What is Plot? Baby, Don’t Hurt Me.

a39d3be0a3edc721c6e72181a30a9e42Plot is the way the story moves forward. Not backward, but forward. Too often plot seems a bit circuitous, wrapping around to meet itself again later in the novel, but by then you’re too confused as a reader to follow it, or you don’t care anymore. It’s called getting “cute” with the plot, and only writers like J.K. Rowling can constantly get away with it. As a writer I love plot because it gives me the ability to influence these characters’ worlds, to play a kind of god figure who has control over everything.

I like setting the plot before I begin writing the story, mapping out where I want my characters to end up, and then drawing a line to get them there. It’s admittedly old school, and sometimes the plot takes a divergence from the prescribed path because it takes on a mind of its own. I love it when that happens, but I don’t confuse it with me just getting scattered, or just being tired, and letting things wander. I ask myself:

Does the plot divergence still stick with the thematic elements I’ve set up?

Does the plot divergence help to define character motivations?

If both of those answers is “yes” then I go with it, and I thank god that I’ve been given a muse that can create those situations and meld them so well to the story as I had initially outlined it. For example, I’m working on my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and my plot leans on the turn of the seasons. I start the novel in winter, and I was set to finish it in autumn, so that it completed the circle of a year, but as I’ve been creating the narrative it is telling me to finish at the end of summer instead. It helps my character development, and it moves my plot along at a faster pace, which keeps interest level up.

It’s a win-win.

And I love these characters too. Some writers tend to have setting-driven plots, while others prefer character-driven ones. I’ve always been a character-driven kind of guy, preferring a rich cast of characters to a lushly written scene setting masterpiece. That’s not to say I don’t focus on setting, because I do, but it’s clearly second in my hierarchy of developing the plot and moving it along. Interactions between characters tend to move my plot along, and that’s no different in this new novel.

I’m over 40,000 words in, and as of now I’m thinking the novel will end at 65,000, so there’s a lot more plot to finish up, but I’m on the way down the mountain. I’m just hoping I can bring it home in an original way.

Sam

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