Monday, May 8, 2017

A good plot

A Good Plot is a Hook, a Joyride, and a Payoff

The most common definition of a plot is that it’s whatever happens in a story. But, as my late friend Gary Provost used to say, “A good plot is not everything that happened, it’s every important thing that happened.”

A good plot is made up of events which are significant to the reader because they have important consequences in the story being told. The things that characters do, think, feel, or say that make a difference in the rest of the book are the basic elements of a plot. A plot is - simply - every important thing that happens.

Don't confuse a story with a plot. There is a difference.

This is merely a story: The mayor of Weston was arrested for selling cocaine and his wife died. 
Those are two tragic events, but there’s no demonstrated connection between them.

This is a plot: The mayor of Weston was arrested for selling cocaine and his wife apparently killed herself. However, it was later learned she was murdered. 

You have a plot now because you have connected the first event (the arrest of the mayor) with the second event (the alleged suicide of his wife) making one action the result of the other. Now, the two events are related.

The key to creating a plot is remembering that each event in the book must lead to another event in the book; they must be related.

Our own lives are stories, not plots. Life is full of coincidences and chance, which is one reason life is too strange to use for fiction. In fiction, unlike life, readers prefer order and logic to disorder and chaos.

Plotting a book is a way of looking at things, deciding what’s important, and showing it to be important by what you choose to write.
We are novelists and not merely typists because we choose which events we show in our novels and we choose the order in which to show those events. By choosing, we create the effect the story will have on the reader. The creation of an effective plot is a matter of choices; what you choose to show to illustrate your story to the reader. Choose well.

Aristotle, the originator of the dramatic theory, proposed a simple but fundamental principle: A unified action creates a whole made up of a beginning, a middle, and an end. That is the basis of a plot: A beginning, a middle, and an end. But good plotting goes a step beyond that; what I like to call The Hook, The Joyride, and The Payoff.

At the beginning of your novel, you've got to hook the readers with action (something happening) or at least with someone worth caring about. You must attract their attention and draw them into the book, not bore them with extensive background and carefully-crafted description. (No one cares what the room looks like if no one is in it.)
Do not begin the first chapter at the very beginning of the plot line. You want to begin as far into the action as possible when all hell is about to break loose.

Once you have them hooked, you take the reader on a joyride, giving them ups and downs like a roller coaster. A real ride for their money. That’s the middle of the book. Think of your readers as being strangers to the characters at the manuscript’s beginning. As the plot progresses, the readers become more familiar with the characters, and if you are successful, the readers build genuine friendships with the protagonist. Once those friendships are established, the time is right for revealing secrets. Yes, in this way, it is like real life.

Then, at the end, give them a payoff; a satisfying conclusion. If the ending doesn't deliver, the reader feels cheated by the entire experience. (My wife flings books across the room when they fail to have a satisfying conclusion.) Remember that readers want to be entertained. They want to enjoy your book, so make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

From NOVEL SECRETS (paperback or Kindle)

Lary Crews