Friday, April 1, 2011

Plotting 101

Hey y'all!

Basically, I'm done with my posts on characters (until I realize I left something out, at least). So, I shall continue my writing babble with discussing plots. After characters, the plot is my favorite thing to talk about. Why? Because it's deeply connected with the characters. And because it's the backbone of the entire thing.

It goes like this: The plot, is your skeleton, the scenes are the meat on those bones, the scenery is like skin, and the characters are the little things that make it all perfect - details that make the being unique. - Sorry about the corpsey metaphor. Hope it didn't gross anyone out.

What is a plot?

The plot is the reason your book exists. It's what the book is all about - that's why it's important to have that in mind and work from there. It's the glue between your scenes - the purpose of your character's existence...
You get the idea, the plot is important. It's very hard to pull off a book without a plot (In my head, it's impossible, but I do tend to think it might be possible in the genres I don't read).
So, yes, you need a plot.

How do I build one?

That's not too hard - take point A - the beginning of the book and point B - the end of the book -> your path there is your plot. It's like one of those game where you have to bring your character from A to B - with one single, but huge, difference - why are you taking him there?
So, it's a line with a big WHY in the middle of it.
Building a plot is often easy - it's the first thing that comes into the writer's head, even if they don't realize. You come up with a story - what happens in that story? John Doe  walks his dog and runs into his old nemesis and a full blown domestic war ensues. The only thing missing is their motivation to get from point A to point B - give them that, and you've got your basic plot.

Is it really that easy?

If you're writing a novel, then, no. You see, novels are huge things, and you need to keep the reader entertained while you paint out the main plot. - to keep your readers on their toes, the path from A to B is never a straight line - more like a terribly jagged one.
I'm not an expert in short stories - couldn't write one to save my life, actually - but I think you can get away with the single plot line there. Though, even those need a twist.

What is a plot twist?

It's what makes a plot a good one. It's surprising your readers when they least expect it and get them to go: 'Hmm, didn't expect that one coming. I must read to find out what happens next.'  Keep them guessing what'll happen next. And they won't be able to put your book down.

Now, there is a limit to this. If you twist and turn just for the heck of it, it could get really frustrating for a reader - especially if you don't plant clues ahead of time - then, they'd feel manipulated, get pissed and stop reading altogether. - Just thought I'd mention this.

I got my plot, I have some twists. What now?

Now, you need side-plots. Going for one goal is never realistic, since people in general get side tracked by other things easily. Especially in novels, there's something always going on in the background. Especially if you have more POV characters.

So, your main plot consists of some cops going after a baddie - in the mid-time, until they catch him, some other things happen - we get sidetracked by some romance, one of the cops has a twisted family life or some drama in their past - these are all subplots that need to be solved by the time the main plot wraps up - and everything results in character growth (see, told ya we'll be coming to characters here)

Sometimes, the subplots can be just as interesting and as complicated as the main plot. What sets the main plot aside? Solving that one, major problem closes the book - the readers feel fulfilled, and they won't rip your head off for a bad closing. It's usually a good idea to close the subplots as well (unless you're planning a sequel and then the subplot could turn into the main plot of the next book) - but you're more likely to get away with not closing those up. Unless you have a freak like me reading, who tends to get more attached to the secondary characters, rather than the main ones :p

How important is a plot?

In my books, very. Be it main or sub, they should all be well explained, logical and relevant. There's a tight link between the main plot and the subs - the subs have to somehow push (even if nudge ever so gently) the main plot along. They must be relevant.

I've been thinking, and I think that's my major problem with the Twilight series. I haven't talked about them before, because I admit (with shame) that I read all four books in fast succession. But I was very disappointed at the end. Because, there was no plot to close.
Sure, in the first book, I could close my eyes and buy that the main plot was the romance between Edward and Bella - though, seeing as they admit they're in love in the middle of the book, that's about the end of it. Everything else that's going on is a side plot.
And the next three books continue with side plots. For the love of me, I couldn't figure out what the main plot of the series is! There were just random things happening - like episodes in a soap - with nothing going for them. (reason I don't watch soaps - what's the point?)
So, that's my problem -> no main plot, no satisfactory wrap up and a series which could go on forever.

That's how important a plot is. Not having a main plot, you can't close your book, and your characters have no purpose.

These are my views on basic plotting and the importance of it all. I feel I might have rambled a bit in there. Sorry about that. But you're all used to that by now ;)

Update: Weee... my Internet connection is back on. But I have to study. Ah, well :)

How do you plot? Major to minor (like me) or minor towards a major?


  1. Oh, great post, especially since you're great at plotting then twisting it.

  2. I'm a top-down kinda guy, so major to minor for me too. But it's a long slog. I find plotting one of the most difficult parts, which makes me wonder what the heck I'm doing trying to write novels :D

  3. YAY! *hugs you* You have the same problems with twilight that I do :P I didn't like the characters, either, though. And to be honest, by the end of the last book, I was hoping that they were all going to die, because in my mind that was the only way they could A) redeem the series and B) finish the whole thing up (+battle) within 20 pages or whatever. Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed.

    Anyway, about your actual post, very good :D I actually think that characters are more important than plots, but I think that's just me :)


  4. And don't forget "Edward's perfect face". Maybe that was the main plot?? (I haven't read any of the Twilight books, so I really don't know)

    Very insightful as usual. My stories are character-driven, but the plot has to keep them on their toes or I get bored (and so do the readers). Subplots are fun, but hard to keep woven in correctly. When they work though, it's a feeling of great satisfaction!


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