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25 Must-Read Tips on Plotting from Top Authors and Editors

22 December 2014

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Plot is story; story is plot. Without something happening, your characters aren’t pushed to grow and you can’t show their carefully crafted complexities.

With a well-formed plot, you pull in the reader with flawless tension handling, robust arcs, and vibrant themes.

. . . .

1. Structure is required in all of art. Dancing, painting, singing, you name it–all art forms require structure. Writing is no different. To bring a story to its full potential, authors must understand the form’s limitations, as well as put its many parts into proper order to achieve maximum effect.

K.M. Weiland, Structuring Your Novel

. . . .

5. The fix for most script problems is to give serious attention to the movement from one narrative moment to the next. The easiest way to understand what a narrative moment is, is to ask two questions: What does this action or this line of dialogue force the audience to question? How does that information relate to previous questions raised by the story?

Clive Davies-Frayne, Why I Don’t Read “How To” Screenwriting Articles Anymore

. . . .

7. Plotting with mini arcs can be a handy tool to break your novel into smaller, more manageable pieces that keep the story moving and the ideas coming.

Janice Hardy, Plot Your Novel With Mini Arcs
8. As you are working out the plot for your book (or, for you pantsers, as you are trying to figure out what happens next,) make a list of all the things that could happen next.

Kara Lennox, The Plot Fixer #8 – Is Your Plot Too Predictible?

9. Make coincidences add complications, not take them away.

Jami Gold, The Green Lantern Movie: How *Not* to Plot a Story

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

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16 Comments to “25 Must-Read Tips on Plotting from Top Authors and Editors”

  1. So untrue. You generally need a plot, it’s true, unless you’re writing a vignette, but story is story and plot is plot and I can plan out an entire story and write it gung ho, but as soon as I plot out the whole sucker, I’ve killed my inspiration dead and can’t write a thing. They are both needed, but they are two different things.

    • Heh, my ‘main’ tall tale started with a rather general plot and I’d figured six semi-little chapters would do it. But then subplots, past history and other bits crept in …

  2. This great compilation of quotes was put together by our guest, editor MJ Bush. I think she did a great job of giving an overview of different ways to approach shaping your plot, with links to articles by 25 different well-known authors and writing teachers.

    This piece is not about first draft composition and has nothing to do with “pantsers” vs. “planners”. It’s about editing the final product so the plot flows smoothly. If you don’t write long-form narrative, and/or you don’t write for publication, this post doesn’t apply to you.

    • She did give a great roundup of different ways to approach plot. And I’m not a pantser. I simple mapped out why I know so well that this line of hers is untrue:

      Plot is story; story is plot.

      The very next sentence is quite true:

      Without something happening, your characters aren’t pushed to grow…

      As I said before, both story and plot are required (her point), but they are not the same (her words).

      • The plot is the plan. The story is the outcome.

      • Thank you, Passive Guy and Anne. 😀

        Liana, “plot” as a moment-by-moment plan before you write was not at all what I meant. I was referring to the definition of plot as the events of a story. Story can only exist if something is happening. The plot is the sequence of happenings, hence my assertion. I’m sorry you misunderstood my meaning. I should’ve been more clear in my delivery. 🙂

        • You’re welcome, MJ.

        • “Something happening” is not plot, nor story. I could write 1000 words of the snow slowly melting outside. That would technically be something happening, but it wouldn’t be a story. I could write 5000 words describing what happens inside a volcano as it erupts. That might be slightly more interesting and there would definitely be stuff happening, but it wouldn’t be a story.

          I get your intent, MJ. But I think saying “Plot is story;story is plot” is a very detrimental simplification.

      • I’m curious how you are differentiating the two here? In your above comment you state they are different but don’t explain the two…genuinely curious here as I see the terms conflated/used synonymously, and i am always looking out for new lenses throgh which to view the writing process!

        • When I’m outlining a book, this is how I differentiate the two: plot is a series of cause/effect events, but story is a series of emotional events. Story comes first because it’s the heart of the book, but a good plot is like a strong backbone for the story.

          In a great plot, all the events are linked, cause to effect, from the start to the very end. Like a cascade of events that starts with one little pebble being kicked, and ends up a landslide.

          Real life isn’t like that, of course; real life is jumbled and full of randomness. Some books are more like that (Stephen King’s books are a great example, because he’s stated that he hates plotting and won’t write that way, because it’s untrue to life) – but you can have a great story that doesn’t depend on a plot. The story’s the essential thing, but a good plot can be tons of fun to read, so I’m for them.

  3. I think people are confusing the verb “to plot” with the noun “plot”

    “To plot” (Verb) means “devise the sequence of events in (a play, novel, movie, or similar work). Synonyms “to plan”, “to map out” or “to outline”. Thats the kind of thing Liana says inhibits her muse. Many authors feel the same way and don’t work with an outline.

    “A plot” (Noun) means “the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. synonyms:storyline, story, scenario, action, thread”

    This post is about how to polish your plot (noun). Otherwise known as “story.” According to the first dictionary that comes up in a Google search.

    How you achieve that plot/story is up to you.

    But of course some authors prefer write with no plotting of either kind. As Donald Barthelme does in some of his stories, for example.

    • Well said, Anne. I think part of the problem is that due to the verb, there’s a second, connotative definition of the noun: the plan that exists once plotting has taken place. I love how flexible our language is. It just makes things difficult sometimes. 🙂

  4. I really needed to read this right now. It may help me focus and search for the multiple ‘throughlines’ on my current WIP. Thank you!

  5. This is such a huge misconception among authors.

    Plot–“cat burglar steals the diamond”–is not story. It’s a device that facilitates story.

    Story is a character going from flawed to either repaired or more flawed via a struggle. While the plot typically mirrors or parallels the struggle, it is not the struggle. The struggle is the character resisting and then accepting the fact that he needs to change. Only when he accepts that fact does the climactic confrontation of the plot happen.

    A simple story of a character moving through a plot, trying to accomplish some external goal, is not compelling. What compels us is the internal struggle and the internal goal.

    Bloggers and writers give a lot of lip service to characters “growing,” and to having “complex characters,” but they so seldom discuss what that actually MEANS, to have complexity and growth, that I doubt most of them really understand what they’re talking about. That’s no dig on them–it’s not something that jumps out and grabs you until you start really taking stories apart piece by piece and looking at what holds them together. Most of us never do that.

    (And I do think it’s a good compilation of varied quotes, MJ! I was just remarking on the discussion in this thread about plot/story. 🙂 )

    • I agree with you to some extent, except that a plot is more than a single event, “stealing the diamond.” The point I was making was that a good plot, a good sequence of events, causes change and growth.

      And though I wasn’t able to find a quote that said it concisely, the right moments cause growth and show the theme. Which is why a GOOD plot is story, too. It includes the moments of reflection and emotion, the new actions spurred by that growth, and the new life-direction created by actions and growth.

      And thank you. I like conversations that explore our understanding of story, so I totally get it. 🙂

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