|Credit: Melissa McPhail
One of the important lessons I've come away from is the need for having a plot that can serve as a map, providing guidance and direction for the narrative. I began with a basic outline for a story, without much understanding of the characters, or what the plot was driving towards. So just like in this graphic I find myself thinking "Maybe this isn't as good as I thought."
Best Practice for Getting to Plot
In found myself writing a bunch of scenes. I big question that loomed over me was, Where is this all going? I felt like I lost my roadmap, and was getting caught up in adding characters and situations, drifting further and further away from the story. I needed to get a hold on Plot.
Melissa McPhail outlines some basic guidelines for staying true to the plot, in her article How to Avoid Cliches (or The 4 Things You MUST Know Before Starting A Novel)
- You need to establish your essential conflict.
- You need to have a clear enough concept about who your protagonist
- You need a clear concept of the overarching purpose or theme which grounds the story and drives your passion to write it.
Well first of all she warns not to get caught in the mechanics, saying "What mechanics of writing am I talking about then? Drawing up comprehensive lists of character descriptions or detailed charts illustrating the rise and fall of your plot; spending hours determining what kind of character arc fits your protagonist, or classifying characters into primary, secondary, tertiary…"
She outlined the following steps to use as basic guidance for handling the narrative, further explaining in the essay 4 Steps to Writing Organically, Part II – Viewpoints, Mimicry and Imagination:
- Use milestones.
- Capture scenes for any point in the story, but write them in linear sequence.
- Assume viewpoints.
- Observe and mimic.
Linda Cowgill in her essay The Sequence of Story, highlights a pitfall of storytelling that I felt all to familiar with. She said, "Why these scenes didn't resonate and leave the effect she wanted on the reader was because they weren't dramatically connected in terms of specific cause and effect actions. She didn't dramatize the particular characteristics in terms of actions and responses. We were thrown into events that ended and new events took their place. We couldn't understand the character's motivations, or track the important clues of the story. The scenes didn't build in a chain of events to make the important points. She had conceived a story in her mind but hadn't found a way to illustrate it in terms of cause and effect actions for the character."
Although Linda was writing about film and applied her essay to screenwriting, I felt that some of the essential points could also be applied to novel writing. She said, that for the character "there is still a problem that must be faced. The scenes are structured in cause and effect relationships that show the protagonist of the sequence trying to accomplish something. Scenes are structured around the meeting of an obstacle, complication or problem that the character has to deal with in the course of the plot, and then show how he deals with it."
Sticking to Plot Basics
The ScriptLab in Plot: Five Key Moments lays down some of the essentials of screenwriting, which can also figure as plot milestones:
- INCITING INCIDENT
- LOCK IN
- FIRST CULMINATION
- MAIN CULMINATION
- THIRD ACT TWIST