Workshop 1 - Plotting the Plot

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This plotting method is the one I find most useful.  If you don't like it that's ok, ignore me and go do your own thing – do whatever works for you.

The idea for a novel can start with a character, story idea, a concept, a question, a what if?  Or a story world.  We will start with the plot, because we have to start somewhere.  If you've already started with another element of the story don't worry, all these workshops are interchangeable and can be done in almost any order.

The primary function of a fiction writer is to tell a story.  At the very minimum you need a three line plot.  This consists of

·          A Premise – what is the story about.

·          Complication(s) – (But) what difficulties do the characters have to overcome           and how do they overcome these complications

·          A Climax – How overcoming the complications changed the character(s) and           how does the story end.

How your character(s) overcome the complications of the plot forms the main body of your story.  Without complications, objections, and hurdles for your characters to overcome, your story will fall flat, because all stories are about how humans overcome conflict (even stories we think are not about humans ultimately are).  In fact, the more difficult you make it for your characters the more interesting your story will become, because character's personalities will be more exposed.

Plotting is really all about storytelling and storytelling is all about conflict.  For instance:  a Princess is born, grows up, meets the Prince of her dreams, gets married and lives happily ever after is not a very interesting story (unless you are three years old).  A Princess grows up overcoming the eccentricities of her parents, meets the Prince of her dreams who turns out to be a monster, but the Princesses' pure love helps the Princes overcome his Monstrous traits – Beauty and the Beast.  Add that the two families are monstrous rather than the prince and you have Romeo and Juliet, turn pure love into obsession and you have Twilight.

It is all about what your characters have to overcome that makes your story interesting.

In Gaia's Brood, the three line plot is:

·          A girl goes on a quest to discover how her mother died.

·          But, hidden forces conspire against her quest.

·          Why these complications arise is answered in an unexpected confrontation,       with the story villains, creating the climax of the story.

In Helium3 the plot lines are:

·          A boy wishes to pursue his dream of racing space sleds.

·          But, he is a chronic outsider and the system is fixed against him.

·          A confrontation with injustice and the boy's nemesis form the climax of the


How may complications can you have?  Well, that depends on the length and complexity of the story, how well they fit into your story arc, your sub-plots, your character journeys, and how well they enable you to hit your story beats, all of which will be covered in future workshops. 

I am quite a visual person, so I find it helpful to storyboard the main storyline and sketch in branching sub-plots. And I always sketch out the character journeys so I get to know my characters as well as I can before the real writing starts.  Planning a story this way can be a time-consuming task, but along the way I am writing little vinaigrettes and test scenes to see how it all fits together.  In many ways, it's like fitting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, but you don't know what the finished picture looks like.

Plotting Exercises:  Try sketching out simple, three line, plots:  a premise, a complication, and a climax.  The more you practice plot writing the easier it becomes, and sooner or later you are going to hit on that original plot that you cannot get out of your head and which turns into your next story.

Let me know how you get on and please share any questions, ideas or techniques.