot Question
Question from the E-mail: I'm confused about how to plot. The members of my writers group all have different advice about this. What's your stand on it?
Answer: Here it is, straight from my workshop handout on plot.
Ideally, plot should arise out of characters and be shaped by what they want and what stands in the way of their reaching their goals.
If you know your characters, what happens to them will arise naturally out of their beliefs, desires, experiences and actions.
Or it will arise out of the desires and actions of the villain, or the interaction between the protagonists and antagonists. It is vital that you know your characters innermost feelings and see clearly their reasons for acting as they do. (Remember Motivation is key.)
Every story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Every plot should advance with rising action, that follows the rule of three and keeps good company with dramatic structure and form. Remember, plot can evolve and change, as your characters evolve and change. But it is far, far, easier to write a story if you know what will happen in it first.
The Beginning: Every story starts with a character who wants something and why.
If he wants something he can’t have, the character has a problem that must be solved and how he or she will solve it determines what the story is about (PLOT) . If the character doesn’t want anything, there’s no story.
Every story is about someone who is striving for something, someone who is taking a risk. The reasons for taking that risk should not be entirely selfish, either. Cinderella wanted to go to the ball, because her father had told he for years that she would go and be the most beautiful girl there. But her step-mother and step-sisters stood in her way. They were barriers that stood between Cinderella and what she wanted. Usually, main characters must be prepared to take risks to get what they want. She took the risk, even though she knew that at midnight her fancy clothes would turn back to rags and if she didn't leave first, everyone there would laugh at her.
The Middle must contain Obstacles: Every character who wants something meets with barriers that stand in his or her way.
When a character meets a barrier, conflict (and tension and suspense that help hold your reader’s interest) is born. IF there is no conflict, there is no story. A hangnail is not a barrier. Something important has to be at stake and the character has to face the possibility of losing it ALL. Every real barrier is a plot turning point. Either the character will climb over the wall or he’ll fall to his death. Either way, something important will change.
Usually, in the standard dramatic structure there are three major barriers (or plot turning points)that stand in the character’s way and the last one contains within it, the “Bleak Moment.”
The bleak moment is the place in the plot where it seems as if Nothing will Ever Work Out for the character. It’s that “ALL IS LOST” moment. This is the same for every kind of fiction, no matter the genre.
For Cinderella it was when she was waltzing in the Prince’s arms and the clock struck twelve. For Ishmael, in Moby Dick, it came after the final crisis, Ahab was dead, the ship sunk, everyone else had drowned and he was struggling in the water, knowing he was going to drown, too. For Ishmael the bleak moment happened just before the coffin bobbed to the surface and gave him something to hold on to.
The End: The resolution of the story is the end.
For Cinderella, the bleak moment came early, but the resolution turned up later. It was when the slipper fit and the prince asked for her hand. For Ishmael it was when the other ship spotted hm floating on the coffin and rescued him.
Now endings don’t always have to be happy. They can be sad, too. But all good plots, if they are satisfying to the reader, have a resolution. Sure there is the occasional “Make up your own mind” plot. One of the reasons I hated the Robin Cook’s book Coma was because it didn’t really have an ending. When you plot and plan, don’t forget to find a real resolution for your character. Either they will get what they want, or they won’t.
A good resolution has all the answers, and ties up all the loose ends.