The Art of Plotting, Part IV – Tying It All Together

Okay, I’ve been overdue on this for a while.  Life-n-shit has been busy, you know?

Anyway, I said I would get back to this, so here I am: plotting, and how to do it.  So far ( in parts Prelude, One, Two, and Three, respectively), we talked about the components of the story, how the characters and dialogue tie in, and some of my favorite plot devices.  But what constitutes a whole plot?  And how does the author put together a compelling story?

Beats the hell out of me.

No, really.  Who knows what makes a good plot?  It’s all subjective anyway, right?  My whole point was to provide my readers – all three of you – some thoughts about plotting and I think I did that.  So, we’re even, right?

(Muse:  You louse.  You duped people into reading this drivel, and promised them something useful!)

Sigh.  Okay.

Start with a Plan.  Look, I’m not saying you have to write a five-hundred word summary for every two thousand word story you write.  Nor am I saying (as I have seen some writing texts insist upon) that an outline is a requirement to tell a tale.  But I do think that when you start, you should have some idea – flimsy or firm – of where you’re going.  Yes, you can just start writing and see where a tale goes, and possibly produce a nice story.  But in my vast, rump-sized experience, it helps to have a plan.  You can take off with naught but a concept but I think it leads to more false starts, dead ends, and general thrashing around than otherwise.  Put it like this:  if you’re building a wood cabinet, you can grab a pile of lumber and start sawing or you can draw up a plan.  Maybe there is no need to draw up a plan for a simple shelf … but it still helps to know what you want the shelf to look like before you start.

Hook the Reader.  Now that the plan is underway, sock the reader in the nose with a left hook.  Lead with the a tense power struggle, brilliant dialogue, a wonderful description of a setting, or a lurid recounting of something so unbelievably filthy the reader will have no choice but to keep going.  It’s said that editors expect a pretty quick start to a story.  So do readers.

Pace Yourself.  Okay, the reader is hooked, the story is proceeding.  You wanna build a natural crescendo to the story’s climax.  You know, there’s a reason every pop song goes:  stanza, chorus, stanza, chorus, guitar solo, final stanza.  That’s the natural rhythm and build up to the end of the song.  You want the same build up to the end of the story.  You want to tease the reader along, heighten their anxiety, with hints of foreshadowing and thrusts of tension.  Get the reader trembling with anticipation until their fingers are gripping the pages with white-knuckled joy and then BAM the big pay off !!

(Muse:  Those terms are .. awfully sexual, aren’t they?)
(Me.  Only a naughty person would think that … a naughty person covered with whip cream and wearing a ball gag.)
(Muse:  Uhh…)
(Me.  Yeah.)

Coitus aside, the point is this:  Find a natural peak to the story and build the events up to that point.

Resolve Quickly.  Once you’ve hit the climax, have a cigarette.  And end the story quickly.  This dovetails into the previous point.  If you have the natural peak of the story too soon, the reader will start to loose interest.  I’ve read too many stories that drag on for thousands of words after what feels like the emotional or action high point of the story.  Once the character has vanquished the evil, solved the world’s problems, and otherwise ceased to be interesting, wrap it up and move on.  I mean, they aren’t going to be developing any more after that, right?  Unless you are writing a serial.  Then move to the next episode.

Okay. 

I think that concludes my take on plotting.  Did any of that make sense?  Did any of it help anyone at all?  If nothing else, I think I helped myself by organizing my thoughts.

Tomorrow, I start the Omega Mage revision.  Should be a hoot.

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