Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Plot Thickens...

Last week I wrote about the importance of plot in a story. How writing a plotting outline can help to enhance the process and save the writer time in the long run. Keep in mind even with an outline, we careen off the beaten path... and that's okay. The characters and their journey evolve as we traverse the long and winding road to the end of our completed manuscript.

One question new writers (and not-so-new writers) often grapple with is: What is the difference between plot and conflict? Since they are so often mentioned and woven together it is sometimes difficult to recognize.
Looking at plot like a roadmap is one way I view the process.
Anytime I take a road trip I pull out my atlas and study the various paths I might take to reach my destination. Should I stay on the highway? Or venture off onto the smaller byways? Once my trip is outlined I pack my belongings and prepare to leave.
Like a plot in a book.

For our example, the plot is a road trip from point A to point B. Let's say from Truro, Massachusetts to New York City. We will add a layer and say our protagonist is going to NYC to meet a friend and attend a Broadway play. That is my plan, my outline for my story. Small town girl ventures to the big city. That's the concept, the idea. With the outline comes the step by step planning of how the trip should unfold. Time of departure, places to stop, tolls, etc.
The trip can go exactly as planned and the small town girl makes it to NYC, meets her friend, enjoys a Broadway play. Our basic plot. We can blend in some dialogue, a bit of narrative, and we create a story.
Okay, but where is the tension brought on by conflict?
Our small town girl ends up having car trouble and has to exit Route 95 South and have her car fixed at a service station in southern Rhode Island. She arrives in NYC an hour late but still meets her friend and makes it to the Broadway play on time. 
Is this conflict? Ah, no.
How about some internal dialogue for our small town girl? We, the reader, learn our protagonist is going to NYC to meet an old college friend, however she's apprehensive about seeing the friend again because of a tragic incident that happened while they were in college. It turns out they have not seen each other for ten years. Not since the night of the incident.  
Now we sense the tension of the story, we begin to feel the emotional turmoil of our main character...
Of course this is just a quick, simplistic example of plot and conflict. I will leave it to the real experts to help you learn and understand the craft of plotting.
Again, I recommend (strongly): Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Also a fabulous book on all the elements of writing: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Another way to help you enhance your writing experience -- as mentioned before -- is to have a critique partner or partners.
Now I recommend adding a plotting partner as well. I know several multi-published, best-selling authors who have plotting partners.
I want one. What a brilliant way to take a kernel of an idea and pop it into a strong, believable, can-stop-reading story!



Robin said...

Great advice! I like your idea of having a plotting partner to run ideas by.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Thanks for reading, Robin. I need a plot partner right now. Maybe next time we get together you can help me with my story.