In stories, as in life, we look for patterns, structures that will help make meaning out of the random and add scaffolding to the weak areas of our and our characters’ lives. Plot often gets a bad rap as being the tool of the genre writer (as if genre is less than). Usually that’s the attitude of the “pantsers” (as in, fly by the seat of) for whom plot structure hasn’t yet become a familiar friend. Once you alight on one that works, however, just as you might find a set of routines for your daily life, plot may becomes the best thing to ever happen to your writing. Plot is, after all the winding, sinuous chord that unfurls a story into deeper mystery. It’s the transformation a character undergoes on a quest to a compelling goal. It’s the powerful moments, evoked in scene, of dramatic tension and emotion when people are confronting, exploring and facing off with wounds and villains and surprises. Plot is more than just formula–it’s the backbone that holds the body of your story up.
Combat this Common Plot Problem
The most common plot “problem” I see is that writers attempt to figure out plot events before they understand how these relate to character’s fears, flaws and desires. Plot is not a separate creature from character, but the outpouring of action that follows a character’s exploration. And, I like to reassure the pantsers, you can still bring that wild process of the unknown and discovery to writing while using a plot outline. A plot outline is merely a guide, a slender outlay inside which there is vast room to flesh things out. In learning how to plot your character’s stories–that is, to take a character on a journey from the shadows of their ordinary and unsatisfying life to the light of change and strengths the character didn’t realize were possible–you get a glimpse into your own experiences, back-story wounds, antagonists, desires and willingness to fight for change. Your stories are close to you, after all, of you, even if not literally yours.
Three Plot Paths
I’m thinking a lot about plot these days, and I hope you’ll do more than think along with me. There are three immediate opportunities for you to join me on a plot journey this month and in May, as you can see below this post. Today’s Writer’s Digest Webinar, Plot Your Story, Scene-by-Scene webinar is available as an archived recording); Earlybird discount for my popular 8 week “Plot Intensive” beginning Monday IF YOU MENTION THIS POST that allows you to learn more in a self-paced manner, and transform your writing. And there’s the transformative Plot & Scene Retreat with Martha Alderson in May, in the lush Santa Cruz Mountains. There, you’ll plot deeply at the scene level while also exploring your own personal plot and path as a writer.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for more tips from the forthcoming A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: A Toolkit to Build & Bolster a Lasting Writing Practice and Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story, Scene-by-Scene Through Action, Emotion & Theme, with Martha Alderson, “The Plot Whisperer.”
Photo by Scott Akerman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.