Plots: The Way I See Them

Disclaimer: I receive no compensation for any reference material I list.

Last time I wrote about the magic If and how it pertains to World-building. While writing that section, it came to me I don’t have the same process for any series, book, or possibly even a chapter in a book I write. For me, it has always been about storytelling.

I tend to do many steps at once, in no particular order. What works for me might drive you nuts. That is the beauty of storytelling in any media. There is no one correct way to the finished product. There is no one perfect finished product.

As with most, we learn the rules so we know how or why to break them. These are not really rules, just thoughts on Plot I have gathered over the years.

My thoughts on writing have been shaped by my years of creating theatre. Many of the ideas come from theatre theorists not necessarily writing theorists. I think of the lessons as a salad bar, take what you want, what works for you and bypass the rest. Only you will ever know what works for you.

Aristotle, in his thesis on Poetics, wrote a checklist of what he thought made good theatre… specifically tragedy or what we might consider drama; this is how he saw it. Written around 335BC as a repudiation of his teacher’s work on Theatre written by Plato. The work centered on what he thought was the important parts of a good play among other things. Many of the things make little sense now, like the Unities, but some still hold true today.

I will not go over the entire work, but I do suggest you check out the cliffs notes on the title since it is the earliest surviving theoretical piece on theatre and the foundation for much of what we do as authors.

According to Aristotle; plot is quite simply the most important part of a story. Plot is the series of actions that takes the story from the beginning, middle, and finally to the end.

One of the keywords I like to think of when plotting is ACT. The ACTors ACT taking ACTions through the ACTs of the story to move the plot along with the ACTivity keeping readers or listeners ACTivated and engaged with ACTual or at least possible situations. In my opinion, the plot should take out as much of the boring stuff as possible.

When I say action, I don’t mean blowing stuff up, it can be actions, of body or brain, internal or external, it is a chain of events that starts at the beginning and runs through the story to the last action. There can be subplots and red herrings along the way, but there should be one thread from the inciting incident to the final action. I also suggest it doesn’t matter which theory of dramatic action you incorporate into your story’s DNA.

Progressive plot, Episodic plots, Parallel plot, or even the hero’s tale as examples. They all need at least one thread to pull the story along to the conclusion.

This fits in with a number of theories on dramatic structure, including the five-act structure as discussed by Gustav Freytag when he studied Greek and Shakespearean drama. I am not going to bore you with the theory you probably learned it in high school. Take some time and go back, look over the thoughts on the pyramid of dramatic action, it might make more sense now that you are an author.

Even if you are using episodic plots, each mini-climax will have a rising and falling action. It all works together to make a whole.

One more reference book and I will finish. In 1983 David Ball wrote a book on Literary Analysis called Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays. It is a wonderful sourcebook, in particular the section where he speaks about triggers and heaps, or to use more common words cause and effects will help you find the plot holes any story might have.

The practice is simple enough, read the story from the last action to the first, and you should be able to plot the cause and effect from the Inciting Incident to the final death… if that is the last action of the story. If you are concerned with filling those plot holes, this will force you to look at your connections differently. If you have to cut words from your manuscript, this will help show the things you should not cut at all, or you might open a plot hole large enough to sink your story.

These are, of course, just suggestions concerning the plot. There is more than one way to write a story, I don’t plot every story I write, but when I write the story without a written roadmap, I still need to be concerned with the overall plot of my story, or it will be doomed to fail, or worse, be boring.

Thanks for listening, I hope this helps. Next time I will talk about Characters, main, secondary, and all the others that might make an Author go crazy.

One last thought, if stuck in a scene, and you’re not sure where you want to go, think of action words you need the scene to push through.

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