How To Plot A Story

Creative Writing Course Week One Update: What Is A Plot?

Like I’ve (repeatedly) said in my previous posts and comments, NaNoWriMo2016 has been a real eye-opener for me. The experience helped me understand I had to learn a lot when it came to writing an interesting book (definitely not the same as “blogging”)

It has been over a week since I signed up to audit (learn without having the option to give tests and receive feedback) a Creative Writing Course and I have increased my knowledge about writing exponentially. Rather than tucking away my notes into fragments of .txt files and pieces of crumpled paper, I decided to my notes online in a single place.

I am putting all my notes online, here’s why.

This serves a dual purpose. I can always come back and refer my notes. Also, the accountability of having to document my progress makes sure that I get off my ass and actually take the course seriously.

So let’s get started (I won’t have such intro commentary in future posts, I promise)

Story Plot 101: Getting Started With Crafting  A Plot

The first’s week topic was about a very fundamental element of writing a book, i.e., plot. I am sure a lot of you already understand what a plot is and how to craft a compelling plot. Well, I don’t and here’s what I learned.

Plot is the main events of the novel or story devised and presented by the author as an inter-related sequence of events.

The key takeaway, plot, and story are not the same thing. The plot contains the story, but it does not go the other way round.

To simply the definition, A story tells you what happened, a plot “shows” you how it happened and in a sequential manner.

The example that Brandon used to explain the difference between plot and story was as follows.

a. The King died, and the Queen died.
b. The King died, and the Queen died overwhelmed due to grief from the death of her husband, the King.

Sentence (a) tells you what happened whereas sentence (b) shows you how one event led to another event.

Without a interesting plot, a story  becomes dull and uninteresting.

For example:
a. Dick came home and then turned on the T.V. His mother tripped on his backpack and fell and yelled at Dick, so Dick turned off the T.V.

b. Dick came home and turned on the T.V to watch his favorite cartoon show. In his excitement to watch the cartoon show, Dick left his backpack on the floor in the living room and sat on the couch with his shoes still on.

Dick’s mother tripped over the bag and banged her head on the coffee table. She got angry and yelled at Dick to go his room. Dick got scared, so he turned the T.V off and ran to his room with shoes in one hand and his backpack in another and therefore missed his favorite T.V show.

A sequence of events that set up a chain reaction is what sets apart a boring story from a fascinating one.

You should avoid writing stories with “and then this happened” and instead use “therefore this happened” to make a story interesting.

Freytag’s Pyramid – The Parts Of A Plot

Where has this pyramid been all my life? This pyramid might be greater than the Pyramids of Giza because they provide me a structure. I work well within a structure (I am an anti-nonconformist)

Gustav Freytag was a smart chap with presumably a lot of time in his hand. He analyzed all the Greek stories and Shakespearean works and came up with this pyramid (a triangle, actually)

Freytag's Pyramid
The Freytag’s Pyramid Image Source: Wikipedia

1. Exposition: Provides a back story about events or characters that are relevant to the central conflict of the story. Provides the setting for the central conflict.

2. Inciting Incident: This is the event in the story that kick-off the story. It informs what the key conflict of the story is going to be. The Protagonist is introduced here.

3. Rising Action: This is the sequence of exciting events leading up to the climax of the story. This is where Antagonist is introduced and will try to put as many obstacles as possible.

4. Climax: This is the main event, the biggest tension in the story. This is where the protagonist reveals what he is made up of.
For, e.g.,; That one moment of heroism in battle or show of strength in the face of temptation

5. Falling Action: This is the fall-outs of the climax and how it is addressed.

6. Resolution: This is where the central conflict of the story is solved.

7. Denouement: This part is the wrap-up part. Any remaining secrets or mysteries are revealed by the author or the characters at this stage.

The pyramid sets the groundwork and provides a framework for me to plot a story. The next time I have to sit down and write the plot, I have a framework to refer when creating a story outline.

Character + Action = Plot

‘All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.’

Characters and their actions are what moves the story ahead. Every character in your story should want something. Every character should have a purpose. The purpose is what drives the character to action and moves the story [rising action].

A character’s desire could be as little as wanting a glass of water. Desire, not need is what makes the character interesting.

Five Questions you must ask to create an interesting character.

There is actually a different course entirely dedicated to the Craft of Character (the next course after I am done with this one). However, in this particular section of the video, Brandon covered the 5 essentials questions you must answer to create a character [protagonist, antagonist or supporting characters] that captures the interest of the readers.

What is your character’s desire?

Every character must have a desire. This prevents you from using a character as a mere prop to advance the story. The characters desire moves it into a particular direction. This action along with direction advances the story.

What are their weaknesses?

Honestly, none of the main characters (3 of them) in my NaNoWriMo2016 had any shortcomings. I wanted them to be perfect, flawless people without any faults. I would have continued with these attribute if I had not come across this course.

Weakness is what makes a character interesting. Think about it, without any weakness there will be no obstacle to overcome, I might as well stop writing because readers will not have any incentive to go forwarding reading the story.

I equated weakness with negative character traits, but it does not have to be that way. Superman’s weakness is kryptonite, without this weakness Superman would eventually get boring.

Ned Stark (the TV Series) is an honest and man of integrity but his inability to adapt to the new situations and play the game (he is too trusting and a bit naive ) ultimately leads to his downfall.

The weakness of the characters makes them vulnerable and thus relatable.

Where do they come from?

A: Physically: Where does the character come from? What part of the country or the city. Is the character from the city or originates from the country. Where was the character born, where was the character raised. This also helps to create a background of the character.

B: Emotionally: What is the state of the character. Emotionally how did the character fare? Was the character brought up in an orphanage or by loving parents/grandparents? Was the character brought up during a time of war or famine? Did the character experience a traumatic incident that now affects his behavior? All of these questions add color and depth to a character and make it more life-like (relatable and closer to reality)

Where are they going?

What is the purpose or quest? This is in line with their desire and sets up the rising action of the story.

What can the characters do to surprise you?

As the story progresses are there any instances where the actions of the character or their behavior can surprise you.

Honestly, I didn’t really understand the need to answer this question or if this is relevant to every fiction story. If you have any pointers on tips on this one, I’d be really grateful.

So that is it for now. This is what I’ve learned so far. I still have to check the assessment and turn it in (if there is an option) or I will post it here (for public accountability)


4 thoughts on “How To Plot A Story

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