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 Plotting

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PostSubject: Plotting   Sat Dec 07, 2013 12:38 pm

Hi All,

Here are a few tips on how to plot your story in line with tomorrow's chat.

Tips for Plotting: How to Create a Fascinating Plot for Your Story

Steve Thompson, Yahoo Contributor Network
Dec 29, 2006




Fictional plots are sometimes difficult to conceive, but once you understand the formula, creating interesting and exciting plots for your stories will become second nature. The key to successful plotting is answering questions because that is what a story is based on. When you first read a book, several questions are posed through the exposition and through dialogue, the majority of which are not answered until the last chapter. As the author, however, you will need to know the answers before you even begin writing.

Following are fourteen questions that you should ask yourself before you begin writing a novel or a short story. They will provide the basis for your plot, which can be as simple or as complex as you'd like. Obviously, a short story will be less complicated than a novel, but the majority of adult fiction has at least one main plot and at least one minor subplot.

Question #1: Who is your main character?

This is the person from whose point of view your story is told. The reader will root for this character above all the others, and his or her hopes, dreams, problems and conflicts should be at the forefront of your story. Before you begin writing, make sure that you have a flesh-and-blood idea of who this person is, from physical characteristics to personality to identifiable traits.

Question #2: Who are the protagonists?

In some stories, your main character will be the only protagonist, though most adult novels have several protagonists who all work together for the common good. Under this question, you might list friends or family members of the main character or even colleagues at his or her job. These are people who will help the main character to achieve his or her goals or to overcome problems and conflict presented by the antagonist.

Question #3: Who is the antagonist?

The antagonist is the villain of the piece, the person or thing which the reader will come to despise. The antagonist can be a person, a disease or even a thing, but it must be formidable in order for your story to have adequate conflict. In many cases, the antagonist is even more well-developed than the main character because it is the antagonist that your main character must overcome in order to succeed.

Question #4: What are the main character's goals?

This is the substance of your plot -- the reason for writing your story. The main character must have a goal, a purpose, a need that he or she pursues through the breadth of the story. For example, maybe your main character is trying to become the President of the U.S. Or maybe he or she is battling an ancient monster that lives in the Atlantic Ocean. The possibilities are endless, but your main character's personality and abilities must correspond to his or her problem -- success must be attainable, but difficult.

Question #5: What happens if the main character fails?

The other side of the main character's goals is the consequences of failure. What if he or she does not get elected President or is killed by the monster? Your reader needs to know that failure will result in dire consequences, which is why the reader is rooting so emphatically for your main character. In some cases, the consequences will be life or death, and sometimes they won't. However, the consequences must be sufficiently vital to maintain the reader's interest.

Question #6: How will the other protagonists assist the main character?

Your protagonists (other than the main character) must be working toward a common goal. Maybe your protagonists are your main character's campaign team, or perhaps they are a group of friends who have banded together against the evil Atlantic monster. Whatever the case, they must play a part in assisting the main character with his or her success.

Question #7: How does the main character attempt to achieve his or her goals?

There is nothing more unsatisfying in a story than a main character who succeeds through sheer luck. The trials and efforts of the main character must bring about the final success, and must be both heroic and shocking. Your readers will be let down if your main character fails miserably just as they will be let down if he or she succeeds just because of chance. Make sure that your main character's efforts create suspense and excitement.

Question #8: What will the antagonist do to thwart the main character's efforts?

In every good story, there is always conflict, which is generated by the antagonist. The antagonist wants nothing more than to see your valiant main character lose, so what will he or she (or it) do to further the opposing agenda? And how will the main character respond?

Question #9: How will the main character respond to the antagonist?

No good story ends with one valiant try and success; there must be more to the story. Just when it seems that the main character is going to accomplish his or her goals, the antagonist must set the wheels in motion for what looks to be inevitable failure. At that point, the main character must step up his or her game and make another effort to achieve his or her goals.

Question #10: How does the main character deal with impending failure?

In addition to the conflict created by the antagonist, there must also be an inward struggle demonstrated by the main character. He or she must be conflicted about the right versus the wrong thing to do, or to what lengths he or she is willing to go to achieve certain goals or needs. This is often referred to as the "Black Moment", when the reader is cheering the main character on but may also be frustrated by his or her inward thoughts. You want the reader to question whether or not the main character has what it takes.

Question #11: How does the main character finally succeed?

This is the climax to your story, the much-awaited high point of your plot. What does the main character finally do to pull off what he or she has been attempting from the very beginning? Sometimes this is success disguised as failure, and sometimes it is obvious achievement, but your climax must be both believable and exciting.

Question #12: What happens to the antagonist?

Part of the relief and satisfaction the reader will obtain is from whatever you make happen to the antagonist. Not only must the main character win, but the villain must also lose -- sometimes tragically. In dark stories, the antagonist might die or suffer a nearly-fatal wound. This is entirely up to you, but you'll need to satisfy your readers.

Question #13: What happens to the main character and the protagonist?

It is never enough to say that everyone "lived happily ever after", nor is it logical. Throughout the course of your story, your main character and/or protagonists have likely suffered, and they will have to deal with what has happened for the rest of their lives. Do they simply go back to their families and move on or do they rally together for a sequel to your story? Readers want to know what happens to the characters to whom they have grown close over the course of your story.

Question #14: What is the theme of your story?

Some fictional works have obvious themes, while others are discretely buried. Whatever the case, you must make sure that you reader walks away with whatever lesson or idea you've wanted to impart. Sometimes this is stated blatantly at the end while it can be sprinkled throughout the story; read back over to make sure you have adequately summarized your theme at some point in the work.

Now that you have answered these questions, you are ready to write your story. This can be in place of or a supplement for your outline, depending on how you prefer to work, and as you write your story, feel free to make adjustments to the plot. When you've gotten to know your characters and their situations during the actual writing, you might discover a new subplot or two that fits in well with your main plot. You can use an abbreviated version of this list of questions for any subplots you decide to construct.
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PostSubject: Re: Plotting   Sat Dec 07, 2013 12:42 pm

THE TOP TEN PLOTTING PROBLEMS:

http://www.aliciarasley.com/10prob.htm

copyright 1998 by Alicia Rasley

10. Backstory Blunders: The past is prologue, for sure, but you can tell too much too soon, if everything about the characters' past is explained right upfront in Chapter One. (Click here for more discussion of this topic.)

9. Boring Beginnings: If you have to rely on your readers' patience while you get the story set up, you're likely to lose most of them. Start where the protagonist's problem starts, or just before that, and feed in the backstory later. This is the MTV era-- people don't like to wait. Be especially wary of books that start with the protagonist on a journey, thinking about what awaits her at the destination. Editors frequently mention that as an example of a boring opening. It helps to decide what your major story questions are and make sure those are posed in the first few chapters-- at least one should be posed in Chapter One.

8. Limping to a Conclusion: You don't want the reader to think you ended the book just because you ran out of paper. Make the ending a conclusive one, reinforcing the themes of the book and the progress of the protagonist. (Click here for more discussion of this topic.)

7. Sagging Middle: The middle has to do more than just fill up the space between beginning and end. It should be a time of "rising conflict" where the protagonist is tested up to (and perhaps beyond) the limits of his ability-- a time to develop the internal and external conflicts and show how they influence the protagonist's actions. It should set up the great crisis/climax/resolution that will bring the novel to a close. So when you're starting the middle, think of how the protagonist can be challenged. What external plot events can make his internal conflict impossible to ignore any longer? How can that internal conflict impede his/her progress towards the goal? If there's an antagonist, how does the antagonist's reaction affect the protagonist's progress?

6. Tumors and Parasites-- The cast of thousands: Secondary characters are distinguished from major characters-- the protagonist(s) and the antagonist usually-- by their lack of a story journey. That is, they exist to make things happen in the plot, but their own conflicts and issues shouldn't be part of the story. (If they're that interesting, let them star in the sequel.) Every person with a story journey (described progress towards a significant change in their life) dilutes the impact of the major characters' journey. In some books (family sagas, for example), this can work. But in most protagonist-centered popular fiction, tracking the secondary characters' lives and loves is going to waste time and confuse the reader. Watch out for long passages in a secondary character's viewpoint which dwell on his problems and not on the protagonist. And keep count of how many subplots you've got-- make sure each one supports the main plot in some way. WebMania!


5. Plodding Pacing: Pacing is primarily a function of how many cause-effect related events happen in the book. But that doesn't mean that effective pacing depends on shoving a lot of events into the story. Selection is key. What events are essential? What supporting events are needed to set up those essential events (aka "turning points")? Are all the events of the plot related causally-- that is, does the discovery of the letter in chapter 2 set up the release of the imprisoned protagonist in Chapter 4, and eventually the capture of the villain in the climax? Make sure every scene has at least one event that affects the main plot-- that way the readers can't skip without missing something important.

4. What a Coincidence!: Coincidence is fun in real life. But it's death to good fiction. Fiction is about cause and effect, and there's no cause and effect when the central elements of your plot happen by coincidence. It's often hard, however, to identify coincidence in your own story, so be ruthless. Look at the chain of events. Which would be unlikely to happen unless you the author made it happen? How likely is it that in a city of 7 million, your judge protagonist would just happen to get the embezzling case of the man she thinks was responsible for the hit-and-run killing of her mother? Not very. To fix coincidence without losing the event, make it happen because of character decision and action, and watch your characters grow into strength and purpose. That judge doesn't just happen to get the case; she seeks it, determined to avenge her mother's death. Now that's a lot more fun than coincidence, because the conflict is now not just an accident, but the result of this character's need for vengeance over justice.

3. Conflicts about Conflict: Conflict is the fuel that powers the plot and forces the characters into action. Without it you might have a nice slice of life portrait, or a great character sketch... but you don't really have a story. Problem is, conflict is volatile, and many of us avoid it in our plotting as we avoid it in our lives. But just as children need discipline to grow, characters need adversity to change. And fiction is, at base, about change. Popular fiction is usually about change in the protagonist. No one changes without a good reason to change-- that's where conflict comes in. Quite simply, you have an authorial duty to provide conflict for your characters so that they will learn to change-- and that means determining how they need to change. Linking conflict to character change will revitalize your story, and avoid the problems of serial conflict (where what looks like the book conflict wraps up in Chapter 3, to be replaced by another conflict) and incoherent conflict (where the conflict has nothing to do with who this character is or what she needs).


2. Structural Weaknesses: Many a good story is sunk by a weak structure: a hidden protagonist (the readers can't tell early whose story this is), meandering setups, mispresented conflict, rushed climaxes, incoherence between the protagonist and the plot (the main character doesn't have much to do with the main plot, or this person would never do what the plot requires him to do). Much of this derives from a misunderstanding of the purpose of structure. It's not a prison, chaining you to a "formula", it's a map to help you and your readers explore the issues you're developing with this story. Learning structure can teach you when to modify it and when to branch out on your own. The key to structure, in my opinion, is understanding the concept of the story questions-- the question or problem your opening poses, and the events which combine to create the answer. (Click here for more discussion of this topic.)

1. Whose Story Is This, Anyway? The Plight of the Protagonist: The biggest single plot problem I see in my judging, editing, and critiquing is actually a character problem: the passive or undermotivated protagonist-- that is, a protagonist who is not truly involved in causing the plot to unfold. Beware of the victim-protagonist (bad things happen to him, and he suffers a lot), the passive protagonist (he witnesses the plot events, but he doesn't participate), the bumbling protagonist (he acts, but stupidly, without learning from his mistakes). The central character doesn't have to be likeable (though it helps) or (god forbid) without faults, but he does have to be motivated enough to act and encounter obstacles and change in response to plot events. Ideally, the protagonist should be involved in nearly every event, and his decisions and actions should drive the plot. You might make a list of all the major plot events, and beside each note the protagonist's contribution. Is each action or decision or choice motivated? (The motivation doesn't have to be laudable, but should derive from who he is and what he wants.) Does each action have some effect on the plot? And finally, does each action-event dynamic contribute to an ultimate change in the protagonist?

Here's a final thought that might help you plot: One primary purpose of the plot is to force the protagonist to change, usually by recognizing and overcoming some internal conflict. Know your character, and you'll figure out your plot. Conversely, know your plot, and you'll find the character who needs that sequence of events for internal growth.

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