Sometimes plots can grow organically, just moving from one scene to the next. But if you'd like to know about the problems of plotting, or would like to get a better handle on it, maybe this is the time to actually examine what a plot is and how to put one together. This is the subject of BookMarc #9.
Plot - Part 1 of 4 parts
The basic plot of a novel is someone wants something and strives to attain it. This want could be the reason for start of the novel. A young person goes to New York to become an actor. Or the opening story conditions could create the want. A woman meets a man and wants to connect with him. A man returns to a parking garage to find it closed with his car locked inside. This actually happened to me and is the premise for If They Ask for a Hand, Only Give Them a Finger, read a couple of chapters by by clicking http://sidewalkbooks.com/A4H%20Sidewalk.htm or you can listen to a complete podcast at http://www.podiobooks.com/title/if-they-ask" if you wish--free for the listening. If you go, let me know what you think. A little commercial there.
But the want could be anything except sitting in front of a TV and drinking beer for three hundred pages. Hmmm?
Also, the want must propel our Other-Self into action. Our Other-self because we said characterization is an indispensable part of our story. We need our readers to care about our protagonist, to identify with him/her so that the character becomes our reader's Other-self. Lets call him/her Oself for brevity. It also allows us to drop the awkward "his/her" business.
The simplest way I can describe a plot-line is for Oself to be standing at the base of a mountain with a want to get to the top. The desire for climbing Plot-line Mountain could be, as we said, anything. The pure joy of standing at the top. A love object waiting there. A pointer to the Holy Grail.
Whatever it is, winning the mountaintop must be the upmost thing in Oself's mind until either the goal is reached, or Oself is defeated. Or until is it replaced by something more important, like saving a life or winning a love, which then becomes the new mountaintop.
But if winning the mountaintop isn't Oself's most desperate need, if it's just a lark and Oself doesn’t really care, why should the reader care?
Okay, the most obvious way for Oself to get to the top is to hop in a Humvee, yank the sucker into four-wheeling, and plow straight up the mountain side. Big whoop. How boring. Since there is no conflict here, we're back to sitting in front of the TV for three hundred pages.
So what we must do is to put someone in Oself's way. Can you say antagonist? This is the snarling beast from hell who is against us just because we are really nice guys, good looking, stout-hearted, brilliant, brave, and humble. Oh yeah. And the beast could be a man, woman, Satan, the Gods, fate, the weather, or the mountain itself. The beast could even be the doubt that lingers in Oself's own mind.
The beast is that which must be overcome to stand at the pinnacle and gaze down beatifically upon the world. And it must always remain in doubt whether Oself is going to make it or not. In fact, failure may be Oself's fate. What matters in plot, unlike football, is not whether Oself wins or loses, but how well Oself plays the game.
And on the way to the top Oself must continually face obstacles and overcome them, growing stronger mentally if not physically. We all want to be a winner. So each time Oself scales another barrier, showing guts, tenacity and ingenuity--traits we all believe we have in our best selves--the more intense is the reader's desire to see Oself succeed.
Keep going. I’m in your corner. Your stomach is ripped open and your intestines are hanging out, both your legs are broken, an arm as well, you lost one eye and a bomb burst your ear drums, but in spite of it all, Mr. Lucky, I know you can make it.
The more our readers identify with Oself, the more they are glued to the page.
Having said that, we need to mention in Part 2 that the difficulties we put in the way must vary in intensity, occasionally break in protagonist's favor, and, above all, be logical.
And remember: It's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading Easy Reading Writing than to curse the darkness of rejections. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on: http://www.elderhostelmysteries.com/ERW002
Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998.
Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: http://www.sidewalkbooks.com and the James P. Dandy Elderhostel mysteries at: