When you're asked what your book is about do you answer with a physical description of your characters? Do you respond with a beautiful description of the setting, or go on about the emotional tides of your main character? Probably not. If you're like me, you'll stumble a moment trying to rack your brain to remember what the heck your story is about. But once my brain clears itself of all the "other stuff" my story is about, I can pretty much answer. And usually, it begins with the plot.
Let's examine what Harry Potter is about. I can respond that it's about a boy who survives an attack by an evil wizard only to have to face him again. Granted, you can describe Harry Potter differently, the bare bones of it is there. We got good and evil facing off and its set in a wizard world. Plot is what happens along the way.
A literary plot may get there in a leisurely pace while in a commercial plot things are happening in undulating waves. There is conflict, success, and more conflict. I'll refer to the three act structure next post.
Some things to consider while plotting.
- Know your characters motives.
- Heighten the stakes--why should we care?
- Stay away from the obvious. This, for me, is the hardest. There a certain genre's that require certain plot structure. The good guy has to win, the lovers have to end up together, happily ever after, though rewarding, can give the reader no reason to keep reading. It's a double edge sword.
In the end keep in mind that you know your story better than anyone else. You will know which challenges your character will succeed and which ones he will fail. Trust in that. I think your readers will trust you as well.
Have you read any books where the author left you thinking how could he/she do that to you, or the character?