Monday, August 23, 2010

Mentor Monday - Building A Plot In 8 Easy Steps (More or Less)

According to Aristotle, every plot needs three things - action, character, and thought, which basically means - who is doing what, and how and why is she doing it? But the type of plot we end up with depends on which of those three things we choose as most important. For instance -

Mary likes to drive fast. She searches out a race car driver, gets him to give her lessons, enters the Indie 5oo and wins.

If the emphasis is on the action, on all the things Mary does to get what she wants, we have a plot driven novel.

If the emphasis is on why Mary wants to be a pro racer, and how and why she makes the decisions she does, and what she learns from her experience, we have a character driven novel.

If the emphasis is on the message, the moral or point the writer is trying to get across, (Follow your dream) we have a theme driven novel. So . . . .

Step 1 - Decide

Choose what kind of novel you want to write - plot driven, character driven, or theme driven.

Step 2 - Set Up

Where does the story take place? At what time/era? Who are the main characters and how do they all relate to one another?

Step 3 - Problem

What is the catalyst that sets the story in motion? Everything is going along just fine, just like any other day until . . . . . (fill in the blank.)

Step 4 - Conflict and Tension

Depending on the type of novel, one of three things should happen. In a plot driven novel the MC should act to solve the problem. In a character driven novel, she should think first, then act. In a theme driven novel she should do something that totally contrasts with the message the writer wants to send because she will eventually come around to the writer’s way of thinking. The object is to create opposing forces which will then create conflict and tension.

Step 5 - Foreshadowing

This should actually take place all through the novel. If the story isn’t over until the fat lady sings, we need to see her taking voice lessons in an earlier chapter.

Step 6 - Complication

The MC reacts to the original problem and resolves it (it doesn’t necessarily have to be resolved right away) but solving the problem should create another, slightly more difficult problem.

(More or Less)

This keeps happening, with each problem becoming worse than the last, and with each problem arising from the last, until the MC is up to her neck in it, and then . . . .

Step 7 - Crisis & Climax

It’s do or die time. The ultimate action must be taken. Everything is at stake for the MC and she has to make a choice. Does she go for it (whatever it is) or does she simply fade away?

Step 8 - The End

How does it all turn out? Did the MC get what she wanted? In a plot driven novel, the problem is solved. In a character driven novel, the problem is solved and the MC learns something about life or herself. In a theme driven novel the writer proves his point. (See. Honesty really is the best policy.)

Writers have been using the above method (or some derivative) for thousands of years, even before Aristotle. He just happened to be the guy who wrote the method down and brought it to everyone’s attention. If it worked for everyone else, it can work for you, too. Follow the formula and you will almost certainly end up with a logical story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end that works.


Diane Mayr said...

Great summary, Barb, especially the explanation of the three types--plot driven, character driven, theme driven. That last one always brings to mind the Berenstain Bears.

Mur said...

Super, Barb!

I'm Jet . . . said...

Nice work!

Sally said...

Thanks, Barb. Where were you when I was in English 101??