Tuesday, October 5, 2010
What Do You Know About Plot?
Plot Isn't Just Stuff That Happens
It doesn't matter whether your story is full of action in that things are gonna blow up and people are going to race around in cars or if it's more cerebral and emotional, like are John and Jane going to find true love. The fact of the matter is you as the writer have one imperative job and that is to make sure your reader is compelled to turn that page in order to find out what happens next.
To accomplish that it is essential that you have a plot and like I said, plot isn't just stuff that happens. So, what's the difference between a good plot that leads to publication and large readership and a bad plot that leaves the manuscript of hundreds of pages and hours of blood, sweat and tears, unpublished?
Here are the basics:
The (frankly bad) unpublished novel will usual introduce a 'hero' or 'heroine', then take the reader by the hand and introduce the main character's friends, mother, father, siblings, cat, neighbor's dog, co-workers and the neighborhood spy by putting each one in an interminable scene in which they demonstrate their many flaws and characteristics, one following another in an endless stretch of pages. That's followed by long and plentiful scenes in which one or the other or multiples of the group interact with each other, react to each other while pacing floors, sitting on porches or driving across town. Oh, and each element of every location is described in painful detail. The reader is now nodding off - presuming he or she is even still reading which is highly doubtful. In fact, almost certainly not happening.
The good novel, and one which will have a much more positive chance of publication, begins with the introduction of a sympathetic character who has a truly thorny problem. It may be action oriented, it doesn't have to be. The plot moves forward and details emerge as the protagonist goes to the limit to solve the problem while coping with disturbing, shocking, even confusing information which flows to or is dragged to his attention. He may take action at every turn, may be temporarily paralyzed by events, but eventually the problem is solved - and in a way that hopefully surprises the reader. But, even with surprise, the ending must be satisfying, inevitable.
Basically, writing the novel that begs to be read boils down to the simple adage: cut to the chase.
In order to do that you, as the writer, need to know what that is. Don't sit down and write, simply grinding out pages, not knowing where the story is going. Don't write pages explaining why you're writing the story you're writing or why the characters are doing what they are doing.
Begin your story as late into it as you possibly can. Know where you are taking it. You may write an outline or just work it out in your head. Whatever works. Just don't cut off your story-telling momentum by spinning circular tales that may have some background interest but don't move the story forward. Background info necessary to the story must be woven into events as they unfold, not laid out in the beginning like a banquet. Don't give the reader your hero's life story to this point as a prolog to everything that's about to happen.
Instead feed your reader tidbits of information to draw him along, to provide small explanations as to behavior and goals and don't leave things hanging. An element introduced must be integrated, explained or tied up by the end.
Read your favorite book again, this time examining for plot. Note the way the author spun the tale, wove in details and finally concluded.
Because, you know, plot isn't just stuff that happens.