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How to plan a story when plot is not really that important?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Yora, Feb 12, 2020.

  1. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I think there is a wide gulf between a) the theory of story and plot—ultimately, boring things much of the time, at least when we're merely thinking about them—and b) the enjoyment or experience of story and plot as they unfold for reader and, yes, for writer.

    On that last point: Plotting out a story, before writing, can be rather boring. Why should we care? It's mechanical. It's a plot or story that has been done a million times. Yadda yadda.

    But hopefully as you write a story, you can enjoy the way it unfolds for you, and the reader will as well. What, pray tell, is unfolding?

    Okay let's take this in reverse order.

    "What are stories about?"

    When I think of the stories I enjoy, I don't usually stop at "plot" as the answer for what I like about them. Sometimes I do; there are some peculiar tales with twisty plots that grab my curiosity as a creative. But a lot of the time, I'm enjoying the story because I like the characters. I like seeing the characters interact, grow and overcome. Sometimes, I like seeing the marvels of the world within the tale. (And this can be our own real world too, if it's done right!) Sometimes I like seeing the conflicts, the great struggles that form the core of the story, and how those conflicts are resolved. The best tales contain all these things and more besides.

    "What else is there that you can plan?"

    How about planning how you'll include all those other things you like about stories? They're the things that draw you and pull you through the tale.

    Ah...but how do you plan including them? This is where a consideration of plot occurs. I may not be focused on the plot most of the time when I'm thinking about the stories I have enjoyed, but I'm grateful for the plot. The plot is an occasion for those other things. It is the occasion for those other things.

    So if I can tick off the things I liked about LOTR...well, the basic plot of LOTR is what enabled the inclusion of those things. Those things might have been floating around untethered, a jumble or mishmash, without the plot. They would not have unfolded for me if not for the unfolding of the plot. It'd be like taking all the material things I like in this world—certain foods, tech, objects, people—and putting them in a cannon and shooting them at me. I'd probably not like that. Everything in its proper context. What is proper? Heh, well, that might depend on a) me and b) each thing....

    "How do you plan a story if the plot can be slapped together in two minutes?"

    Here, then, is where the true difficulty begins. Everything in its proper context; but, what is proper?

    [BTW, does "proper" look funny to you? It does to me, just now, like it should be pronounced proe-per. Heh. I think I almost never write the word, so it looks weird to me...]

    I think there may be two stages of this planning, broadly speaking.

    The first stage is to consider these two sets:
    1. All the things you want in the tale. I.e., all those things you like. Characters/arcs, world elements, ideas, struggles/conflict, etc.
    2. All the various plots which might enable you to best include all those things you want in the tale.
    Mesh these together in your mind until you find a...proper plot for your tale. Whatever plot will allow you to include/display those things best. Or maybe whatever plot seems the easiest match. This isn't an exact science. I think this is one place where a lot of those "why" questions get asked. I also think it's not uncommon to start with one plot that seems great but to ultimately change to a different plot sometime later in the process of planning or writing the tale...

    And that would be the second stage. Start putting those elements together into the plot you've chosen. As you do so, ask why? a lot. And what if...? or what about...? or what next...? Does the plot structure remain firm, viable, for what you want to accomplish? If not, you may need to change it. The primary point, I'd think, going back to the first item way up above, is to include the things you want to include, the things you like about the tale you want to tell. The characters and their arcs, the world elements, the struggles and conflicts, the ideas, and so forth. They are the primary thing. The plot should be an occasion for including these things. An enabler. Plot is important for this reason only.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020
  2. The Dark One

    The Dark One Maester

    My first published novel (after many many years of rejection) was a classic hero's journey, although I didn't realise that at the time.

    A forty year old goalkeeper who had received an invitation to trial with Manchester Utd when he was 16, after reading the exhortation in his uncle's will that he finally make something of his talent, decides to finally take up the offer of the trial.

    It is a decision that few people would make, but acting in accordance with that choice is a call to action that inspired one hell of a journey (and no, he didn't get to play for Man Utd, but he had some amazing adventures that wouldn't have happened otherwise). That was a crime novel, but the hero's journey transcends genres.
    Devor likes this.

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