Plots are the most difficult part of the story for me. I can do character and dialog all day just for fun but plots require work and miracles of intuition and, well they’re just hard.
So what do I do about it? I read, a lot. I read books by brilliant authors and I read books by mediocre authors and I read blogs by authors who’ve been around the block once or twice whose books I enjoy. And in the midst of all of that Patricia Wrede’s blog has been the most helpful with plots.
It may seem utterly ridiculous but it was only through reading her blog that I learned that the story can be about anything. Truly, anything. There is no right thing or wrong moment and really the gift of that realization was to stop judging my plots. To write what was within me to write and if it went wrong somewhere along the way, that’s ok. I can go back and change direction or fix things or set something aside to brew a little longer. But to stop judging my plots.
A few days ago she posted a new entry about plots that was also supremely helpful and insightful for me. And the best way I know to preserve that information is to repost it here, so I can find it when I need to remember that plots are about change. Because that single thought is radically helpful to me (emphasis is mine).
Plots are about change – external or internal. It’s about the difficulties of the journey, not the starting or ending point.full post here
The hero who takes a journey may be a Genghis Khan who drastically alters the world around him without apparently changing much himself, or she may be an ordinary person displaced by the sweeping armies who is profoundly altered by her trek to a new home without apparently having a large impact on the world, or he may be a Ghandi whose life-changing journeys to England and South Africa changed him into the man who could and did change India. The stranger who comes to town may change herself as a result, or call into question things that the town has taken for granted (causing them to change), or disrupt external things in ways ranging from opening a new store to murdering the mayor.
And change is a process, and what’s interesting about it is usually the how and why, not what. Change is also often difficult and uncomfortable, whether the characters are changing their opinions or trying to cope with massive disruptions in the world they’ve lived in until the start of the story. Change also generally involves causality – something that sets things moving, tipping over that first domino that knocks over the next, and the next.
All of this makes plot – the process of change – hard to sum up in a short, snappy entry on a list. This is, I think, part of why people always, always ask for sequels, even if the story ends “and they lived happily ever after” – because we know that change has consequences, and even good changes like winning one’s True Love or defeating the Evil Overlord are going to mean things work differently from now on, and we want to know what those new changes will be, and how the characters will cope with them.
For me, when I read about change being about how and why and not what – that’s emotion and motivation, which is the part of the story I get. It’s helpful for me to think of it in those terms because then plot moves into realms I’m comfortable with.
The Big Bad is usually the hardest part of plot for me. I feel like if I know the fight and the climax I can work backwards to a plot (or any direction around really now thanks to Ms. Wrede). Hopefully by the time I get to having to figure out a Big Bad I’ll have figured that process out. Or, more likely, I’ll dive in and work through it one way or another.