One of my goals, when I laid out my most recent writing plan (Along with 7k a week and a chapter of revision), was to make a dent in some of the writing advice books I have. One of the habits I’ve never quite dropped from school is highlighting, at least electronically, the parts that resonate with me. A refresher is always nice, even on stuff I know already, and I learn something new almost every time.
Notes below are from The Art of Plotting, by Linda J Cowgill. It’s more aimed at screenwriting, but my focus this week was plot, and movies are far more focused on plot than your average book (Certain genres excluded).
“Plot is not just A happens, B happens, and C happens. It’s A happens and causes B to result, which in turn causes C, etc. The cause/effect relationship between scenes push the story action forward, as well as ensure that we understand the fundamental meaning of the action, because we can see the connections between the scenes. We don’t just see what is happening, but also why.”
“A choice has a cost, something the character forsakes or sacrifices in order to get what he wants. … Let the audience see the character struggle with the moral dilemma of acting for oneself or for others, and it brings a deeper complexity to the plot…”
In discussing why an otherwise good story didn’t work/resonate:”They weren’t dramatically connected by specific cause-and-effect actions…The scenes didn’t build in a chain of events to make the important points… Cause and effect connections.”
“When the characters, especially the protagonist, don’t react to the dramatic consequences, the audience won’t react either. We have to know the event is important, and the character’s strong emotional response tells us.”
“Although we don’t want the final climax to be predictable, it must still feel inevitable. It is the end result of all the action; the forces coming together in a final clash, giving us a result that proves the story’s premise. Everything has been leading to this moment. The audience has to feel that, given everything that’s happened in the plot up to this point, it’s the only way the story could have turned out. It’s fate.”
All that is to get to this point: Plot is intertwined with the character arc. One flaw I see in a lot of books (No, not yours, you egocentric people. I have a few published novels in mind here.), is that while a lot happens, we don’t always get the MC’s reaction, nor do we see their struggle to choose. It feels like a chain of events just HAPPEN to them. They aren’t having any effect on their destiny, until the very, very end if we’re lucky. It makes it hard to feel like the story has an arc of it’s own, and especially when the book is part of a series, it can lose the reader. If we emphasize those moments where the plot could change directions, and the character CHOSES to take it the way it goes, then it takes the novel up beyond the average.
How then, do you figure out a plot? Ah, that, my dears, is a longer post. And you’ll get it next week. 😉