Plotting the Plot

Plot and character go hand in hand no matter how you look at it. Why is this? It’s because a plot is the direct result of an event (or many) happening to your characters and how they react to it/them. Think of it like this: After you’ve created Character X and can put yourself in his shoes and therefore know his inner workings (hopes, dreams, goals, etc.), you can figure out how he would react to an event. For example: Sally is a nice girl who has lived in high society her entire life and hasn’t had to lift a finger to do anything. Sally is driving to the mall in her Porsche and all of a sudden BAM! Her tire blows. Would she get out to fix the problem? No! She would sit in the driver’s seat and fret that the pair of stilettos that would go perfectly with her outfit is going to be sold before she can get to them. What does she do now? She would probably call her dad or her boyfriend to come fix her tire so she can go get the shoes! Now we have a plot and two plot points. The plot points are that 1) her tire blew, and 2) she has to call someone to fix it for her.

Plot is all about the characters. How they react to events–but also how they react to people. Let’s say that Sam, a long-time friend of Sally just so happens to drive by and recognizes her car on the side of the road. Since he knows Sally and likes her, he would pull over and see if she’s okay. What happens now is up to you: is Sally upset? Is she peeved? Is she scared? You would know the answer to this since you are the one who created her. If she were upset, she might fling herself into Sam’s arms and cry that her tire had blown. If she were mad–how DARE the tire to blow on her!–she would probably snap at Sam and demand that he fix the tire.

This example is for a character based plot that is spiderwebbing towards all sorts of endings (I say this because as of right now, you wouldn’t know exactly how Sally would react and interact with others). She could be so grateful to Sam, she goes on a date, falls in love, and marries him; He could be so hurt by her remarks, he might just leave her on the side of the road. This type of plot making is great for you writers who like to sit down and write non-stop, letting it flow. You may have a general idea of what you want, but you let the characters decide.

I tend to use a more structured approach and have a detailed account of what I want to happen. Character X will come across this and do that which will lead to this and that, etc. However, since I use a less flexible way of forming the plot, I have to be sure that I have characters that would react to the events in the way I want them to. I wouldn’t want an anti-cat person fall in love with a cat-lover unless I was planning on having that character change. It is never wise to have a character do something out of character. If you have a plot in which a young woman is always subjected to her family’s whims when it comes to ideas, you wouldn’t have that character be strong-willed. You would have her be insecure and unsure of herself so that she WOULD be subjected to her family’s whims.

Now that you know your characters inside and out, you can begin to make a plot. What do you want to happen? Do you want Character X to fall in love with Character B? Okay. How? Well, he’s going to do this, which will lead to that, etc. The plot is all up to you and your characters. Let them lead you through the story–it’s about them, anyway! A fun thing that I like to do as an exercise is have any two characters that I have developed and pit them against any one random event while interacting with the other, even if they would never be subjected to the event or other character in the story you created them for.

The key to a working plot is to listen to your characters and let them be themselves.

Thanks for reading!

Categories: Fiction/Non-Fiction Writing, For Your Journey | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Plotting the Plot

  1. I have a book on my desk called Building Better Plots by Robert Kernen. I refer to this regularly when roughing in my story outlines. Particularly there is a section on Plot Archetypes that I find helpful for applying to characters. As example applying a genertal Betrayal archetype to an antagonist and a Revenge archetype to a protagonist. It seems to help me focus on driving the over all story arch through chracterization.

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