Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Purpose of the Plot

Greetings, Pantser. Hello, Outliner. Warm welcome to those in-between.

No matter what type of organizer you are it is important that your story has a plot. There is one exception to this which I will go over at the very end of this post. Please deal with my humor until then.

First, no matter how good or how bad a story is, no matter what genre that story belongs to, it shares one simple thing with all stories. There is some form of plot. When you put a sentence down to the paper, you are writing about *something*. That something will become your plot. Or at least part of it.

When you write your first draft, you may not know what your plot is until you get there. That is one of the joys of being a pantser -- or someone who writes by the seat of their pants. I have served my time as a pantser. It can be a great deal of fun. It keeps the mystery alive. Until the last word, the last page, when you sigh and realize that you are 'finished'. Crossing the finish line as a pantser can be very rewarding.

But let us not forget about the dedicated outliner. These folks -- I've done this as well -- plan their plots, their conflicts and their characters in advance of writing. These folks know where their story is going. These folks sit through the hard moments where they know exactly what is to come and cope with having to wait to get there. In a way, the outliner may feel as if they are putting the finishing touches on a story by writing the dialogs, the descriptions and the scenes out true to their outline.

Then there are the few who are both pantser and outliner. I fall into this category. After having done dramatic experimentation with both outlining and pantser'ing. These folks have a direction but leave the details up to chance. Many pantsers will often have a concept of where they want to go, but it changes on the fly. The hybrid will know where they want to go, the getting there is just an adventure waiting to happen.

All of these methods are correct. The magic is in the editing, but that is a different subject altogether.

Now that we have covered the three basic types of writers, let us dig right into the heart of the issue.

What is a plot? Why do I need it? And why do *you* feel like you need to tell me why *I* need a plot? Who the hell are you anyway?

There are many more questions that could suffer answering, but I will start with these.

What is a plot?

A plot is the driving force behind a story. It is your story. It is your synopsis, it is the reason your reader wants to keep reading your book. It is the conflict. It is the drama. It is the breath-taking moment when your character's dream has come true. It is every defining moment of your book. It is the why of your book. It is also the how of your book. It is the purpose of your book.

The plot, in the nitty-gritty world, is the series of events that take your book from the start to the end. It is the tangled weave that your character spins as he or she goes out on their adventures. It is the series of events that take your character to the conflict and the events that allow them to resolve the conflict.

Wikipedia defines a plot as: A literary term, a plot is all the events in a story particularly rendered toward the achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect or general theme. An intricate, complicated plot is known as an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot can have multiple inferences, such as with songs in the ballad tradition. Basically a plot is the story line or the way a story is written.

Why do I need it?

Why do you need air? Why do you eat? Why do you sleep? Why do you ask me this question?

This has been something that I have been answering a lot lately. This is actually what spurred me into writing this post. With National Novel Writing Month quickly approaching, many writers are struggling with this concept. Some are even throwing their hands up in disgust and giving up because they focus on their characters and end up with no plot, no world and no purpose for them. When asked about this.... they'd get offended and say their characters are the plot.

No, your characters -- no matter how beautiful or wonderful -- are not your plot. You need a plot. Get over it and make one. Start with your conflict. Once you know what the main conflict and the climax (The most tense, story changing event in your novel) it is MUCH easier to figure out the rest of your plot. Just remember, you do NOT have to have all of your plots tied to the climax. Side-adventures are allowed. In fact, they are encouraged. They can add a lot to a story even if it may not be directly related to the climax. Your climax is very much your defining moment in the book.

And why do *you* feel like you need to tell me why *I* need a plot? Who the hell are you anyway?

I am just a writer like any other. I just love the craft so much I feel the need to ramble on about it. You don't have to follow my advice. It is, after all, just advice. Do what you want. But, your story will be much better off with a good plot.

And if you somehow manage to get me to critique your book, you won't get the lecture about plots and realize 80,000 words in that your story is actually lacking a defining plot and you need to rewrite the whole thing -yet again-. If you fail to get a good plot, you will end up doing a full rewrite.

I know I have fallen into this trap.

As a side-note, a good plot does not need to be a complex plot. Sometimes the best plots are the simple ones.

Now, as I promised early (Look, Ma, I kept my promise. Really, I did!) there is a situation where plot... well, who needs it? National Novel Writing Month!

All the rules are gone for this. If it is fiction, have fun. Write whatever. No plot? Pfffft. Who needs a plot anyway? The point and beauty of National Novel Writing Month is to enjoy writing. To accomplish something you haven't before. By all means, throw aside the wicked plot and just write. You might be surprised at the plot that sneaks in, but do not be afraid to experiment and play. It isn't for the professional, but for that scared little writer who really wants to write a book but needs the experience.

Don't worry. You can worry about your plot on the next book. November is for you, new writer.

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