Plot: The Mysterious Step 3

Plot… the most important element to your stories. Your plot moves your characters in a certain direction. They, your characters, may have free will, but without forces acting against them, there is no story. How do you create a plot that your readers will want to invest in?

Charts! Lots of CHARTS! Or at least one good chart.

What I want you to take away from this post is that Plot is the story, and though you may want to leave it up to your characters, that would not be best for the story or your readers.

What do you mean, Howlietzer?

Well though your characters may be great, they, like most of us, hate drama. When the going gets tough, sometimes we want to give up. Your character can’t!

The basics are as follows:

  1. Your character wants something.
  2. They figure out how to get it, or make a decision on how to get there.
  3. Plot tries to stop them.
  4. Profit!

That is the mysterious step 3, that people often forget. If the character gets what they want too easily, then there isn’t any growth, there isn’t any reason to read. If the protagonist instantly wins, they are boring.

Example:

Jim went to the store to buy some dog food for Skip his puppy. After getting buying the dog food, Jim plays with Skip. The End.

Or how about this.

Jim went to the store to buy some dog food for his new puppy Skip. Once he got to the pet store, he realized he forgot his wallet. He felt really embarrassed for forgetting his wallet, and he felt horrible because his dog hadn’t eaten all day. He goes into the store, hoping that the pet store owner will give him a bag and he can pay him later.

Jim finds his brand and takes it to the cashier: the owner himself. Jim explains his situation, but the pet store owner isn’t interested in Jim’s excuses and calls Jim a dumbass.

Jim is a sensitive guy, and also very agitated. He feels crappy for forgetting his wallet, and now the pet store owner is making him feel crappy too. At least he remembered his revolver…

Big difference, right?

No voracious reader wants to read the first version. It’s too tidy! It’s not messy! Granted Jim kind of flew off the handle in the 2nd version.

Let’s break it down. Jim wants to get his dog, Skip, some food. He makes the decision to go and get it…

Plot Strikes! He realizes he left his wallet at home. How is he going to pay for the food? Instead of going back home to get his wallet, he decides to ask the pet store owner for a bag and he’ll pay him later. The pet store owner thinks Jim’s a dumbass. Jim, already upset because he left his wallet at home, is agitated by the pet store owner’s denial. Jim does have his revolver…

What happens next? Presumably, now you are invested in the story and you want to know if Jim is a psychopath or if he’ll listen to reason and just go back home and get his wallet. However, if he does go back home, it’s a boring story.

Martha Alderson wrote The Plot Whisperer and honestly, it taught me more about plot than when I earned my BA in Writing. I really like this book and she has two other books on plot that may be helpful.

Let me know your thoughts on plot in the comments below.

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