Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So the Plot Thickens...

The plot is the container into which you place all of your ideas, characters, actions, and all the details that make up your story. A few thousand years of storytelling has helped to define some general guidelines in regards to plot development, and some folks much smarter than I have boiled them down to an essential eight rules for developing a good plot.

1. Tension fuels your plot: No tension, no plot. It’s just that simple,and just that complex. Think of it as a way the characters interact with each other, and think of your own relationships. Even in the best of them tension exists that makes for a good story. Use that as a basis for creating tension in your plot.

2. Create tension through opposition: Whenever intention is denied there is conflict, and where there is conflict there is tension. This opposition can be either external, as in the antagonist vs. the protagonist, or internal within the characters themselves.

3. As the opposition grows, so should the tension: It’s not enough to create tension and opposition, it has to lead somewhere. We as writers want to keep our audience engaged in the action, so it is important to increase the intensity of each subsequent conflict, building tension as you go. The readers will be propelled forward toward to the point when all hell breaks loose.

4. Make change the point of your story: The story should progress in such a way that the events change the main characters. They should be a different person at the end of your story than they are at the beginning. If not the characters remain flat and static. Meaningful events bring about meaningful changes.

5. When something happens, makes sure it is important to the story: Sounds obvious, right? Well, if you think about it, as writers it is easy to get caught up in the world we create, and can let our characters sort of go their own way. Keep the thought in the front of your mind – if it doesn’t grow the tension between characters, and it doesn’t propel the plot forward, you may not need to include it in the story. Remember who’s in charge.

6. Keep the causal casual: If you accept the fact that the story itself moves on cause and effect, and that the effect becomes in turn the cause of the next action, then you have to accept that good writing appears to be casual. In reality, it is more causal than casual. You don’t want your plot to be announced with a big neon sign, but instead flow from your writing and charm the reader into taking the ride with you.

7. Leave the luck and chance to the casinos: Life is chaos punctuated by periods of order. It’s hard to predict from day to day, much less moment to moment, and is nothing more than the flow between cause and effect, some of which we are only peripherally aware of. In fiction, that is not allowed. Logic and reason have to take precedence over “the hand of God,” and the reason something happens must be evident somewhere in the story. Readers won’t tolerate random happenstance.

8. Make sure your central character stays central to the story: Once again, obvious, but is it always? At the climax of your story, your central character should remain the center of the action. Don’t let him or her be overwhelmed by the events at the climax. The main character should act, not be acted upon.


Kim Smith said...

Love this Ron. I am so going to print it out and hang it. I am just beginning to start anew on a story and need it!

Ron Adams said...

Good Luck, Kim. It's down to earth basic advice that I rarely follow myself, so writing this was a good refresher for me. Now if I could only master Blogger Formatting...

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Ron. Great list of points we all should think about. I feel a bit guilty because I don't actually analyze my books this way... they just seem to move that way on their own. I think it can happen when you have been a voracious reader your whole life - the "feel" of a good story is already ingrained in your head and heart, and it comes out through your fingers to the keyboard this way. Is that possible?

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