Write Craft - Episode #1-The Importance of Plot
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Welcome to Write Craft!
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This educational podcast is about learning to create unforgettable and impactful writing. I can’t wait to get your feedback and share some helpful hints. Let’s do this!
Write Craft: Episode #1-The importance of plot in fiction writing
Thank you for joining me here! My name is Bibiana Krall; I am a fiction writer and a creative writing student, pursuing my MFA at Wilkes University. Today I want to chat with you about writing craft, and the importance of creating a strong plot for your story.
First, let’s dispel any myths you might have about what a plot in literature actually is and why every writer needs it. Although a plot is not required or even generally expected in memoir, I highly suggest every memoirist considers using plot and novel structure in their writing to keep the reader engaged.
Plot is the way a series of events that occur and develop inside a text. An author puts together a series of events, or inciting incidents to create a powerful story. The sequence of everything that happens in that story to arrive to the end, or the final conclusion is the plot.
Typically, an author will develop a plot to capture and hold the reader’s interest. Outlining is the best way to do this, and keep your head in the game as you break down each scene. The storyline is not resolved until the story is concluded or usually very close to the end. The traditional plot structure of building a new world before the rising or inciting action is used widely in modern storytelling, and for good reason. It works.
The function of a plot
A story has no form without a plot; it is an amoeba of ideas with nowhere to go. A plot includes every defining event that occurs throughout a story. The plot should be developed using snappy and authentic dialogue, and creating active scenes where the character is doing or experiencing something, not telling us they are doing it, while using imagery and foreshadowing, with little hints dropped here and there to interest readers and keep them guessing, leaving small clues, or Easter eggs for them to discover things simultaneously with the characters.
How many stories have you read where you somehow knew another much later even might occur? This is no accident. It is a clear and present use of literary devices to make you, the reader feel part of the discovery. This style of plot development offers a closer connection between reader and story and ultimately makes us feel smart when we solve the mystery or see the flaws in real-time with the character.
A well-conceived plot is one that has well-developed, complex characters who are engaged in several conflicts or smaller ones that sometimes combine in the end to resolve the story.
When an author writes a text, especially a novel, their goal is to create interest and drama for the reader. The way for a writer to best accomplish this is to create a strong plot with a solid arc or rising action that must be answered or faced head on by the characters to conclude the story with a powerful, emotional and meaningful ending.
Have you ever read a book that ended with the main character falling asleep or doing something mundane like grocery shopping? I sure hope not! That’s probably not the best conclusion to have a reader finish the book and then make them wonder why they bothered to read at all. It’s integral that you finish strong and a well-devised plot is the roadmap to making this happen.
Stories written before the mid-nineteen fifties offered a style that tended to wrap up every, single character and give them each resolution after the falling action. This is no longer needed to fulfill the modern readers expectation, especially when the popularity of a series of books come into play. There needs to be an opening, a way in for the next story if your character will live on to another adventure. Although, if you can manage to wrap up the dangling pieces of the secondary characters without dragging down the conclusion, you have accomplished something really amazing. (Sounds of a crowd enthusiastically clapping.)
The writer’s number one responsibility to the reader is to keep them engaged and always hoping for more. If you lose a reader with too much telling and not enough action, they most likely will not continue and feel dissatisfied. Readers need to feel connected to the story and desire to see it through. Once you have lost them, it’s game over.
A well-written plot is integral to keeping this interest high. Often in classical literature there is a three part dynamic to the plot, the characters are introduced to us, they give their statements or allow egress into their devious or wholesome plans and then we “see” them take action and they begin actively moving to accomplish their goals within the story-structure.
Define plot in literature: the definition of plot in literature is the sequence of events that made up a storyline.
If the reader doesn’t know where they are, or who any of these characters are, why would it matter if a building blew up or their cheating boyfriend left them? An emotional attachment needs to be present to cement the relationship between reader and narrator and only then, should the author move the plot forward.
Exposition is the most traditional introduction to a new story and one, which has many merits. Characters, setting, and the world we are entering is introduced. Specific detail, flora, fauna, architecture, era, physical characteristics, even fashion choices in the beginning are integral for the reader to “see” where they are. These tiny morsels of color, taste and sound attach us to the plot and keep us inside this new fictional place we are experiencing.
For example, I will offer you a simple scenario so you can visualize the differences:
Lila wanted to grab a coffee at her favorite café around the corner; she got dressed and walked two blocks, hurrying now, as the threat of incoming rain paled the sky. Finally at her destination, she pushed open the door and was excited to spot her best friend sitting on the sofa.
This is fine and will get the job done, but a little bland, because we are missing a few things.
Second example: Lila was exhausted from another horrible Monday working as an IT specialist, and needed a break from her evening routine of watching reality TV in her yoga pants. She threw on her favorite red sweater with a pair of jeans and her knee-hi riding boots to get a coffee at the café around the corner. Storm clouds began pushing together; lightly sprinkling the sidewalk with cool, wet droplets. Hurrying to escape the incoming storm, she rushed inside the familiar warmth of Café Bisou.
The second she pushed inside, the aroma of freshly baked bread; French pastries and strong coffee tickled her nose. The anxiety of the past twenty-four hours departed when she spotted her best friend and confidante, Marie. She was chilling on the flowered sofa drinking a café au lait, and tossing her auburn hair. Flirting in a way only she could get away with, while chatting up the sexy barista Rob, whom she’d gone out with a few times…
If this is the beginning of the story, it’s important that we understand who these characters are and why do we care? (I still don’t care enough to keep reading, but I hope you will get the gist here.)
Remember that all writing is subjective, but we owe ourselves as writers and the trust of reader to keep them interested.
Now if you threw in an armed robbery and Marie was the one who wrestled the criminal to the ground while Rob just sat there and did nothing, or Lila secretly shared with us that she disliked the barista because, he was secretly married with three kids or used illegal drugs, or something that might change his characterization for us- the possibilities for this plot to move in different directions are endless. We would also have the rising action that a reader like me longs to see in a story. I enjoy nice, cozy stories, but I adore stories that take it one notch higher. This is of course my personal preference.
A few months ago, a very wise poet advised me that the first fifty words in a story defines or encapsulates its entirety. This is a tough statement to hear, but a very astute one. If either paragraph were the very first fifty words, would you keep reading and why?
Below are a few more points to consider that will directly relate to the plot and the introduction above.
Lila was exhausted. Why is she exhausted and where is all this anxiety coming from?
What does she look like?
Is she in a small town, on a spaceship or in a city? Is she just walking around in the dark? What does this place look like?
Although I didn’t fully flesh out if there were other people on the street, trees, honking taxis, et cetera it’s important at the very least to give a feeling for the setting, the physicality of the characters and when I added the third character Rob, it could easily be used as a plot device to foreshadow issues between the three of them, romance, peril, a twist, all kinds of scenarios could move away from this paragraph depending on the plot, genre and the final conclusion that wraps up the plot.
There is also a sensory connection to the second example, which is quite important to use and in more contemporary writing tends to be forgotten or overlooked. Fuzzy, wet, aroma of fresh baked bread, these images push us to imagine, smell and feel what its like to be there. Now we are closer to Lila and Marie inside the setting, hopefully we are also wondering what Rob has to do with their relationship and if drama will arise from this trio.
With a well-written plot and a simple description of where we are, the reader will stay focused and hopefully continue to the final conclusion. Think of a plot as the empty road. We begin here X and end here X. What do we see on the way, when do we see it and how we get there is the plot.
Without a vision of the road itself, the story doesn’t have the strength to survive. Another point to keep in mind that I learned from writing screenplays, start fast. Do not drown your readers in description. Give them just enough, and then move the plot forward. If you watch any blockbuster film you most likely will see the rising action is addressed within the first five minutes.
You probably shouldn’t do it quite so fast in your story writing, but as you will now realize, it’s important to stay focused and get the story to the final conclusion as soon as possible. I struggle with this in my own writing and am reading a famous crime writer’s short stories to attempt to clean up my writing style and make it lean and muscular.
So, let’s talk about rising action.
It presents a central conflict within a character or between one and more of the characters. The conflict, which is what good fiction absolutely needs, builds during the rising action.
It’s as simple as a neighborly dispute to explain how rising action works: Imagine you are shopping on a Saturday; meanwhile your shiftless neighbor Bob, borrows your lawnmower without permission, breaks it, but doesn’t tell you.
That afternoon you’re relieved to see that he finally mowed his lawn. But much to your chagrin, discover your lawnmower is broken, covered in fresh clippings and totally out of gas.
Are you doing the math in your head yet?
Right at this moment, you as the character have an important choice. Do you call the cops? Pick up your snow shovel and knock out his front window or have a nice, mature chat with him and his wife on the front lawn?
The internal conflict for you as a character may come in that your neighbor Bob seems a little crazy and collects guns or throwing stars and drinks a lot in the backyard. What if he comes after you? Most people cant just up and move if they don’t like their neighbors, in fiction of course you could write that in, but why not use this conflict to take it higher?
The rising action is the choice the character or characters make to push the conflict into more drama or resolve it. The choices made here will decide what the conclusion will be.
Now we have come to the climax. The climax occurs when the conflict is so strong there is nothing else that can be addressed except to face and deal with it. Once it has been addressed, the downside of this part of the plot is the falling action of what occurs after the climax or the big showdown, when the reader may not be entirely sure of what the conclusion will be.
Resolution is the final conclusion to the plot. Typically, the conflict is resolved at this point or it is left hanging to move into the next book, if it’s written as a series.
To summarize, a plot is the basic storyline of a text. Most plots follow a traditional pattern, where the climax is the moment we have all been waiting for. A strong plot will inform an engaging novel, as plot will utilize most literary elements, such as dialogue, point of view, characterization and foreshadowing and will reward the writer and reader with an impactful story.
It all sounds so simple right?
If you are a working writer or a beginner, you already realize it’s not, but part of the fun is the attempt to create this interest in our stories.
Thanks so much for listening! The next episode of Write Craft will be about creating complex characters and the importance of giving them flaws and real, human emotions to create a stronger attachment for the reader.
I hope you finish this podcast inspired and ready to write! If you enjoyed my show please remember to subscribe, like and leave comments in the drop down!
Come check out my writing blog Indite, and my you tube channel or for more info simply go to my website www.bibianakrall.com
Until next time, (Background music clip playing in the background, Hello Again by the Cars) find your Peace, Love, Hustle, then Read or Write! See ya!