Sunday, August 28, 2016

Plot Roast

Do it right, and it simmers until every ingredient is equally juicy and tender. Or wait too long, and you’ve got dried-out, unrecognizable mush. The success of dinner depends on what you put together, your means of preparing it, and the cook time. Story is remarkably similar.

The most successful plotters transcend the not-all-that-captivating question: What happens next?
After all, the answer might be, “Esmeralda yawned.” So will the reader. 

Rely exclusively on chronology, and you risk sliding into one or more of the following:

            ~ A series of unrelated, episodic incidents.

          Fiction sometimes works when the protagonist faces one unrelated problem after another, or
          one unrelated villain after another. But the strongest plots emphasize the role of character in
          destiny: choices have consequences. At least in fiction.

            ~ Flatness.

            Protagonist arc can only shift from sad and weak to victorious and empowered because each
            event teaches lessons and summons buried strengths. This stems from the novelist’s emphasis
            on obstacles and solutions, not on the humdrum activity between them.

~ Logistics.

Successful fiction has no room for characters performing morning ablutions, shopping for groceries, logging into the computer, crossing the icy parking lot, or any other detail that merely traces what happens between one drama and the next.

~ Randomness.

Plot based on “If this happens, then that,” rather than “This because of that,” and you risk introducing lots of coincidence. That threatens both credibility and momentum.

And today’s readers expect credibility and momentum. Lots of this is the internet. Every fact is a click or two away, and everything’s presented with teasers (hooks) and sound bites. No waiting. No wondering.

How to achieve that pace in fiction?

*** Summarize everything that’s pedestrian or mundane.

*** Start every scene as late in the action—rather than as early—as logically possible.

*** Hint (but don’t belabor) how each scene results from the one preceding.

*** Launch scenes with a hook—and provide it right away.

*** View plot less as what happens than why what happens is dramatically and emotionally  compelling.

Tip:  Reserve scenes for “someone making a scene,” i.e. struggling with conflict, preferably conflict that forces change.

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