Debunking Plot Myths
There are so many writing rules and myths bandied about that it is hard to figure out what is someone ranting, and what is good advice. What is needed to write a novel and what is padding.
In today’s guest post author, Jordan Rosenfeld, shatters some of the myths around creating a good plot.
Plot: literary writers often love to hate it, and genre writers live by its guidelines.
If you’re a pantser (as in fly-by-the-seat-of) you resist what you perceive as its constraints, but plotters, well, we plotters know that plot is more than an attempt to corral our messy muses, but an elegant strategy to assure that your stories deliver a powerful, memorable experience to your readers.
Below you’ll find five myths about plot that, once shattered, may open up entirely new vistas to your writing experience.
Plot is just a string of events that a character travels through, kind of like a literary obstacle course. I can add events at will, so long as they’re flashy or twisty.
Plot is a character’s journey of transformation; those “events” are not an obstacle course, but personal challenges that stem from a character’s flaws, fears and desires. Events that put up obstacles to your character’s desires, in the form of antagonists and challenges of a psychological, physical, and spiritual nature, do so not just for the sake of pretty plot points, but to test, stretch and push your character’s inner strength and hidden steel. Each plot event must deepen your character, further your story, and provide compelling tension.
You need a lot of sub-plots to hold a reader’s interest.
First, sub-plots must be organic off-shoots of your main plot to begin with; that is, they must relate to your protagonist’s fears, flaws and desires, and ideally to her inciting incident. If your main plot, the engine that drives a character toward compelling goals and change is strong, you’ll find you have little need to manufacture sub-plots; they’ll arise organically or be unnecessary.
Plots are built on big, epic action.
Let’s return to our main understanding of what a Plot is: A plot is a character’s journey of transformation, i.e. discovery or change on the journey to a compelling goal. A character starts out in an unstable place and journeys toward some kind of stability (even if he/she doesn’t end up stable, the story is the search for it). You don’t need car crashes or fights atop buildings, dragons or wrestling matches; Characters should wrestle with inner demons, inter-personally, creating powerful inner drama as well as external action.
It’s important to explain a lot of information in a plot, in exposition, so the reader understands what’s happening.
You don’t build a plot by explaining what has or will happened (back-story, telegraphing). You build a plot by writing strong scenes, in which a character demonstrates and discovers new “information”—another clue in the puzzle piece of your story’s mystery and follows a dramatic arc.
I don’t need to worry about structure when writing a plot. I can plot by the seat of my pants.
A rare few writers can write a plot from start to finish without any sort of outline. But the more writers I work with of ALL levels of craft, the more certain I’ve become that some form of outline, from the loosest, most narrative, organic version, to the most structured, will save a writer much time. Writers are often afraid that a plot outline, or plot structure, will kill the creativity or erode their ability to discover. And I can assure you, that is not the case. Plot structure is merely a blueprint for a world that you will still create in your own individual way.
Do you plot or ‘pants’ your way through things? Please leave a comment below.
Jordan is author of the suspense novel www.indie-visible.com, a writer’s collective offering publishing and marketing support to indie authors. www.jordanrosenfeld.net, and the writing guides , and with Rebecca Lawton She is co-founder of
She teaches an ongoing series of online writing courses and webinars on the subjects of plot, scene and tension-building, and will be holding the first annual Plot & Scene retreat with author , in May 2014. www.writerpath.com