Friday, March 05, 2010
Plotting Is an Extension of Your Character
*Wicked Pleasures is now available in print, from Red Rose Publishing or Amazon.*
This post deals with plot.
I love to plot as much as I love creating the story people of my stories.
Let's begin with the definition of plot. It's always much easier to begin at the beginning.
What is plot anyway?
The best definition of plot I’ve found is from 20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them) by Ronald B. Tobias.
Tobias defines plot as this, “Plot is story that has a pattern of action and reaction. Plot is a chain of cause-and-effect relationships that constantly create a pattern of unified action and behavior. Plot involves the reader in the game of “Why?”
When I first began writing, I clearly separated plot and characterization. Due to my lack of understanding plot, I had no idea how closely they work together until years later due to many factors. But, when you study the craft of writing you may think you understand something and discover later, you only understood part of it. I think many of us learn in layers or sections and go back from time to time to polish the rough edges and a bit of information resonates and the a-ha moment occurs.
Now, I absolutely love plotting. I hope you will, too.
What does plot do?
Plot gives unity and structure to a novel. Conflict unifies the narrative work. We want order and logic in our writing. A unified action creates a whole, made up of a beginning, middle and an end. These are also called the three movements of dramatic action. Plot is tightly woven through the story. It moves and shapes everything.
When you ask yourself, “What does my character want?” You’ve begun the journey of plot.
As I mentioned before, character and plot are extensions of each other and now, I hope you're beginning to see the why and how.
The Beginning, the first phase of dramatic action is having a character want something which leads to motivation. The want or need is also called intent.
The Middle, the second phase: Once the intent is established you’ve entered the second phase of dramatic action. As your story progresses, the action must rise and with each movement upward the stakes must rise as well.
Your character is pursuing their goal with actions coming from their want/need/intent. The action grows out of what has happened in the beginning. Cause, now effect.
The plot events are tied together giving a logical and coherent thread for the reader to follow. The decision a character makes directly affects the plot. Knowing the character's goal, motivation and conflict, both internal and external is needed to keep the subplots and threads from sagging. Character is action and reaction. Don't forget to plot the GMC (goal, motivation and conflict) of your villain. A weak antagonist will leave the reader angry because you've made things to easy for your main characters. The protagonist's must work for their happily-ever-after.
I can’t stress this enough without conflict, you have no plot.
Subplots help keep the middle from sagging and preventing the reader from setting your story aside. Having said that, don’t just stick a subplot in when you find you’re in trouble. The subplot affects the goals of the main character and must tie in with the storyline seamlessly.
The End is the last phase and contains the climax, falling action and the denouement. The ending must be logical from the sequence of events you’ve written in the beginning and middle. The ending action must be done by the protagonist. The protagonist should not be acted upon.
You see, everything in your writing is there for a specific purpose, cause that leads to effect, which brings you to another cause. Anything that happens in the world you’ve created must be there for a reason.
By leaving scenes in that don’t further the plot, the story is diluted from the dramatic effect you are working so hard to achieve.
Plot and character are inseparable.
Plot is the function of character, and character is the function of plot. They are tightly bound together.
A logical connection (action/reaction) as to why a character makes one choice as opposed to another.
But the character shouldn’t behave in a predictable manner, because it will be thrown into the realm of boring.
Just because there is, a logical connection between the cause and effect relationships it doesn’t mean it has to be obvious.
Story is different from plot. Story is the events the reader wants to know what comes next, which is curiosity.
Plot makes the reader ask why, pulling the reader a deeper level of what is happening.
Characters come alive with action. Plot is a function of character, and character is a function of plot. You can’t have one without the other. What they share in common is the action you’ve created.
No action = no character = no plot
We draw upon our experiences to create plot. This is why writers look for universal plot themes when they write. Some writers don’t know what the theme of the story until they finish the book.
I hope this post makes plotting clearer and more fun for you.
I'll be teaching for Savvy Authors, Yosemite RWA and Dunes and Dreams RWA chapter. Please, join me.