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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Plots, Shlots

For pantsters everywhere, you will rejoice.

For you plotters, you can carry on, just with a different focus. Or not.

This post is borne out of a recent discussion in one of my CP groups. Hope it helps you as it freed me.

Here are a few foundational elements to my theory I'm about to propose:
  1. I'm a character-driven author and reader. If you give me an interesting character, I'll follow them just about anywhere. Examples from books: Eve and Roarke from J.D. Robb's In Death series; Stephanie Plum from Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter series. Examples from TV: Jessica Fletcher (from Murder, She Wrote); Alan, Charlie and Don Eppes (from Numb3rs) and all the Gallaghers from Showtime's Shameless.
  2. People are basically curious. We want to know what the Joneses next door are doing in their lives. What makes them happy, successful. Individually and in marriage. We want to know what Brad and Angelina are up to. What exciting and interesting things they have done. What (remote, unfamiliar?) places they have traveled to now. What else explains the sales of the gossipy magazines at the checkout lane in the grocery store, even while most consider them to be filled with invalid info? Other than possibly living vicariously through the people made the subject matter therein.
  3. Those different sections in a (physical) bookstore are about the emotions they evoke: horror, love, mystery, wonder, humor, adventure, suspense/intrigue. This is often espoused by fantasy author Dave Farland.
So, if readers want emotions and interesting characters, we should focus on that, right?

And this therefore is my theory: It's not about plot. It's about the character arc. So while you may continue to create your requisite plot points, just think of them as hanging off the ultimate bell curve: your character arc.

In Robert McKee's Story, on pages 319–331 in the hardcover edition, he gives examples of his Principle of Antagonism, which deals with themes and emotions. I agree. Add communicating it well, being at least as smart as your sophisticated reader of today so there are no flimsy, faulty holes in your reasonings as to cause and effect, or human nature, etc., and you are set.

So, to put my theorem in a more usable format, here's the new revised "fought points" that I'm working from, at this point forward, to keep me focused on the correct nexus (repurposed from Campbell's original Hero's Journey):
  • Ordinary World. Our hero/heroine (H/H) with their individual secrets, their individual fears and, whether they know it yet or not, how that may conflict with each other's set of secrets/fears, or circumstances or internal compass; H/H are familiar with this stage, representing the known, the stilled waters; whereas the unknown evokes more fears and could involve change(s) which may be unpleasant to go through.
  • Inciting Incident. Thrown into the stirred waters, our H/H's secrets are threatened, or their fears are put to the test, either by circumstances or the other main characters' actions or internal guilt, regrets, depression, whatever you can imagine to put them through.
  • (At least) Three Try/Fail Attempts. This represents our H/H's experiments to get out of the bad place they find themselves and back to the old one, until they grow enough to envision a better one.
  • Climax. The "light bulb" moment where the H/H figure it out; their character has been changed, self-growth achieved.
  • Denouement. Resolution, tying up all the loose ends of minor character arcs, or any remaining questions revolving around the main character arc andtaking this next part from most of the beloved long-term TV showsending on a relaxing, regrouping moment of personal reflection or introspection into their new, improved self and resultant life. And successes, hopefully.
As with any theory, this is a work-in-progress, subject to subsequent experiments and failures and more tweaking. I've always considered myself plot-impaired and now I see why. My focus was off.

Anyway, if this resonates with you, give it a try.

If this is not for you, disregard my abstraction and continue carrying on. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

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