Saturday, March 17, 2007

On Plot

In my experience beginning writers are usually stronger in one of two aspects of storytelling. The first is characters and character development. This is the kind of story driven by people, their choices, and what they do with their situations. While I love this story (and in honesty, this is probably my stronger side too), I also recognize the problems it can pose.
When writing a character driven story, it’s very easy to get lost. Sometimes the character won’t have any idea what they should do next, and you won’t know what you want to happen because “The character is supposed to tell me.” Sorry, Charlie, even characters get stumped sometimes. That’s why, as the creator of this world, you owe it to your characters to be a student of the second side of storytelling, which is plot.

A plot driven story is only a little bit different, but it’s amazing how much trouble it can cause some people. The plot driven story is about events that happen in your world, and how your characters respond to them.
Think about some of your favorite fictions. Usually the powerful stories, the ones that stick with us, are the results of impossible events. Whether it is an addictive ring of power and the war its owner starts, the imbalance of the force in the universe, or the bite of a radioactive spider, events happen and then drive the characters to their destiny.
So how do you write stories like this? The answer is a simple shift in mindset. It will feel awkward at first, as most new things do, but in the end it will increase your ability to write, character OR plot, with a new outlook.

Try this exercise. Sit down to write (which you should be doing every day and preferably around the same time) and make a list of major events. You can either make them up or just record actual ones. Make them disastrous, because disaster is ALWAYS easier to write. Once you’ve done that, think of a character that this event would affect deeply. Start out with a template, like a job or a relationship, and then build from there. Decide exactly what you want to happen with your disaster in detail. If it’s a building collapsing, figure out which floor goes first, where the pipes break, and whatever affect this will have on your character. After you’ve got the stages of trouble all set on paper, then and only then, start figuring out how your character will respond to it. Then start writing. Voila, you have a plot driven story. Congratulations, and be sure to save what you write.

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