As I’ve taught (and learned to write) plot over the years, I’ve come to see writers make several similar and false assumptions that creates much more work for themselves as writers. Here are five myths about writing plot, and their answers to help you head them off at the pass.
Also! Join me for #Plotchat this week on #twitter, Wednesday July 10, at 12pm Pacific Time (3pm EST). You ask plot questions, I answer.
- MYTH #1: Plot is just a string of events that a character travels through, kind of like a literary obstacle course. I can add events at will, so long as they’re flashy or twisty.
TRUTH #1: Plot is a character’s journey of transformation; those “events” are not an obstacle course, but personal obstacles in the form of antagonists and challenges of a psychological, physical, and spiritual nature to get your character to a compelling end goal of discovery and change. Each plot event must deepen your character, further your story, and provide compelling tension.
- MYTH #2:You need a lot of sub-plots to hold a reader’s interest.
TRUTH #2: NO! If your main plot, the engine that drives a character toward compelling goals and change is strong, you’ll find you have little need to manufacture sub-plots; they’ll arise organically or be unnecessary.
- MYTH #3: Plots are built on Big, Epic action.
TRUTH #3: Let’s return to our main understanding of what a Plot is: A plot is a character’s journey of transformation, i.e. discovery or change. A character starts out in an unstable place and journeys toward some kind of stability (even if he/she doesn’t end up stable, the story is the search for it). You don’t need car crashes or fights atop building, dragons or wrestling matches; Characters should wrestle with inner demons, inter-personally, creating powerful inner drama as well as external action.
- MYTH #4: It’s important to explain a lot of information in a plot, in exposition, so the reader understands what’s happening.
TRUTH #4: You don’t build a plot by explaining what has or will happened (back-story, telegraphing). You build a plot by writing strong scenes, in which a character demonstrates and discovers new “information”—another clue in the puzzle piece of your story’s mystery.
- MYTH #5: I don’t need to worry about structure when writing a plot. I can plot by the seat of my pants.
TRUTH #5. A rare few writers can write a plot from start to finish without any sort of outline. But the more writers I work with of ALL levels of craft, the more certain I’ve become that some form of outline, from the loosest, most narrative, organic version, to the most structured, will save a writer much time. Writers are often afraid that a plot outline, or plot structure, will kill the creativity or erode their ability to discover. And I can assure you, that is not the case. Plot structure is merely a blueprint for a world that you will still create in your own individual way.
The Plot Intensive returns August 19. 8 weeks online. Change the way you understand and handle plotting. Earlybird discount through July 30th. www.jordanrosenfeld.net/online-classes.