What is plot—besides a piece of ground used to bury dead people? (That’s from James Scott Bell in Plot & Structure.) In my mind, plot is the story itself, with a beginning, middle and end. Of course there are literary works that don’t follow any of the rules, not even as guidelines, but I’m thinking of genre writing. Plot is the skeleton of the story, the bones on which the rest is built and fleshed out.
Stories must begin with an appealing element of some kind, an aspect of the piece that draws us in and makes us want more. In fiction writing, this is called the hook. Switch over to a fishing analogy: the fish sees the worm or lure and can’t resist a taste, but alas, once he grabs it, he’s hooked and committed. That’s the kind of draw we need in our stories, one that grabs the readers by the senses and holds them while we reel them in through the depths of the rest of the story. And we should do our best to make the read worthwhile.
Here is an example of a hook that drew me in:
– P.D. James’ The Private Patient: “On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went…” Well, that immediately raises a plethora of questions for which I want answers.
* A tip: you don’t have to have your hook intact right away, just have an idea of it. You can tweak it many times in the process of writing and editing.
Another element of plot is conflict. All the examples given above hint at clashes and tension, and that’s what makes a story. Each scene, each section of dialogue, must involve tension and lead us deeper into the tale.
II Part One
A. Opening Disaster
1. Introduce main character
If you are an outline person, you will work through your main plot elements in point form first, filling them out as you develop the storyline. If you are not an outline person, you will organize in your head as you write. It’s a matter of what works best for you. There are many formulas and templates to help us create a workable plot, and we’ll discuss those next time.
SCENES & SEQUELS
In my opinion, when plotting a story, it helps to write in scenes instead of chapters. The book Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham is a great way to learn about the differences between action scenes and internal episodes and how they complement each other. Another excellent resource for plotting is Plot by Ansen Dibell. These are both Writer’s Digest Books and are available online in print and digital formats.
In Plot, Dibell writes (p. 6): “Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.” So it follows that as we plot our novels, we need to consider who the characters are, what they do, how they live and think and feel, how they communicate, and how this all works together to lead us to the desired ending.
* Note: sometimes the story takes a direction the author did not foresee, and the resulting ending differs from the original thought. Plotting must be a flexible endeavor.
You can follow your instincts in plotting a novel—it’s best to study up on it first, though—or you can use some of the resources and ideas suggested above, but get plotting. We’re waiting for your novel.