Rule #4

Somewhere in the middle of North Island, New Zealand
Random photo from the archives, because every post deserves a nice picture.

Gotta have a plot.

I know, I know! What does plot matter if the characters move you? Or the settings are so intriguing you fall in love with a place that doesn’t exist?

For small works, I think a plot-less story may satisfy a reader. It may even satisfy a great many readers, but, at least for me, if a story doesn’t have a plot, I lose interest after some time. I end up begging myself, and the author, but what’s my hero after or what’s after my hero?

Having trouble with plot? Try summarizing your story’s plot in a few short sentences. Like this (from Pixar’s 22 storytelling rules):

Once upon a time, there was ____________. Every day, ____________. One day, ____________. Because of that, ____________. Because of that, ____________. Until finally, ____________.

That is, of course, an over simplification, but you should be able to apply this summary technique for every story in existence (except for plot-less stories, I guess). Let’s try it on my defunct novel.

Once upon a time, there was a zoographer living in Spain. Every day, he worked and saved his money for the chance to win the heart of a married woman. One day, the church sends him into the mountains to hunt for a winged demon. Because of that, his family is put into jeopardy. Because of that, he learns a thing or two about himself. Until finally, he changes his priorities and saves the lives of innocents.

Okay, maybe I should have done something like this before I finished my book, but though I had to leave out a lot of details, I think it still works. What do you think? What tools do you use to formulate your story plot?

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26 thoughts on “Rule #4

  1. Plot is very important. To me, anyway. It’s the main reason why I stopped reading Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I loved the world and characters, but after maybe five or so books, nothing happened to move the story forward. So yes, let’s hear it for plot!

    1. Yeah, I stopped reading the WOT series for the same reason. It just wasn’t going anywhere. I’m sure it ended satisfactorily for its fans, but I couldn’t quite get there.

      I’m thinking this “rule” of Pixar’s is more akin to story arc, rather than plot (now that I think about it some more), but they are intertwined, so…yes! Hooray for plot! 🙂

  2. I think we need to strike a balance between plot and character. In one direction a book feels soulless, swing too far in the other direction and a book feels directionless. I wonder why we feel the need to polarise our writing and why we feel we can’t/shouldn’t give equal weight to both?

    1. I agree. Balance is key. Though I think one can be emphasized over the other, depending on the sort of story one wants to tell, both character and plot are equally important in a story. With that said, I’m sure there are exceptions! 🙂

  3. I’m a big fan on plot, probably a little out of balance towards plot. Like Green, I don’t like the rambling, “let’s generate sub-plots and characters” as fast as we can ‘epic’ fiction. For me epic fiction means, the fantasy elements of the world matter to the plot and resolution of that plot will change the world in a material way, not millions of words for the sake of enjoying the setting.

    As to how I plot, to date I’ve focused on a 3 Act structure with a clear ending and 2 clear act-endings. I also like to kick it off in the middle of things. I think my plots have been pretty strong as far as they go but what hasn’t been working for me is the creation of gripping characters.

    So now I’m trying this Deep Story Technique that focuses on character goals, flaw, relationship barriers, black moment and realization. This gets mapped into 3-4 turning points. The turning points are very similar to the Act endings but by building those up from the character flaws and the character interrelationships, I think it will help address my weaknesses on the character front.

    Anyway, I think it will help take my writing to the next level but we’ll see.

    1. I’d be interested in hearing more of your DST. Is there a book you can point me to?

      I, too, like plot. I forever complicate it. Sometimes I have to force myself to dial it back. The thing is that my plotting sucks. I always get my characters in impossible situations (which is good), but I can’t ever figure out a clever way to get them out! (very bad) Maybe focusing on character will help with that?

  4. Really useful tips. As said above, I think one needs a balance between plot and character. For some writers, characters emerge out of plotting. For others, plot emerges out of the characters. Ultimately, I think it’s important to try to give the reader something they can take away from reading your story, a lesson, an insight, etc. I think purely plot-driven stories tend to lack this element, and while the story might be highly entertaining, it will be just that: entertainment. Consumed and forgotten.

    1. Hey Learco! Finally got away from your studies? Just so you can come here and talk about writing? 😉

      That does happen. I can enjoy a heavy, plot driven story, but I do tend to forget them quickly.

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