Let us start with a definition of what plot is:
Plot is a chronological series of causal events, which increase in intensity and rising action towards the climax of a story, and gives structure in order to achieve the over-all effect intended by the author’s vision. Plot answers the question “what?”
You would do well as a writer to realize that our lives are very plot-less. Each event happens usually without causing the next event. If we were to put the chronological events of one of our days on paper, it would not make for very good reading: Got up, showered, brushed teeth, made breakfast, went work, went shopping and went home—anybodies life.
Let us break down our definition piece by piece.
1. Plot is a chronological series:
Covering a period, plot begins at some point and progresses through to a later point in time. This could be very short, or cover hundreds of years.
2. Plot is a series of causal events, cause and effect. One thing leads to another and another and another and another to end: Noisy neighbors woke him up early, still sleepy he jammed the toothbrush into his gum, instead of going to work he had to see the dentist, so he missed getting blown up by the bomb in the building.
3. Thirdly, plot follows as a structure that gives backbone to the story. There is a beginning, middle, and an end.
4. Arranged properly serves as a vehicle to convey a vision, a moral, a theme.
NOW THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART PAY CLOSE ATTENTION
Real writers do NOT sit down, draw up an outline and plot from which to derive a story. If you do, the critics will see right through it and your story will be tainted with the shadow of an amateur never gaining extraordinary creative energy. It is not story that comes from plot it is plot, which comes from story. Then you outline the thing to make connections not previously made. I hope you understand this. Plot and outline stifles originality, inspiration and spontaneity of creating story. I told you about the use of the right side of the brain where the muse lives. In addition, yes, there are fictitious notions of the muse but if you realize that the phenomenon of the muse is a brain function that gives way to creative energy then you begin to understand.
SO RELAX IF YOU THINK YOU ARE A SUBSTANDARD WRITER OF FICTION BECAUSE YOU FAIL TO COME UP WITH A PLOT.
Stories are dynamic things organic in nature and tell themselves. All you have to do is create a field in which those stories to grow. Then you can cultivate them. Make them award winners. Plot will emerge and character will take control, and you will have reached the goal of producing a character driven prose.
When you sit down before the blank page for your first draft, you may not even know the what. The most I would burden myself with is the basic mechanics of drama. Aristotle gave us the model in which we still adhere to today. The model is referred to as the dramatic curve. Find a story that does not make use of it and I will guarantee it will not be much of a story.
“Drama begins when a problem begins and ends when the problem is resolved”
In short, the dramatic curve:
a) The beginning (The Problem)
b) The Middle (The Conflict)
c) The End (The Resolution)
d) The Denouement (Life Now)
In the book Good scripts, Bad Scripts by Thomas Pope, Pope presents various theories on variations of the curve begin with tension, begin with an initial problem or more like real life at the height of worse or most exciting part, but that is where plotting and outline come in but first you must make that field and let the story grow out of it.
Sit down and begin to write, does not matter if you know or not. When I wrote my short horror story The Gemination of Benjamin Lore, the only thing I knew was a guy was to be possessed by the mind of his twin. Until I started to write which for whatever reason started the protagonist in a therapy session with a psychologist, I had no idea that the twin brother (antagonist) was a bedridden, non-responsive insensible that just lays there and drools. This came up on its own, and pushed itself on the story. The possessing created the conflict and tension, and the resolution was not anything I expected. By the time I had finished the first draft, there wasn’t much plotting to do.
Aristotle, Horace and even modern day authors such as Louis L’Amour, agree and give this advice. Find the beginning of the story, and then start after that. Aristotle termed the technique in medias res, “In the middle of things”
Ever wonder why George Lucas started the Star Wars films at episode four? Especially when he had written the whole space opera from beginning to end to begin with? Because chronologically it was not as exciting. And how many years did we all think it was Luke that would eventually save the day. But Luke was Anakin’s offspring but he was not the chosen one. Anakin was. So in the end as the prophesy foretold, It was Anakin who set balance to the force, it was Anakin’s conflict as Darth Vader that eventually led him to throwing the Sith Lord down the reactor chamber. But Lucas started in medias res and as a result we had years of anticipation for that final climax which would have been cut short because the story wasn’t about Luke at all. It was about Anakin Skywalker.
So sit down and write your story from beginning to end. That completes the first draft and now the plot should be prevalent. Now we can get to this business of outlining in which we work with the overall effect.
The outline is the overall effect of your story, unlike the plot, which is the chronology. Think of how many crime novels have started with the killer getting ready to commit that last and most heinous of all his crimes. The one where he eventually has his final conflict and is stopped forever. Much more intriguing than following the story from the serial killers childhood. But to do that the writer had to think about the story as a whole.
1. Break down your chronological first draft into scenes. Start at the beginning of the chain of events and follow it through to the end. Remember that that first event will not necessarily be where you start the final draft of your story.
2. If we did this with Star Wars immediately, we would see a problem. The story is too huge to write in one single novel. Other problems may occur to you such as age and time period of a character remember that what you want is a sort of domino effect, for every action there is a reaction, but you want that connection from on event to another to be unbreakable and tight. THE CHARACTERS MUST BAHAVE IN A LOGICAL FASHION FOR EVEN THE MOST INCREDIBLE FANTASY STORY TO BE CREDIBLE TO THE READER. In this process, you might notice scenes that should be deleted. You also may come up with extraordinary ideas to insert strengthening the piece.
A note here about using coincidence in your plot. It is best used in the beginning of a plot to set off a causal chain. If you use coincidence in the middle somewhere it could damage the credibility if the story. For coincidence to work, the odds must be long, and it must be linked to some other secondary factor. You can forget your umbrella we all do that, but just before the rail car you would have taken crashes killing everyone aboard? This sort of thing excites us as to the powers hidden deep beneath the fabric of the senses world. A good study of the outline plot would reveal problems with such things. As would the re-writing of the causal chain of events backwards, using the word because.
I. This happened because,
II. This happened and it happened because,
III. this and so on.
From Outline to Story.
Once you’ve done this tedious work, you can now concentrate on what I mentioned earlier concerning where to begin your story. In The middle of Things. Pick the most entertaining and exciting or horrific event and shift your outline from there. Moviemakers use note cards, upon which scenes in chronological order are written. Then to make the effect of the theme they shift these around in order. There are probably an infinite number of combinations you can make. But given an example of a story with five scenes, we could do these sorts of variations:
A-->B-->C-->D-->E-->F (Here we have the chronological order of the plot)
C-->A-->D-->B-->E-->F (Here we start in the middle and flash back, progress, flash back and end)
D-->E-->F-->A-->B-->C (The outline followed by George Lucas in Star Wars)
F1-->A-->B-->C-->D-->E-->F2 (Frame in which the story is made credible being told by somebody else or first person narrative)
The beginning of the story should set up the reader for questions. A horrible crime is taken place and the police cannot catch the guy—WHY?
Benjamin is tormented by his retarded brother and believes he is trying to ruin his life—WHY?
Increase the stories intensity by following scenes that increase in tension.
Resolve the problem with some major event which happens in the future or brings the reader back to the middle or any way you like to put it.
Then end in denouement and get out of the story quickly. A lot of time with this is the way life is now. Do not belabor the ending by tying up loose ends that should have happened all before the climax or because of it.
I hope this article helps. It would be a book to get much more detailed than this. I plan to add 12 categories describing the various types of plot. Check back from time to time as additions come slowly with labor.
Copyright©2009 by Cyrus Wraith Walker