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Plot or Plod Part 3: . . . and ACTION!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

“Plot does not magically appear with the creation of character; Frankenstein’s monster might open his eyes, but until he gets up from the table and does something, there is little basis for a plot.” (Noah Lukeman, The Plot Thickens)

Yesterday, I talked about connections—that what happens in the course of events of the story needs to be connected to characters, to everything else that’s going on. That plot isn’t just the “how” of what happened, it’s also the “why.”

Lukeman spends the first two chapters of his book on plot discussing deep character development. Once you know your characters’ internal and external conflicts that make up who they are, he posits, then you are ready to begin your story.

And story begins with narration.

Hopefully, by the time you start writing your story, you know who your point of view characters are going to be. Yes, from time to time, another voice may pop up and demand to have a viewpoint in the story—this happened to me in Ransome’s Honor with William’s younger sister . . . whose appearance as a POV character not only rounded out some of what was happening in that story, but whose story became the plot for the second book of the trilogy.

But I digress . . . According to Lukeman, there are three jobs that the point of view characters play in driving the narrative of the story:

1. The POV character is the avatar through which the reader experiences the events of the story. The reader needs to know what’s happening, how events are unfolding. The POV character provides this information by experiencing the events.

2. The POV character also creates a certain perception of the events for the reader. The character’s internal conflicts, spiritual beliefs, upbringing, ethnicity, socio-economic status—everything about them—adds a certain twist, a certain perspective of what’s actually happening. Or, as Obi Wan Kenobi would call it, the truth “from a certain point of view.” The reader is to see everything the way the character would see and experience it. Narrative is subjective, not objective. If the character views the world through rose colored glasses, the world should appear to the reader as a very friendly, lovely, rosy place. Everything the POV character interacts with should be observed, judged, measured by the POV character’s own internal standards. If she thinks the hero is handsome—even though her friend points out he’s somewhat overweight, has a receding hairline, crooked teeth, and a big nose, the reader should see him how the POV character sees him: through the eyes of love, not reality.

3. The POV characters must be involved in what’s happening in the story. They cannot just be bystanders, observers. They must have a part in what’s going on. Gone are the days of objective narrators telling a story (think Moby Dick). This is what I wrote about yesterday—plot is making the connection between character and story.

In Plot, Ansen Dibell gives a simple question to ask of our story: “Is it going somewhere?” Is the story you have come up with something that has dynamic—in other words, something that moves? “Has it got an engine, or could you put one into it?” Dibell writes. “You could attach a motor to a tree, but it wouldn’t go very far.”

Does the action of your story, of your characters, have a motor? Is it going somewhere? Let me point you back to Part 1 of this series with the graphs I showed. Have you ever graphed your plot to see if it’s actually moving along? Does each event of your story build upon what came before, out of consequences of your characters’ actions? Or is it just a series of mostly unrelated events?

A plot graph doesn’t have to be a straight/diagonal line. It can be a spiral, such as the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which follows the main character as she spirals inward into depression/mental illness. But whether it’s an EKG chart or a spiral, it still has to have action—it has to move.

Is your plot moving? If not, can you put a motor in it and have the characters do something to jump start it? Sometimes, writing scenes that you know will never appear in your finished manuscript may be just the catalyst you need to figure out where the story is going, where the action really is, and then jump right into the middle of it.

One Comment
  1. Wednesday, October 24, 2007 10:03 am

    I read the Yellow Wallpaper story last night. WOW! And to think it was written more than 100 years ago.

    I’m reading The Plot Thickens right now. And Characterization is so key!


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