#EdenLit - Lessons: How to Build A Compelling Plot

Airen Wolf Airen Wolf
How to Build a Compelling and Propelling Plot

Ok, you have imagined and breathed life into your main character. He or she is someone that anyone would take an instant liking, or disliking to. You have placed that character in the midst of several supporting characters and they are really getting along. The scene is lush and gorgeous; it fits your character to a “T”. Now what? Your beloved character can interact with the scenery and other characters but what is the plan, the goal, the entire purpose of writing the story down? In essence what the hell are your characters hoping to achieve?

Without some sort of plan your characters, and your story, will have no direction. It will simply meander on without purpose until you stop writing. Every story needs even just a small amount of conflict to create forward momentum. Your story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. To be fair, each scene in your story should have this structure but let’s look at the bigger picture right now.
Lots of writers confuse action and drama with plot. These are very different creatures. The action sequences and even the elements of drama seek to propel your story forward, and you must have an idea where the story is going lest it simply fall off a cliff! The plot is what your story is ultimately about.

Think of the plot as the basic description that readers would give the story. Is it a love story? A mystery? A horror story? You should have a clear plan about the intent of your idea. The rest is just what happens IN the story. You can be mysterious and hint at the plot or you can spell it out in big, bold letters but it needs to be there!

Now then how the heck do we decide what our plot will be? This is where a piece of paper and a little thought will come in handy. You will be asking yourself a few questions and the answers will help you build a framework to craft your story around. This framework might change and be modified but good writers always start with a basic plan.
Ask yourself:
1. What is the driving force of your character? What is he or she trying to do, become, or learn?
2. What is blocking your protagonist from achieving his or her heart’s desire? Heck it doesn’t even need to be something as large as a heart’s desire. It could be as mundane as trying to put on socks!

Whatever, you must offer your character some frustration to overcome.
Now you have a skeleton of a story to attach the rest of the body to! Every good story, play, and even movie has a strong plot. Consider the following:
In the story A&P by John Updike three teenage girls, in bathing suits, want to make a few purchases in a store during the 1960s. They do not want to cover their bathing suits. They make their purchases and cause a minor disturbance in the store. The plot is short, poignant, and sweet.

Even in children’s books there is plot. Consider [italics|Green Eggs and Ham] by Dr. Suess. In this book Sam is trying to get his friend to eat a dish of green eggs and ham. He friend is skeptical and refuses, repeatedly. Sam persists and in the end convinces his friend to try the food.

In both of those examples the characters are successful at achieving their goals; the girls make their purchase, the green eggs and ham get eaten. What about the times when the goal is not achieved?
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, the goal of our two star crossed lovers is to be together and be happy. They face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and thanks to a twist of fate end up dead.
My point is there is no reason your hero needs to always be successful at achieving his or her goals but the framework still needs to be there for the story to build around.

Now that we've established what it is that your main characters are trying to achieve we need to decide WHY they are trying to achieve it. This is their driving NEED. This need will propel the plot forward and, in most cases, cause the drama necessary for the story to be compelling. ALL plots break down to these simple points: What does the person want, what is stopping him/her from getting it, why do they want it so bad?

The reason we tackle the plot in this manner is simple; the character might actually decide that the goal is unachievable and learn a nice lesson, or might continue to beat his/her head against a wall forever. Your drives can change with experience and it lends a feeling of reality to allow your main character to change his/her mind, if the situation calls for it. It might all go according to the desire of the main character, and he/she achieves the desired goal, but a twist might be that the having wasn’t worth the getting! Whatever happens you have a starting point for your characters to shock and amaze you.

Right, so what happens when you have more than one protagonist and each has his or her own goals, desires, and needs? Well you simply decide who the story really revolves around and make sure that the other protagonists actions and goals further (or hinder) the goals of the main protagonist.

If there is a character, or situation, that goes counter to the goals of the main character it shouldn't be in this particular story. Continue to ask yourself some key questions:
*What are my main character’s needs, drives and ultimate goal?
*What are the minor/support character’s needs, drives, and ultimate goals?
*How do the drives, needs, and ultimate goals of my minor cast contributing, and supporting, my main character’s pursuit of his/her goals?
These questions should be easy to answer if you have a good plot framework and well thought out characters.
10/23/2012
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