Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Five Ingredients To A Good Story: Part Five -Plot

Out of all the ingredients we’ve looked at so far, it is my opinion that the one that makes or breaks a novel, is plot. Sure, characters, dialogue, and setting are important, but if an author does well in these areas, but the story is not held together with a good plot, they will lose readers.

So, what is plot? And more importantly, how do we write a good one? Lets start by defining what “plot” actually is.

What Is Plot?

The dictionary defines plot as “The story or sequence of events in something such as a novel, play, or movie.” But plot is really more than a sequence of events strung together. Each event must be a catalyst to spur on the following event and this must continue until the climax is reached. For example, say you’re writing a romance about a woman who wants to save her failing coffee shop which is going bankrupt. That’s a basic plot, but each event in the story must show the woman moving toward this goal. You can’t have a scene where the woman saves her dog. This would not be progressing with the main plot. Instead, we might find the woman being handed a notice of foreclosure, and in the next scene she might meet a very rich man who will invest in the coffee shop, and all the rest of the scenes keep moving forwards towards the final goal. So how do we as writers create a good plot? I’ve come up with few tips that might help.

Four tips for crafting a plot.

1) Start With A General Idea:
Every plot must have a central problem or idea, something the story revolves around. For example in the above example the problem was that the woman is going bankrupt. Every event following must pull that idea forward.

2) Complicate Things:
A plot must be complex. The woman in my example must not be immediately successful. We might see the woman meet the hero (after all this is a romance) he helps her out so she can keep the shop, and they begin to fall in love. But then, suddenly the stock market plummets and now the hero is poor. Continue to pile problem after problem on your characters and make the road to their goals a hard one. This will entice the reader to find out how it will turn out in the end.

3) Subplots:
Subplots are smaller events that occur within a novel, they are separate but yet somehow tied into the main story. For example, say one of the reasons the woman is trying to save the coffee shop is so she can raise money for her sister who is dying of cancer. Another possible subplot would be the estranged relationship between the hero and his mother. But remember, too many subplots can clutter the story and complicate it. So use them sparingly.

4) A Firm Foundation:
Basically, if you have too much or too little plot your story will flounder and eventually sink. You need a good foundation - a plot that is worth investing in and spending time on. I recommend showing your plot to your critique partners or a friend who reads fiction. They may be able to give you feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your plot.

In the past, I have given excerpts from classic literature, to illustrate each point. For plot, excerpts are not possible. Instead, I will give you details from a well known and well thought out plot. The one I have chosen is from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The novel opens with the Bennet family in Longbourn and their five unmarried daughters. Mrs. Bennet’s main goal is seeing her daughters married off to wealthy men. She attempts to accomplish this in a variety of ways. She tries Charles Bingley who moves in nearby, Mr. Collins who might inherit the house, and even Mr. Wickham who does end up marrying one of them. A variety of twists and turns occur in an attempt to procure the husbands, many of them comical. As the book progresses we learn many things about all the eccentric characters and about Regency life in England and the nearby city of London. Eventually, through many subplots and humorous chain of events, our hero and heroine do unite in holy matrimony.

Austen’s plot was complex, and took her characters to many places and through many stages of character development. It takes a good writer to accomplish that feat throughout a novel. This is what I want to be true of my own plots, as I’m sure you do also. Exciting events and difficult situations are the foundation for a good plot. Reading modern and classic literature can lend itself to knowledge about how to accomplish this.

I’ve enjoyed learning and writing about the aspects of a good story along with you. It has been an adventure, and I hope you have learned something. I hope and pray God continues to strengthen your writing journey.

And now, I’ve got to go write down the idea about the woman and her coffee shop. Who knows……..might become a future plot.
Look next week for an interview with published author Gayle Gaymer Martin!!!

Happy writing!

1 comment :

Laura Marcella said...

Awesome plot round-up here! I'm a plotter, so I make sure I have a general idea of what's happening in my story before I start writing. Great post, Amanda!