Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Got Plot???

Plot is the "what happens" in your book and for most readers, the reason they continue reading. They want to see "what happens" to the characters they've connected with. They want to experience those events through the character.

When readers connect, they can become secret agents on a mission to save the world, or the hero who rescues the princess or, closer to home, the person who finds true love when all seems lost.

The thing about plots though, they have to go somewhere. They have to take the reader on a ride. Plots can't just lay around and do nothing. Plots have to challenge our characters, make them grow, cause them to doubt and usually, in the end to overcome an obstacle that seems unconquerable.

One of my favorite movies that shows a great plot is Dante's Peak. If you haven't seen it, you really should. The main idea is that the volcano is about to errupt and the town needs saving. Harry (our hero) and Rachel (the mayor) have to get her kids from home so they can leave town. Simple right?

But it seems the kids have gone up the mountain to get the stubborn grandma. (Personally, I'd have left her but I really didn't like her.) Okay, again no big deal. But the bridge is blocked with traffic so Harry drives through the river. (His vehicle has snorkle so it's cool.) But he gets stuck and water is coming in the truck. A car follows him, floats into his truck, bumping him enough to get unstuck. They drive out of the river, get back on the road, a helicopter crashes ahead of them, ash is falling like a grey blizzard, rocks and trees roll down the mountain in front of them and then the whole road behind them is wiped out in a landslide.

Eventually they get to the grandma's house but the volcano is spitting lava by now, which has flowed down the mountain and wiped out the log cabin and all the vehicles. Their only option is to take to the lake in a metal boat. However, all the volcanic activity has turned the lake to acid and the boat is leaking. Soon the propeller on the motor is eaten away.

I won't give away the end but you can see how each plot point builds on the previous one. The viewer is kept on the edge of their seat to see how
Harry is going to save them all.

We need to craft our plots in a similar fashion. We need to keep the reader engaged and caring about what happens to our characters. If Harry and Rachel had gotten home, picked up the kids and driven out of town...big deal. BORING!!! And not much of a movie either.

Plot is tied with structure in a big way and we'll get to that soon but this month, when you watch television or read a book, think about the plot and how it moves forward in the story.

I once heard someone say that plot is getting your character up a tree and then throwing stones at them. I kinda like that. Of course, it's often hard to throw those stones at characters we love but in doing so, we make them stronger, along with our plot and give the reader another reason to keep on reading.

I only have one book on plot and it's probably one of my most favorite books on writing. It's called Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. I think this should be a must read for every writer.

A special welcome to those who just joined us. So glad you are here. Take a moment, say hi in the comment thread and let us know a bit about you and what you like to write.


  1. I believe my challenges with plot come from not developing my characters well enough. If I am only scratching the surface on my characters, how can I put them in new situations and have it work?

    I'll go back to fanfiction and say that I have absolutely no problem creating new scenarios for those characters to experience, but that's because I've been familiar with their backstory for 30 years now. It's easy to create conflict for characters who already have an extensive past. Not so with people I've just created.

    I have many good ideas for stories, but they don't always end up being deep enough.


  2. It really is hard sometimes to push the right buttons for your characters if you don't know which button sets them off.

    That's where some basic initial planning helps. What are they afraid of, what makes them mad, how do they feel about religion or politics?

    I've known Cande for about 6 years now and am still discovering things about her as I write the mystery novel. So, when I need her reaction to something, I take things a bit slower and ask her what she thinks.:-)