PLOT IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD
Let’s face it, PLOT is a four-letter word.
But what is Plot?
Webster’s Dictionary defines Plot as: the arrangement of the incidents in a play, novel, or narrative poem. Or Plotted – Plotting: to plan the action of a story.
But Plot is not your story. Plot is what happens in your story that moves your characters from beginning to end.
Plot is taking your story premise, finding the pieces you need to make that premise successful and sticking all those pieces in the right spots to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. Creating a plot is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is a plot point, but until you put them together in the right order you don’t have a picture – or a story.
In his book, HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY Orson Scott Card says, “All stories contain four elements that help determine the story structure (plot): Milieu, Idea, Character and Event.” What he calls The Mice Quotient.
The following is paraphrased from Mr. Card’s book.
MILIEU: In a milieu story, the world is most important. Characters may change and grow, but the worlds they visit are the focus.
IDEA: The idea story has a simple structure. A question is asked and answered. Mystery stories fit here. Who did it and why?
CHARACTER: It’s concerned with the transformation of the character from the beginning of the story to the end. Romance almost always uses this type of story.
EVENT: An event story begins when something is wrong with the fabric of the universe: the world is out of order. It ends when a new order is established, an old order is restored or the world descends into chaos as order is destroyed.
Most stories fit any category. Some combine two or more. All stories have these four elements, but one usually dominates the others. And there is usually a best structure for each story.
TRUE PLOT IS CHARACTER IN ACTION
Once we have our milieu, idea, character, and event, and have chosen the type of story we want to tell, how do we get a Plot? What events do we use to put our character in action and tell our story?
We could run our character through a series of events. John gets up, has a fight with his wife, he has a fender bender, he’s late, his boss yells at him, he loses an important client, he has lunch with his mistress, he goes back to work, he makes a big sale, he stops by a bar on the way home, he goes home tipsy, his wife gives him the cold shoulder and a cold dinner, he watches TV and drinks a couple more beers, and then goes to bed to start all over in the morning. By definition this is a plot, but not one that would satisfy a reader.
Unlike real life your story needs to have structure and purpose. The reader wants to follow the character through the events of the story to some conclusion, to see John face and overcome or succumb to challenges, to see John grow and change, to understand why she spent three hours of her life with John.
So how do we create a Plot that will give the reader what she wants, that keeps her turning pages long after bedtime? We give her a character to care about, to love or hate, to root for or against.
In The Wizard of OZ Dorothy’s longing to go over the rainbow propels her into adventure. In Star Wars Luke’s dream of fighting the Empire sends him across a universe to discover his true heritage. Plot evolves from our characters’ wants and needs, strengths and weaknesses. They determine the course of our story – they create our plot. Have your character move the plot, rather than your plot move the character.
To do this we use the basic building blocks of the novel – SCENE & SEQUEL.
SCENE: Action & Reaction.
Each scene consists of three parts.
Goal – What does your character want?
Motivation – Why does he want it?
Conflict – And what’s going to keep him from getting it?
Without these three parts you don’t have a scene. Debra Dixon’s book GOAL, MOTIVATION, CONFLICT is helpful in understanding how to use GMC to create compelling stories.
SEQUEL: A time of emotion and thought between scenes.
Each sequel is made up of three parts.
Reaction – the character’s emotional reaction to what happened in the previous scene.
Thought – the character thinks about what he might do next – choices add suspense.
Decision – what he decides may reveal character, determine the direction of the plot and give the character a new goal for the next scene.
Well-crafted scenes and sequels will draw the reader through the story. Each reveals a little more about the characters and moves the story toward a satisfactory ending. The plot should evolve out of the choices made by the characters in each scene and sequel.
In his book SCENE & STRUCTURE Jack Bickham shows how to use them to construct a solid novel.
So once you’ve decided on your story use The Mice Quotient, Scene & Sequel, and Characterization as guides in assembling your Plot. And remember what Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules to writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Bio: Elysa Hendricks is 5’6″ tall. She has curly hair and brown eyes. She’s an author, a wife, a mother and a daughter. Everything else is subject to change without notice.
After trying her hand at a variety of careers, insurance underwriter, video storeowner, home day care, and domestic goddess for other people, Elysa Hendricks, a longtime reader sat down to write a short contemporary novel. When her heroine turned out to be a winged, telepathic alien, Elysa decided she enjoyed writing stories set in different places, times, and realities. She’s published 14 full-length books, ranging from sweet contemporary to sexy sci-fi, as well as numerous short stories.
While living in north east Illinois she helped found the Windy City Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and she’s the only remaining founding member of the Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal Chapter. She’s taught workshops on writing at writer’s conferences and at community colleges.
Because for “real life” her motto is: Boring is good, excitement is vastly overrated, she saves the adventures for the characters in her books.
She loves to connect with other writers and readers. When she’s not writing you can find her hanging out on
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elysa-Hendricks-Author/137316289643103 (way too much)
or you can check out her books on her web site: http://www.elysahendricks.com