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Craft Questions #3: Plot

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Philip Overby, Jul 3, 2012.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    This is the 3rd installment of "Craft Questions" which doesn't necessarily have to just be a poll, but feel free to discuss other people's answers as well.

    The first two can be found here http://mythicscribes.com/forums/writing-questions/4063-craft-questions-1-character.html and here http://mythicscribes.com/forums/writing-questions/4098-craft-questions-2-setting.html

    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story your reading?

    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?

    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?

    4. What are the most difficult elements of plotting for you?

    5. If a story has great characters or setting but a contrived or mediocre plot, can you stick with it?

    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?

    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?

    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?


    1. I love plots that can throw some curve-balls but aren't too hard to follow. Also I don't really do well with slow-moving plots. If a book is kind of dragging its feet, then I'm likely to give up on it. I guess I have a short attention span, so I need something to keep me moving.

    2. I would like to have plots like I suggested above, but sometimes my own plots can meander a bit. I've started to try to think of things in scenes instead of an overall plot. I want to model my writing more after a TV program. I believe Michael J. Sullivan has said this before, but his writing is structured like this and I really like that idea. More episodic in nature with connecting threads.

    I would say my writing is definitely more character-driven. I dig characters so I try to make them as interesting as possible and have their motivations be enough to keep the plot moving.

    3. I've done both, but I would say plotting ahead of time has saved me tons of grief. At least if I know where my story is going, I can write scenes that build towards the ending. So that helps me a lot. I can write short stories without thinking too much about where I'm going and I enjoy that.

    4. The most difficult element of plotting for me is getting the tension and rise and fall of action right. A story can't just be action, action, action, or there will be no time for any reaction. So I guess sometimes it's difficult for me to find a right balance.

    5. In general, most books are recycled plots anyway. Most of George R.R. Martin's books are similar to plots of other things: betrayal, struggle for power, discovery, secrets, etc. But his characters make the plot worth it. I can deal with a plot that seems too familiar as long as I don't feel like I'm reading Lord of the Rings with new characters.

    6. I can't really write out of order, although I wish I could. If I could I'd write the beginning and end then be so much happier with life.

    7. I don't get writer's block, but I do get "life block." Meaning bad things happen to me and then I stop writing. But in general, I try to make my plots relatively simple so I don't get stuck. Sometimes when I paint myself into a wall, I just delete whole scenes. The book I'm working on now I actually deleted 25,000 words before I started writing it again.

    8. I think a great plot delivers. It doesn't dangle something in front of you and then nothing comes of it. Also, sometimes predictability is a good thing. Just because something seems predictable to the story, doesn't mean it's bad. Sometimes too many twists can ruin an otherwise good book. Also too many plot lines can muddy it as well.

    An example of a plot that really "wowed" me was A Game of Thrones. I was so impressed with the way that book was laid out. The twists were genuinely good and I felt the story had me begging for the next book. If you haven't read it, go do it.
     
  2. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story your reading?
    I mentioned this in a thread somewhere, but I love a plot that can throw me completely. Being a writer I'm forever guessing twists in plots, so if you as an author can ensure I don't know what's coming (reeeeally don't know). Then again I don't really mind if I do guess, as long as its done in an interesting way, with interesting characters. The most irritating thing is if a twist or plot is too obvious.. and everything else too. Once I've read a plot once I'm a touch less likely to want to read it again/

    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?
    I'd like to say character-driven, but because of the above it's probably closer to plot driven in my novels. Although, even though I spend plenty of time on plot that plot is drawn from situation and character so in that sense its character-driven. Well... does it need to be one or the other? The defining feature of my plots I'd say, rather than the plot vs character thing, is the use of twist and turn. I like a puzzle in reading, I like the unexpected... so I write it.

    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?
    I plot ahead. every. single. time. It's harder to write yourself into corners, harder to lose inspiration (it's all there for you waiting for the blanks to be filled in)... I've been thinking, half the problems people have with their writing in my case can be solved by outlining and I think if more people tried it rather than relying on "pantsing", they'd be rather surprised how easily plots fall into place.

    For me outlining doesn't stifle creativity, it kindles it. Then again each to their own.

    4. What are the most difficult elements of plotting for you?
    The most difficult is organising something that interests me and keeping it that way. I like to write with a bit of complexity, but sometimes my ideas aren't up to it. I'd rather not force it you see. So the most difficult elements of plotting aren't anything in particular really, but the act in itself. I'm a perfectionist and an endless editor. So maybe you see my problem.

    5. If a story has great characters or setting but a contrived or mediocre plot, can you stick with it?
    I like to think I can stick with it yes, but the writing itself would have to be technically intriguing too. Simple plots are absolutely no problem to me, if done right. "If done right" I here you ask? Well I don't quite know how to define that, but if I could all my plotting woes would be over really.

    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?
    Sometimes one has to. For a mystery or more mediocre plot twist to work I need to know the truth in advance and write from there so all the necessary foreshadowing fits in the right place.

    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?
    Block is usually because I'm not in the writing mood. In fact I'd go as far to say there in no block. Either you have the drive to, or you don't, right?

    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?
    My example for this is always the PI-style film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Even though I'm sure there are plots out there which do it better, that one is the one that sticks in my mind. The simple reason is that I couldn't figure out the "whodunit" (which is surprising for me), and then the narrator goes and taunts me for that very reason. It annoyed the pants off me at first, but I love the audacity of it. You know?

    Another plot that could be a "winning plot" by my definition, would be John Meaney's currently ongoing Ragnarok trilogy. It's got multiple plots across vastly differing time lines that even in the first book may as well be separate books. But they are united very cleverly by ... well I won't say because of spoilers. There is a book that treads the line between working well and failing. In the hands of a less accomplish writer they could easily get contrived and confused, but Meaney does it well. It could be argued that his pacing is off in the sense that each book of the trilogy DOESN'T stand alone and things that a long while to unfold, but I have to say ... does it matter? A good book is a good book.

    I will also mention Iain M Banks, who also deftly wields multiple plots and points of view, bringing them together some how, with that coming together often being the twist in the tail (ie, what does this have to do with the rest of the book? Wait, find out and be amazed.)

    Anyway, there you have it. I suppose from that answer you can infer the kind of books I try to write huh?
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2012
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story your reading?

    For me, the plots get me interested in a book, but the characters and writing that make me invest in the book. There's a particular author who has the most wonderful jacket cover blurbs summarizing their book plots. Every time I read one they fill me with wonder and make me dream of the possibilities that could be inside this candy coated goodness of a book. But then I read the books and they're trash. I've read two of them and they constantly make my eyes roll.


    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?

    Typically they're character driven. The character's choices pushed the plot in different directions. But I won't exclude ever writing a plot driven story.

    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?

    I plot ahead of time. Now what the final plot can turn out to be is quite different than the original plot as I discover more interesting directions to go.

    4. What are the most difficult elements of plotting for you?

    Getting characters from point A to point B emotionally, so they make a particular decision and push the story in a certain direction I want. Sometimes it's impossible and the story goes somewhere else. Getting characters to change and have that change feel real and have the reader be moved by the change, now that's hard.

    5. If a story has great characters or setting but a contrived or mediocre plot, can you stick with it?

    Yes. If I engage with a character, anything that's important to them becomes important to me, no matter how contrived. I think cheesy romance stories rely on this, no?

    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?

    I could, but I don't like to. I like to get a feel the flow of a story as I write it, and I can't get that if I'm jumping around.

    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?

    I don't ever get to a point where I can't write, so I wouldn't call it writers block. But when ever I get stuck on a story, it's usually a plot thing, specifically getting a character emotionally from A to B so they can logically do something.

    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?

    If I had the absolute answer for what makes a 'winning plot', I'd be published and calling J.K. Rowling a pauper. I don't know if plots wow me. What wows me is the whole package. As I mentioned above there's an author who has the most awesome jacket cover blurbs about their plots, but the execution is way lacking.
     
  4. ShortHair

    ShortHair Sage

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    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story you're reading?

    I'm easy to please. Unless something jars me out of the story, I'll stick with it.

    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?

    I start out with a plot, but during the writing process the characters decide how it plays out. So it's a mix.

    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?

    There has to be something in place, a scaffold if you will, to give structure to the whole.

    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?

    Right now I'm finishing parts of Part 1, forging into Part 2, and working backwards from the end of Part 3, while rewriting anything that needs it. So yes.

    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?

    I have less time to write than I do to think about what to write. Blocking is not a problem for me.

    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?

    The best plots grab you from the first scene and don't let you go. I'd have to nominate Raiders of the Lost Ark as Best Plot Ever.
     
  5. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story your reading?
    Hard to say. I don't know if there's necessarily anything specific in the story that compels me, at least not broadly. Certainly there have been some very compelling plots, but they are specific to their stories, and I can't say there's a common theme between them. While it's obviously not the hook, though, I would say I always appreciate a story where everything comes together in the climax. Lots of plot threads, a twist perhaps, tied up as concisely as possible. The main plot and every subplot has the same conclusion. That sort of thing often makes a story stick with me.

    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?
    I wouldn't say I have a consistent sort of plot, though I can say that I almost always focus more on the characters. My two most plot-driven stories still have several chapters where nothing happens except developing the characters and their relationship with one another. It's just what I prefer to focus on. My plots... restoring life to the world, riches to rags to robes (the story ends with all of them becoming wizards, basically), a roaring rampage of revenge, and at least two stories about crossing the desert and not getting killed or dying of thirst along the way.

    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?
    I plot a bit ahead of time, but things always change, so I'll wing the first couple of drafts and work in the changes before I rewrite it to add a bit of cohesion to the end product.

    4. What are the most difficult elements of plotting for you?
    ... most of it, honestly. I'm not too great in the plot department. Tend to just stick to short stories, slice-of-life novels, that sort of thing. I occasionally get ideas for strong plots, but I often lose interest in them.

    5. If a story has great characters or setting but a contrived or mediocre plot, can you stick with it?
    Maybe, maybe not. If I've got a great setting and characters, I'd probably just toss the crap plot out the door and work with what I've got. If the plot is just sort of a base - not contrived, but perhaps mediocre insofar as its not much to look at - then sure, I can build around it. But I don't think I'd ever be able to do much with the "orphan boy is forced to fight evil and face his destiny" plot no matter how awesome that orphan boy is.

    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?
    Yes.

    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?
    I mostly only get writer's block because of real life issues. Like right now, I've moved away from my husband due to immigration difficulties. So I'm not really in the mood to write. But I've never gotten writer's block because I didn't know what to write. If I don't know what to do next, I just push on anyway. You either write a load of nonsense to get you through to the next scene or you get struck with inspiration halfway through and it all works out. Either way, I don't really stop creating just because I'm out of ideas or I realize a problem. I can work around those issues, be they with character, plot, setting, whatever.

    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?
    Hmm... I was inspired a lot when I was a kid (well, 13/14) after I saw SAW. I know it's just a gorefest horror film, but I loved the way the everything came together in the end, with each character's story tying into the central conflict. I'd never seen anything like it, really.
     
  6. Mythos

    Mythos Troubadour

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    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story your reading?
    The kind of plots that keep me reading are mystery plots. They don't have to be mystery novels, but a plot that has some unanswered questions will keep me reading until I know the answer. This doesn't mean the plot is good. It just means that I have to know the answer. I find plots that focus more on characters more entertaining, although I read them slower.

    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?
    I typically write plots that focus on the characters. I try to make it so that it's a mix of both, though.

    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?
    I don't plot ahead extensively, but I do plot the major points and some of the scenes I'm excited to write. As I write, I remove scenes I'd planned or add more.

    4. What are the most difficult elements of plotting for you?
    The most difficult element of plot for me is trying to get through the "boring parts." I can never figure out how to have my characters do something while taking a break without having the same things happen over and over.

    5. If a story has great characters or setting but a contrived or mediocre plot, can you stick with it?
    I can stick with it, but I'll probably forget the book really quickly.

    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?
    Yes I can, but I try to avoid it. It confuses me sometimes.

    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?
    My writer's block is usually due to the fact that I haven't planned enough, so yes it's because of plot problems. I usually read one of the "boring parts."

    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?
    A winning plot is a plot that has million different little pieces that come together in the end perfectly. The plot from A Song of Ice and Fire is a good example because of the millions of characters whose actions affect one another, but it has yet to end, and it seems that GRRM is having trouble keeping the plot going.
     
  7. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

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    1. I love plots with a lot of action. Never was able to read literary fiction. Things need to move along and the plot has to contain events that are important enough for me to care about. I don't want to read about some kid sitting on his ass in NYC going to dance in a couple clubs and then going home. Props to anyone who can guess what book I was describing.

    2. I write pretty action-packed plots because that entertains me. I write battle scenes much faster (and better) than I write most other scenes. My stories so far start out plot driven but become increasingly character driven as I write them.

    3. I plot a little bit ahead, but not nearly enough. It really hurts my word count, too.

    4. The most difficult for me is filling in the space between the big events. My novel ideas tend to consist of some characters and several scenes I am dying to get onto paper. The hard part is getting to those scenes.

    5. I agree with you, Phil. Many of Gemmell's books, for example, have similar plots. Compare Legend to In the Realm of the Wolf or Waylander or even Knights of Dark Renown. All have some pretty similar plot points. Sanderson describes many of Gemmell's plots as "a bunch of grim, dark men with hearts of gold standing on a wall trying to stop other grim, dark men with hearts of gold". But that's ok, because each one of those books is different enough with intriguing characters, twists, and emotion that they are all great reads.

    6. I can write scenes out of order, but I don't think I could place them in the book out of order if that is what you are asking.

    7. Yes, it is almost always because I don't know where I'm going next. Also, I'm lazy.

    8. A winning plot gives a satisfying resolution to significant problems that you genuinely cared about. It also entertains the hell out of you on the way, and the climax should feel big enough by itself to justify the entire book (or series). So far, ASOIAF is doing this, although it is getting a bit drawn out in the later books. Mistborn was pretty great, and I still love the Harry Potter books. I'm a sucker for any time everything comes together perfectly right near the end.
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story your reading?

    It depends. A book has a lot of elements involved, and a "simple" plot can be a great platform for delivering on some of the book's other elements. But there are plots that have wowed me, and it's usually one through a level of complexity and surprise twists. But the best plot-examples which come to mind are the Final Fantasy games, which would probably require a fleet of books to replicate.

    One kind of plot that I don't like is the long-winded LOTR-type journey, where you don't know where your characters are going next, and nowhere that they've been matters once they've left. I loved LOTR and the Hobbit, but the copy cats are terrible. A journey is a fairly simple plot, and LOTR used its journey to focus on the complicated setting and the characters and the history. A lot of the modern writers who use the journey often fail to replicate the execution.


    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?

    I like complicated plots that encompass the scope of my settings.

    But that doesn't mean my writing is plot-driven. I try to use a strong plot to push my characters.


    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?

    I outline. Chapter-by-chapter my outlines are pretty vague, but when I get to that chapter I usually know pretty quickly what I'm doing with it.


    4. What are the most difficult elements of plotting for you?

    Spontaneous changes. I tend to second-guess them a lot, but they usually work out.


    5. If a story has great characters or setting but a contrived or mediocre plot, can you stick with it?

    Simple? Sure. Contrived? Only to a point. Hunger Games had a pretty contrived plot. I enjoyed the movie, but that's why I never grabbed the book. I know what I would think of it.


    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?

    I sometimes write the middle/end of a chapter and then go back to the beginning, but I don't really skip chapters.


    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?

    If I get writer's block, it's usually because I haven't figured out enough about my characters and who they are.


    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?
     
  9. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story your reading?

    Anything that keeps me guessing.

    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?

    Anything that will surprise the reader multiple times. Mostly, my writing is character-driven.

    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?

    Have you seen my entry for Steerpike's challenge? I totally made that up when I went along. Same with Blue Lotus' challenge. With Endless Hunt, I plan a little but wing dialogue--especially my Tusk post today. I had a general idea, but the way it all came together... I can't plan that stuff.
    What I do plan ahead is character interaction and purpose. There may be a larger plan, like a beginning/middle/end breakdown. In the end, I wing more than I plan, and tend to like the results of winging it more that I keep my plans simple and follow the most interesting path to my foreseen destination.
    The journey is more important than the destination.

    4. What are the most difficult elements of plotting for you?

    If I step away from a story too long, I start second-guessing. Same if I over plan. Knowing when to pull out of planning and shut up and write is the most difficult.

    5. If a story has great characters or setting but a contrived or mediocre plot, can you stick with it?

    What, me worry? I embrace cliches!
    If the story fails to surprise people or my characters are dull, I pull the plug.

    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?

    Yes, but I write in order, which means that if I plan an ending, the story may lead me to another ending.
    If you mean would I write like Pulp Fiction, no. I loved that movie, but I prefer to write events chronologically.

    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?

    Writer's block is usually the result of life happening. You know how they say "strike while the iron's hot?" Well... when the iron cools, I get writer's block.

    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?

    No formula. The audience needs to be surprised and fulfilled. Even a tragic ending can be fulfilling.

    Cowboy Bebop (anime series) was tragic at the end, but I loved it for that. The Artist (movie: b/w, silent, 2011) was happy, and I loved it for that. Death Rat! A Novel (by Mike Nelson, the MST3K guy) was full of hilarious surprises, and it's one of my favorite novels. Dragon Tears (Dean Koontz novel) was full of strange, powerful characters and a genuinely horrifying climax, and I loved it for that.
     
  10. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

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    1. What kind of plots intrigue you and make you invested in a story your reading?

    Something I haven't seen frequently or a different angle on something familiar.

    2. What kind of plots do you typically write? Is your writing plot driven or character driven? Or a mix of both?

    It's a toss up between character driven and concept driven. I'll get an image or a think of a rough concept. The characters and mood will grow from that. I find knowing the climax or turning point is what gives me direction and I wander until I get there.

    3. Do you plot ahead of time or do you just wing it?

    Depends. I've written stories based on fleeting images. Other times, I write things I'd like to see, snippets of dialog, things the characters should do. It's not exactly a plot, but it's an outline of sorts, even if it's mostly made up of impressions, one-liners from conversations and scraps of scenery rather than events.

    I don't think a method like that would work well for a novel.

    4. What are the most difficult elements of plotting for you?

    Pacing, flow, and transitions–basically everything to do with timing. It's why I can't be a comedian. :(

    5. If a story has great characters or setting but a contrived or mediocre plot, can you stick with it?

    No? If it has great characters, the characters' personalities suggest where to go. If I can't think of what to do, it's because I haven't understood the character. Once I know this person, the direction comes. I get more movement from conversation than physical action.

    6. Can you structure your plot out of order (write the middle first or ending last, etc.)?

    I haven't tried it. Once I know the character and the turning point, it's just a matter of getting there. I'm weakest at endings, and doing the middle first would take some steam out of the beginning since I'm motivated to get to later scenes. Again, this might be different for novelists.

    7. If you get writer's block, is it commonly because of plot problems? Or is it some other issue?

    It's usually due to self-doubt, anxiety, stage fright, and laziness. Combined. If I'm at a loss for what to do, I wait. Either I'll stumble on the answer or after a cooling off period I'll find the concept or character wasn't engaging and I can move on.

    8. What do you think makes a "winning plot?" Can you give an example of a plot that really wowed you?

    Most of my favorite plots are favorites because of the characters as well. If I think strictly of plot, it gets difficult to point out the ones I liked for the plot. I like plots in a few anime, like Fullmetal Alchemist or Baccano! I love "The Lady or the Tiger" by Frank Stockton and Holes by Louis Sachar, so I think plots that involve reader interaction appeal to me. I'd never seen anything like "The Lady or the Tiger" when I first read it. Whichever choice was made said a lot about the reader. In things like Baccano! and Holes, it made me feel smart when things started coming together and aha! the plot makes sense now! I wish I could do something like that.

    I also like setups with individual vs. group of baddies or society. Movies like The Net and Enemy of the State and books like The Fixer appeal to me.
     
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