Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So What Exactly is a Plot?

You write, you read the title of this post and you laugh.  Everybody knows what a plot is!  ...Don't they?

Well, here's the thing.  Many new writers, and even some old pros, fall into traps.  They either never established in their own thoughts exactly what a plot - their plot - is, or they don't quite get it.  Or maybe they just get off track.

For starters I can tell you what a plot isn't.  Mom and Dad pack up the kids, Bobby and Susan, for a trip to Grandma's house.  The drive is pleasant and uneventful. They have a picnic in the back yard.  Grandma's made lemonade and serves it in her antique Victorian pitcher. The kids play.  Neighbors come to chat over the fence.  It's a beautiful day, they love each other and have a great time together.  Then they go home.  Grandma waves goodbye.

That's nice, but there's no plot, not now and nothing to hint there will be a plot. Well, maybe the Victorian pitcher.

Now, to create a plot, the writer needs to create tension, to add conflict. Seeds must be planted and it has to link together.

Add a few elements and you might get:  Dad is in a detached mood and the kids are fighting like siblings will on the drive to Grandma's.  There's the picnic in her great back yard, but the neighbors are snotty about the 'noisy grandkids' who are actually playing together - grudgingly - at last.   Susan disappears around a corner of the house, Mom's glance following her when Grandma, having just sipped the lemonade of her own making, collapses on the lawn.  Mom runs to Grandma, calling for Susan.  Where's Susan?  No answer.  Dad doesn't seem to be interested and the grumpy neighbor is bellowing again.  

What's going on?  

This could well be a horror tale in the making, a thriller, a mystery or even an alien invasion. 

It may well not be the best plot cooked up in 30 seconds flat, but you can readily see the difference between the two scenarios. 

The second at least gets the reader's interest.  The first, well,who cares?

Think about plot and what it takes to make your story come to life. Tension and conflict drive plot. And plot is the heart of your story. Read or reread stories you like; look for the conflict and tension.  Draw the curtain aside and you'll see the bare bones of tension and conflict. 

Write it, or edit down to it and you'll create a memorable tale.

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