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Plot or Plod: A New Writing Craft Series

Monday, October 15, 2007

It’s been a while, but just like with fiction writing, sometimes it takes a while for the next idea to strike. This past weekend at the MTCW meeting, we discussed some of the basic fundamentals of plotting, and as more questions came up during the discussion, I realized there’s still so much I need to learn about plotting, so I’d better go ahead and do a blog series. {Wait for it . . .}

As we’ve discussed before, there are two kinds of writers: Outliners and Pantsters (seat of the pants writers, and yes, I just made up the spelling of that word). I am very much a pantster when it comes to writing. Beyond a general idea of the story arc, I typically don’t know where my story is going when I first start writing it. Because most of what I write is romance, as a pantster, I really don’t need to know everything, because I have the basic structure of the romance novel to guide me (boy and girl meet, fall in love, are torn apart, and are reunited for a HEA ending). {Wait for it . . .}

Just as there are those two approaches to writing, we also know that there are two methods of writing: character-driven and plot-driven. These two divisions can really be seen along genre lines: romance, women’s fiction, chick lit, some historical fiction, and most literary fiction are character-driven stories, while mystery, suspense, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, and action/adventure are plot-driven stories. But that doesn’t mean that character-driven stories don’t need strong plots or vice versa. {Wait for it . . .}

{Here it comes . . .} In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein writes: “The most interesting stories involve characters who want something badly. . . . Which brings us to the essence of plotting: putting the protagonist’s desire and the antagonist’s desire into sharp conflict. . . . The three keys: the want and the opposition to the want need to be important, necessary, and urgent.” {Ah . . . now I feel like I’m writing a blog series.}

Don Maass (Writing the Breakout Novel) breaks plotting down to its basics this way: “The five essential plot elements are sympathetic character, conflict, complications, climax, and resolution.”

Noah Lukeman, in The Plot Thickens, gives us a list of five elements as well: “. . . A good plot is an amalgamation of many ideas or elements of writing, including characterization, journey, suspense, conflict, and context.”

In the original Writer’s Digest book on the subject, Plot (recently replaced by James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure), Ansen Dibell put it this way: “Plot is the things characters do, feel, think or say that make a difference to what comes afterward . . . Plotting is a way of looking at things. It’s a way of deciding what’s important and then showing it to be important through the way you construct and connect the major events of your story. It’s the way you show things mattering.”

As just these four quotes illustrate, there’s quite a broad definition of what plot really is. So I hope you’ll take this journey with me as I delve into these four books, and others, and see if we can truly figure out what plot means and how to make sure we have good, strong plots in our stories.

To kick things off, please post a comment with any questions or concerns you have about plotting and I will try to make sure I cover those topics in the course of this series.

  1. Monday, October 15, 2007 9:06 am

    Ooo, looking forward to your series. I always love learning more about plot, even though I’m a cross between plotter and pantser. (I plot by the seat of my pants!)


  2. Monday, October 15, 2007 9:59 am

    I learn so much from your series too.

    I read Bell’s book and loved it. I tried Dibell’s book and couldn’t get through it (but I knew a LOT less then so it may have been over my head at the time.)

    I’m definitely a cross too — a plantser or platter or potter or…

    My big question right now is finding the right balance between these two. How much plotting/pre-work is the right amount before putting pen to paper on the story? And how to iterate between plotting and pantsing to move my story along?


  3. Monday, October 15, 2007 10:00 am

    BTW, thanks for tagging me. I posted my 10-20-30 today.


  4. Carol Collett permalink
    Monday, October 15, 2007 12:01 pm

    I’m excited about this series, Kaye. I really struggle with plotting. I can come up with fun characters, but then want to keep them safe. I’m definantly a Pantster, but trying to learn to do a little planning. (Hopefully in time for NaNo!)


  5. Monday, October 15, 2007 12:09 pm

    I’m really looking forward to this discussion!


  6. Monday, October 15, 2007 5:06 pm

    My big question is about complexity (if you couldn’t guess from my synopsis).

    I’ve got this thing for Russian/ eastern-European/ Arabian Nights stories, and a common denominator there is complexity– it could end in three different places, but doesn’t.

    It keeps swooping up to higher stakes. (Done right.)

    I sometimes wish my stuff was as straight forward as your romance formula, but there’s so much more to get in there… (though, maybe it’s the same plot as yours after all– it just takes longer to tell…)

    Oh– The question. Should I be afraid of putting to much in?


  7. lucas permalink
    Wednesday, April 9, 2008 8:50 am

    Can someone plse tell me how to organize my story into beginning middle end? Thanks Lucky



  1. Plot or Plod Part 2: Making Connections «

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