Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Part 15 of Robert Kernen's "Building Better Plots"

“Each plot point should build upon the one before it to create a gradually growing cumulative effect.”  There’s a concept.  Novels I thought were great had that impact partly because I saw how each new major plot point grew out of things that came before.  Some things were surprises, but even those made sense.  Without points C, D, and E, plot point F would never happen. 

Characters’ personalities play into it as well.  One of the things I love about Katherine Kurtz’ novels is that I can see how and why characters act and react as they do.  Person A hears that something happened and goes postal, and Person B gets killed.  Person C hears the same news but reacts by getting a group together to talk about how to respond to the event.  At the meeting, they decide to do something that Person B could have warned them will be disastrous, but because Person B is now dead, disaster is *not* averted.

Things link together, like falling dominoes.

I’ve had trouble with this, because up until January 2009, I had bunches of scenes that were written mostly independently of each other.  I wrote during the first six months of that year with a better sense of things happening based on what came before, but I still didn’t have a coherent sense of *plot*.

And yet, the further along I got, there were times when I’d think, Hey, X could happen now, because that’s logical after U, V, and W happened.  Once I hit on Neal getting caught in the 1992 Los Angeles rioting and kidnapped by his biological father, I had a strong sense of holding a gift in my hands.  Frankly, when I wrote the first draft of that scene, I didn’t think at all about what might happen afterward.  I had no idea that scene would become pivotal.  It crystallizes everything Neal has been through up to that point.

So I believe in writing “by the seat of one’s pants”.  Yet, for the fantasy short story I’m also working on, I’ve been fanatic about planning major things out and having a ton of backstory that isn’t intended to make it directly into the plot.  I guess I’m the writerly equivalent of ambidextrous.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.  Stories can be like snowflakes: no two alike, from planning to finished product.
Kernen defines plot beats as “distinct movements of the plot, or individual sequences that make up discreet pieces of the story”.  These beats should be like short stories that are linked to create the novel.  Each should have rising action, a climax, and a resolution.

This is supposed to make it easier for the writer to handle all the plot points and subplots, but also offers breaks from all the drama for readers.  I see the wisdom in that, but wow, really?  I’m expected to plot out short story arcs that always bring me closer to the Grand Climax?  You want me to juggle twenty eggs *while* walking a tightrope??

And people wonder why writers drink.

I’m not sure those little arcs are *always* necessary.  I wish my WIP was an action or adventure piece, where the protagonist has to get from physical Point A to physical Point Z.  It’s got to be easier to move toward the climax in every chapter when your characters have to physically travel.

Would you believe I’ve read over this post to see if it has a stated goal and then moves toward that goal?  Plotting out blog posts??  My muse says that’s good, but I just think I’m fried. ;)

Next time . . . If you were a major plot point, what would you look like?

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