Just the word plot sends shivers up and down a writer's spine. We read about it in writing books, we study it in how-to workbooks, we labor over it in writing classes, but too many of us never feel like we understand it.
Have you ever listened to a well-known, well-published author with books on the best selling lists and heard them say something like, "I don't know how the plot twists and turns came to me, they just did." We go away wondering why we didn't get a muse that spits out plot twists and turns that magically become a best seller.
Other writers with similar credits, freely admit they slaved over the plot and revised their book so many times, they were sick of it by the time it made it to an agent. We go away from those admissions wishing we knew how to achieve what we're missing. What questions to ask. What blanks to fill in.
In my overview creative writing classes, I have the pleasure of working with students at all stages of their writing future. It's amazing to see those that seem to have the least knowledge and the smallest number of words on paper suddenly grasp a new idea and run with it.
Run with your idea
And that's what I think the secret to plot really is: Running with it. It's all about moving ahead and giving it the best we've got. Sometimes, we celebrate success. Sometimes, we get a rejection, but the challenges and the differences in ultimate success merge - like a good plot - from our methodical movement until we hit pay dirt.
It's a unique pleasure to see our words in print, a joy only another writer truly understands and only a writer who keeps at it will ever understand.
But back to that dreaded word PLOT. I'm sharing a few clues to help you move forward in your writing, clues that work for my students and hopefully will work for you.
Not just the opening book hook, but those scene and chapter hooks that keep the reader turning the pages.
A hook doesn’t have to startle the reader but must get their attention, usually through an emotional surprise. Those hooks may be the only chance you get as they scan your book and decide whether to purchase it. Here's a good example of an opening hook from The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra Kring, which is one of my favorite books.
“I should have known that summer of 1961 was gonna be the biggest summer of our lives. I should have known it the minute I saw Freeda Malone step out of that pickup, her hair lit up in the sun like hot flames. I should have know it, because Uncle Rudy told me what happens when a wildfire comes along."
A plot interwoven with one dysfunctional family after another, this book like so many other best sellers invokes the imagination of readers. Here are a few I feel certain you've probably read.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Ann Tyler
The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
Rebecca by Daphne du Murier
Oedipus by Sophocles
Kramer vs Kramer by Avery Corman
Each of these stories has a plot entirely different from the others, yet the stories are filled with intrigue and tantalizing tidbits about the human condition - that thing all humans like to explore to find out if we are "normal" or "abnormal."
Some of these books open quietly, but all of them introduce the characters and give at a minimum a strong hint that something is not quite right and something interesting is on the horizon. Some of them slam readers in the gut with the erratic behavior and insidious personalities hovering on their pages.
A plot is not a template. A plot is a story with a beginning that peaks our curiosity, delivers a delicious middle, and wraps up with an ending that fills our needs, whether emotional, moral, shocking, or logical.
Want to practice how to plot a story? Sit across from a friend or colleague and tell them a good story, complete with an opening to get their attention, grabs them with the ups and downs that make the middle interesting and keeps them from yawning mid story, and wrap it up with a can-you-believe-it or isn't-that-the best-thing-you-ever-heard ending. That's a plot and you did it!
Let us know what tricks you have up your sleeve when it comes to plot development.