More on Plot

June 13, 2010 at 5:58 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


Continuing on from yesterday where I looked at losing the plot in the mess and lack of clarity about what the plot actually is.

For me, plot is about characters. The events are less significant than how the characters react to them. In that way, the small and insignificant can take on much greater meaning when seen through the eyes of the character and the character reactions keep driving the story forward. But that isn’t always how people see stories.

So what makes a plot interesting?

The argument about there being no new stories certainly has quite a lot of weight behind it and if there are only seven plots (though you could contest that number if you like) then how do you make your particular plot line sound new and fresh and interesting. We’ve seen from the Avatar phenomenon that just putting a coat of paint on an old idea (moving a previously explored plot to an alien world) doesn’t really work as far as stopping criticism of rip-offs, meanwhile clearly the old story worked and so people found definite enjoyment in the plot even while criticising the movie.

One of my favourite segments from Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (the television series) was when they described the basic theme of this one band’s songs. Boy meets girl who kiss near a setting sun which then promptly explodes. The way that line was delivered in the hum-drum, we’ve seen this all before, etc, etc was hilarious. How can the band continue to sell the same song over and over (though I guess many bands do this already when I think about it)? What makes a plot original and feel new?

I don’t know that anyone can actually answer that question because it is like trying to figure out what is going to be cool tomorrow. Plenty of stories that have been straight out rip-offs have become legendary while the original subject matter has faded into obscurity, meanwhile other writers get stones thrown at them because they dared to have a jealous best friend or a disgruntled worker.

What I do know is that there has to be some underlying point to the story for me to enjoy it, even if that point is only that there is no point. I know that heavily moralistic tales that feel the need to beat me over the head with the author’s values bore me. I know that every time I read a fantasy that starts with a farm boy I seriously question whether to read the next page or not. And I know that any book with a dragon in it will at least get my attention for a little while regardless of how bad the rest of the story may be.

Share your thoughts – what makes a good plot?

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12 Comments

  1. Alex Willging said,

    I love that bit from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams (may he rest in peace) was a comedic genius.

    I think a good plot needs to be engaging. If we’re given a premise at the beginning, then we need to see that premise either fulfilled, reconsidered, or completely negated by the end. And if a character does something, then it should have implications for the rest of the plot, even if it only happens within the context of one scene. Letting things hang after they’ve been introduced has always been a pet peeve of mine. Subsequently, I’m a big fan of using Chekhov’s Gun in my stories.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Yes, if there is a gun on the wall it must be fired by the end.

      Though, I must admit I like a few mysteries still to be revealed so that the reader has something that they can continue to ponder or wonder after the fact – as long as the main plot ties itself up.

  2. Talli Roland said,

    For me, it’s something that needs to build up, raise the stakes and keep things moving forward in a way that makes sense to the reader. I like to see characters evolve through whatever happens, too.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Character evolution is a must for me as well. They don’t need to do a complete turn-around but they have to be affected in some wy by the events in the story.

  3. AlexJ said,

    I think you already mentioned what makes plots different – the characters. While there’s only so many basic plots, there’s millions of different characters.

  4. awriterswayoflife said,

    I agree with everything listed above…I dislike unresolved issues in story lines…

    For myself, going through the process of writing a book, I find it to be very character driven. Once I’ve figured out the characters–in particular, my main character and her ‘main issue’–the story just seems to unroll at my feet like a carpet. She has to take this step which lead to the next step which leads to the next step…and so on. It just feels natural.

    I’ve also found that when I put my characters together, because of their personalities they are going to do and say certain things, react certain ways…and that also turns the plot forward.

    Great post!
    Julie Johnson
    busywriting.wordpress.com

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      That sounds very much like what I do in the early planningstages. Put a cast together and see how they react.

  5. Wilson Wyatt said,

    Plot is all about the “action” of a story…meaning the event that changes the life of the character(s). In ways, “action” can mean change. While it may be true that all stories have already been told…it’s also true that we all have stories to tell, and they are different. I think the key issue to a writer is to tell a story in a way that touches the rest of us, as readers. Stories need to relate images and feelings of others in order to be interesting and memorable. A writer needs to identify his/her audience, even while writing…unless, of course, one is writing for themselves.

  6. Raquel Byrnes said,

    I think you’re on to something with the whole character drives the plot idea. I mean how different would Die Hard Be, admittedly a derivative plot, if the main character wasn’t John McCain, but John Lennon…or a ballerina?

    But I think that plot also drives the characters. It is the fire that burns away the chaff and renders the character down to their most base self. Fighter, coward, merciful or vengeful.

    The combination of the two very unique ingredients; your original character, and the plot, that make the magic potion of a great story.

  7. Writer Links – Characters, Characters, and More Characters « Leith Literary said,

    […] ♥ another look at Bowl of Oranges’ hilarious ways to annoy a rookie writer, ♥ what makes even a derivative plot interesting, and ♥ how to clarify your plot by reducing it to a single […]

  8. agatha82 said,

    Ah! What a great post to stumble upon. I am currently re-working my novel plot as I found it got lost along the way. I found myself bored with the story, it was dragging and taking too long to get somewhere, then I came upon “Once” by James Herbert, one of my fave writers and I not only read the book but decided to take notes on my reaction to it and I found that I could not wait to find out what happened next and he really made me care about his characters, plus, he made sure to tie in all the loose ends so you were not left with thinking “and what happened to so and so?” Having analysed a novel that I enjoyed, helped me with my own novel and made me see what a good plot is.
    P.S I adore Douglas Adams…the man was a genius!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Very few people would disagree that Douglas Adams was incredible. There is definitely something about his writing.

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