Plot means the story line. When people talk about plotting, they mostly mean how to set up the situation, where to put the turning points, and what the characters will be doing in the end. What happens.
Some fiction writers write organically, not knowing where the story they are writing is going. These writers say it would be boring to know what’s going to happen next and they lose their enthusiasm to tell the story because they know the outcome already. They prefer throwing themselves over the edge and into the void. This method can be very anxiety-producing. It means you need a lot of faith in your process.
E.L. Doctorow describes the process like this: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Other writers plan the story before they begin. In crime fiction the story definitely needs to be worked out beforehand so information can be drip-fed to the reader.
In the past, when creating my stories, I have worked organically and not known where my stories were headed as I wrote them. Sometimes, when I’m feeling despicable about writing, I think I really should plot to put me out of my misery. But, in the end, I just keep going, one tiny step at a time.
The shorter the piece of fiction, the less need for plot. You can write an interesting story in which not very much happens. A woman fights with her neighbour, a man quits his job, or an unhappy family goes out for a pizza. Simple structures work better than something too complicated when the story is short.
A plot can, like a journey, begin with a single step. A woman making up her mind to recover her father’s oil paintings may be enough to start. The journey begins there, as it did for Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment when he decided to commit his crime,” Jerome Stern Making Shapely Fiction
The plot grows and develops out of what helps and what hinders the characters’ progress toward their goals.
The Writers’ Workshop http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/plot2.html ask:
- But how do you know if your draft plot has the right amount of weight to carry an entire novel?
- What kind of structures work?
- Is there a quick way to design your own plot template?
- And how do you handle a book with multiple points of view?
“A good plot has a clear motivation. It has a clear structure. It has an outcome. It has subplots. A good plot looks something like the plot structure template below,” The Writers’ Workshop.
|Motivation||Lizzie Bennett wants to marry for love|
|Plot structure||She meets Darcy & Wickham. She dislikes Darcy, and starts to fall for Wickham. Wickham turns out to be a bad guy; Darcy turns out to be a good guy. She now loves Darcy.|
|Outcome||She marries Darcy|
|Subplot 1||Jane Bennett (Lizzie’s nice sister) loves Bingley. Bingley vanishes. He reappears. They get hitched.|
|Subplot 2||Lydia Bennett (Lizzie’s idiot sister) elopes with Wickham. She’s recovered.|
|Subplot 3||An idiot, Mr Collins, proposes marriage to Lizzie. She says no. Her friend, Charlotte, says yes.|
Of course, there are a lot of things that the above plot template doesn’t tell you. It doesn’t say where the novel is set, it doesn’t tell you anything about plot mechanics – it doesn’t say why Lizzie dislikes Mr Darcy, or how Lydia is recovered from her elopement. It doesn’t have anything to say about character.
The Writers’ Workshop strongly advises us to build a template much like the one above before starting to write. “If you’ve already started your MS then, for heaven’s sake, get to that template right away.”
So that’s all we need: a beginning, a middle and an end. Aristotle defined it like this: a beginning is what requires nothing to precede it, an end is what requires nothing to follow it, and a middle needs something both before and after it.
Easy peasy. Not.
I hope these ideas on plotting, or not plotting, are helpful. Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.