By Douglas Owen
Who hasn’t struggled with creating a plot? Heck, even I don’t put my hand up for that one. Writers agonize over plot creation all the time. Some look everywhere for inspiration, while others purchase software that generates ideas at the push of a button. They shell out hundreds, only to get generic outlines already patented by Hollywood, thinking their book will be picked up for the next blockbuster.
The hell with it, I say. If a plotting system is so complex that there is a need for a computer guru to run it, then it is not worth the electrons used to store it in memory.
Okay, there is only one real plot out there that works, and then there are the derivatives of said plot. Here it is. Are you ready?
Boy meets girl Boy loses girl Boy is reunited with girl (or not).
Honestly, think of all the stories you’ve read and tell me I’m lying.
Okay, there are derivatives of the plot, like:
Boy finds ring Boy loses ring Boy is reunited with ring (or not).
Sound familiar? It’s Lord of the Rings. Get off your high horse, Saruman.
Okay, so boy represents a character and ring the girl or object of desire.
Want a story that is longer? Just repeat the pattern and add in more characters. Take the above example of Lord of the Rings. Aragorn wanted the elven maiden Arwen, so there is a sub-plot hidden there. He also secretly wants the crown, and the narrative shows that as an underlying desire.
Within the story is the on-again off-again plot of Frodo and the ring, but the main part thrust is Gollum who found the ring, lost the ring, then did get it back just as he died.
Not convinced yet?
Boromir plays a part in the first book and his plot line comes to the fore as he finds Frodo, loses him, finds him again and loses his life protecting him. Same plot as the initial with a little twist.
This plot outline fits all the characters, including Sam.
You don’t want the reader to see the exact same plot throughout the novel or they’ll wonder why they are reading such drivel. The fix is easy enough. Give the object they desire an illustrative significance.
Illustrative means two or more things at the same time. The imperative of Sex means not only the survival of the species, but also, one’s own immortality.
Bang! More meat on the bone now.
Want a book packed with the illustrative? Moby Dick. Ahab represents Mankind, the whale, Christ. Ahab is the soldier who spears Christ and the destruction of Ahab’s ship is the ruin of Mankind deprived of Christ.
Let’s go back to The Lord of the Rings. The ring represents evil, Frodo, the struggle of Mankind against evil, Gollum, the id of man wanting everything, and the other characters represent the good and bad in us all. Each has their own little mini-plot for what they do.
Emotion and the Story
A story would be really boring if there were no emotion. Emotion is what drives the characters and makes the yarn believable.
Emotion is generated by conflict, either the start of it or the end. The good news is that we already have conflict in our plot: boy loses girl. What could be more emotional than that (or more wracked with such conflict)?
We just have to get our characters to show their responses to the conflict. They’ll do it in a particular order, if they’re human:
* First they feel it—His heart thundered in his chest at the loss of her.
* Then they think about it—In desperation, he planned to find her.
* Last they take action—The journey started, and with a pack slung over his shoulder, he took the first step.
With emotion, it is best to keep it simple: love, hate, anger, remorse
Slow It Down!
You cannot maintain the rollercoaster of emotion throughout the story. Take a little breather and put in something a little slower, so your reader can recoup.
Some call them comfort breaks, while others call them reminiscences. Call them what you will, just make sure you have them in the story or your reader will feel like they are on a treadmill of unending exercise. Seen The Biggest Loser? There is a reason they don’t keep those people running and jumping all day long. You need to relax those muscles and let them heal. Same goes for the mind. Let the reader relax a little and recoup from that marathon of emotion you just slapped them with.
Be poetic, summarize, or just reminisce about what happened. Remember, you need to keep the reader interested and not tired after reading.
Here is an example of how to do it:
* Lear reviews his kingdom, the Object of his Desire, and decides there is no longer a desire
* Lear gives the kingdom away to his nasty daughters
* Lear loses his kingdom, but is reunited with it. He thus gains the ultimate Object of Desire, insight, and his soul (or does he?).
Yes, a lot of distractions happen with the mixing of sub-plots, causing the story of King Lear to be complex and emotional. It draws on the same basic idea of found, lost, found again.
Look forward to the future of your writing. How many stories you have dreamed of or plotted, and discovered the underlying reason for the character’s motives? Do they fit the basic of a great story? Find, lose, find?
Down the Rabbit Hole
Not really, but look at another great story that recently hit the screen: The Martian, by Andy Weir.
Stop! I hear that. What do you mean it matches the basic outline? There was no girl!
Yes, but think about it. Comrades lost and found again. He started with a group of astronauts, lost them (they left him behind), and found them again. Through the movie (and book) he found stuff (potatoes), lost them, and found them again (yes, read the book and you’ll understand what I mean by that). The whole novel centers on losing and finding. NASA lost him, found him, lost him, found him. Read it, don’t watch the movie, and you’ll see what I mean.
Need another one?
The old Total Recall: He lost his memory and then found it. He had to have it before to lose it. Also, he had love, lost it, and found it again.
So, any questions?
Doug’s Website: http://daowen.ca/
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