Thursday, January 29, 2009

Plotting, Plotting...

Lately, I've been reading a lot about plot, seeing as how I've begun drafting out my fantasy-steampunk series. The thing is, most of the stuff I read about plot is either too mellow and unhelpful, or too formulaic and predictable. So, today, I'm going to write a little about how I plot and see if any of you have any other suggestions. I'll probably end up doing a little series of these, to cover all my bases.

  • First, plot has to be organic. Events can’t just happen, like dominoes falling in a row. Plot requires cause and effect, just as it requires motivation and desire from the characters. Take for example, Star Wars:
--- Vader WANTS to capture the princess and destroy any chance of the rebels finding the plans for the Death Star.

--- Because of his actions, the princess sends a message to Obi-Wan through a pair of droids (she WANTS to help the rebels).

--- Because of her actions, Vader sends storm troopers after the droids, which were bought by Luke’s aunt and uncle (Vader WANTS the plans back in Empire hands).

--- Because of this, Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed. So, Obi-Wan and Luke set off for the spaceport (they WANT to get off world with the Death Star plans for the Rebels).
  • Second, plot needs to entertain. I know a lot of people really don't like this idea of entertainment and think it's base, but people love to be entertained and charmed, and it's what sells lots of books. At least that's my opinion.
  • Third, all of the plots and subplots MUST funnel into a final confrontation/moment of epiphany/last battle for the story to resound with readers. What if Luke never faced down Vader in Return of the Jedi? What if Rick never confronted the Nazis in Casablanca? What if John Nash never faced his personal demons in A Beautiful Mind? The what if is that the stories would be BORING. Nothing would change, nothing would matter, and there would be no resolution for the audience.
That's about all of my thoughts today. I'll post more on plot as I go. Meanwhile, check out Michael P. Kardos' article "In Defense of Starting Early" and John Truby's The Anatomy of Story. Both are pretty efficient at explaning some craft and theory issues of fiction.

Holding the Line.


Stace said...

Boy, you can tell when someone is in grad school when they say something like "a lot of people don't like this idea of entertainment" -- what a skewed view of the value of literature!! Glad to see you are resisting the edifying (read: stultifying) tendencies of the academic literati.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bri,

If you're on a plotting kick, you might try a copy of Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. It's a great read (and is a bit hard to find--cheapest here: It was a real light bulb read for me in terms of solidifying my plots.