Elements of Plot

September 20, 2013

If you write fiction, you probably already understand the limitations surrounding the convention you write in (mystery, romance, etc.) along with reader expectations. Thus, I’m moving past those in this post and talking about plot in terms of subject, nature of plot, structure of plot, laws of plot, and subplots.

  • Subject–This is what the work refers to,¬† not what the actual work contains. Subject is not content; therefore, it exists independent of the story. Readers pick books by subject, not content. The reader already expects the work to tell a story and to deal with events in some particular setting. Your job, as author, is to choose subject(s) to which you can give your fullest response as a writer.
  • Nature of plot–This is where you reveal the events in your book to the reader. As author, you most likely rely on causal relationships between characters in figuring out the arrangement of the events you reveal in your plot.
  • Structure of plot–This is pretty simple. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. The conflict, complication, and climax reside in the middle section.
  • Laws of plot–There are four laws: plausibility, surprise, suspense, and unity. Plausibility means the plot must be convincing on its own terms. Surprise can deepen interest, as long as it doesn’t violate the law of plausibility. Suspense brings two elements to the plot–expectant uncertainty regarding the outcome of the story and foreshadowing that uses details to offer the reader hints about the direction the story will take. Unity is what results if you follow the principles of plot laid out here.
  • Subplots–These must meet two conditions to work. They should be closely related to the main plot, and they should have a connection to some element in the work other than plot.

Now you’ve got a primer on the elements of plot. Through plot, you get to organize the raw material of experience along with your understanding of the experience into a story your readers will love.

Happy writing!


More on Characters

September 5, 2013

We moved from the Twin Cities (MN) to our cabin a few years ago and love country living. But one malady I had not yet faced¬† was computer issues. That is, I had not faced it until the mother board went out on my computer. It may have taken a little longer to fix out here, but all is well now. I’m just sorry it took so long to offer you this continuation on characters.

Now, on to characters.

As you get acquainted with your characters, you’ll find some traits are more prominent than others. You may even decide some traits aren’t strong enough to consider at all. But it never hurts to have a checklist to help you test your character structures, so here’s one you may want to try.

  • Strength and Intensity. Determine how strong each character is and whether or not the character is real enough to make the reader care about what happens to him or her. I love reading mysteries, but found I kept forcing myself to read this particular one written by a well-known mystery author. When I admitted it was because I didn’t care about any of the primary characters, I stopped reading it.
  • Power or ability to act. Your plot needs characters to help move things along, so avoid stagnant, passive characters.
  • Interaction with other characters. Not only must your characters do things, but they must also be involved with each other. They must interact appropriately, as well. That is, they must not be so different or contrast so much that they are unbelievable in their interaction. Also, your secondary characters must remain secondary rather than take over the scene played with the primary character.
  • Overall attractiveness. This isn’t about beauty, but rather about balance. No one likes a character who’s too perfect, too heroic, or too evil, too horrible. Be sure you temper the good character with a few flaws and the bad character with a touch of virtue.
  • Character credibility. Credibility comes from consistency. Make sure your character is consistent both internally and externally. By that I mean the motivation (internal) and action (external) are consistent with who the character is.
  • Strive for clarity over complexity. As you write your key scenes, strive to make sure any changes in your primary characters are clear, especially if those changes are complex or life-altering.
  • Listen to the dialogue. Readers hear what characters say. Make sure your character uses the words he or she would use. Make sure the words aren’t tongue twisters. Make sure the voice is gender appropriate (men and women do say things differently). The character’s talk should match the character.

Readers envision stories as they read. One of your jobs as an author is to get your reader to turn to the book or e-reader, instead of the television, for entertainment. I’m not the only reader who stopped reading a book because of the characters. Get to know yours as intimately as you can, and you’ll find you’ll have fans for years to come. Think of all the characters you’ve loved over years and you’ll realize I’m right.

Happy writing!