Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Plot. What is it and how do I get one?

Plot is what happens.

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.
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult is one such book that throughout all expectations and left me feeling hung. I saw the movie first so I thought I knew what was going to happen, but nope. I still can't believe the ending. That is one book that will definitely surprise you. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin is another.

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?


  1. Have you read any books where the author left you thinking how could he/she do that to you, or the character?

    When they kill the MC at the end, it torques me no end. I won't buy another book from that author. A total trust break-down.

    Great post!

  2. Great post - and I love Deb's comment...breaking trust is such a huge thing, you know?!?

  3. Plot is something I've struggled to develop, and will continue struggling with. So glad to have read this post! Makes me see the bigger picture: character motive and heightened stakes go a long way.

    Thanks for this!

  4. I agree with Deb about the trust thing but I also think that those stories that have stuck with me are the ones that I didn't see it coming. Whatever "it" is. We probably shouldn't kill our MC but what if we had a few MC wannabe's? Keep the reader guessing who's going to end up with the short end of the stick.

    Amparo, I think if you get down to the bare bones of plot, its all been done before. Sure, we can have twists and turns that make it original, but whatever "it" is, has to be true to character.

    Thanks for your comments!

  5. I won't say I like it when a well-loved character dies but sometimes, if you think about it, you know the author had to write it that way. I also hate it when I know how it will all turn out before I'm done so book like A Game of Thrones intrigues me because I have no idea who will live and who will die.

  6. Thanks for your comment m. It seems to be easier to keep your reader on his toes when you have a diverse group of characters. That way you're not really breaking the genre rules. =-)


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