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Plot – What is Plot?

What is Plot?

The plot is whatever happens in a story. However, not any small event is a plot, but small events, called incidents, can become plots. It all depends how the specific event relates to the story and by the way they are presented and combined they may lead to a plot. It is something that has a significant effect on the character. The cause and the effect is what creates plot.

Generally speaking, the plot is what the characters do, feel, think or say that makes a difference to what comes afterwards. Again, words, thoughts, emotions are not necessary part of the plot. They move into the plot when they create some kind of reaction into the story, when they make a difference. Otherwise, they do not represent plot. But once a thought or action creates a significant reaction and impact in the story it becomes a plot.

What is at stake?

For a story to be important to the reader there must be something at stake, either something to be gained or something to be lost. Otherwise there is no purpose to the story and the reader will not be captivated by it. The reader needs to be convinced that what happens in the story matters immensely not only to the author but to the characters, to the society, to the world. Something must be at stake.

The plot is created through scenes. A scene is one connected and sequential action together with its embedded description and background material.

One very important aspect when it comes to creating a plot through scenes: SHOW, DON’T TELL. It means that the author must use scenes to allow the reader to understand by him/herself what is going on, rather than telling it directly.

It’s the scene that must advance the plot and demonstrate the characters.

The plot also needs to be constructed around a strong position and an opposition. This means that there must be a character that has a certain position but there must always be some kind of opposition to it. Otherwise, one without the other will bore the reader. In the same time, the two sides must be, or at least seem to be, equal in strength in the beginning. The combination of antagonistic forces must lead the reader to a question in regards to the ability of the main character to succeed. It doesn’t matter if the ending is happy (the hero wins) or sad (the hero is defeated), the scenes must be constructed around position and opposition. Simply said, struggle, conflict, dissatisfaction, aspiration and choice: these are the basis of effective plots.

How to test a story idea:

  1. Is it your story to tell? The story must have some kind of meaning to the author, otherwise it will seem fabricated and false to the reader. You must write about or integrate parts of things that you care about, things that you feel for or enjoy or despise. You must be in some way connected to the story. Is this something that I care about, something I partially understand?
  2. Is it too personal for the readers? The story must not be too personal to the author for the readers to understand. If you write about things that are extremely close to you, you may loose the reader’s attention because as a close part of the story, you see it differently and you will not be able to properly plot it. Can I work with this idea in a caring but uncompromising way to make it meaningful for somebody else?
  3. Is it going somewhere? Plot is a VERB. The story must be going somewhere, must have a meaning and not just be a pure description or telling of a fact. It must be dramatized and must result in a complete story that the reader will understand.
  4. What’s at stake? Is there something that is at stake, but not just for me, but for one of the characters?

Links:
Plot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_%28narrative%29
Show, Don’t Tell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show%2C_don%27t_tell

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