For some writers plotting is the hardest part of writing. The very idea of it freezes the blood in their veins, the ideas in their brains. But be of good cheer. Plotting doesn’t have to be scary. First, keep in mind that:
- Plot simply refers to what happens in a story.
- To be more precise, it means an incident or a series of events leading to important consequences.
- It is cause and effect played out on a page.
Cause and effect is the key. Think of throwing a pebble into a pond. It is a small action but one that leads to big consequences, and that’s all the writer needs to keep in mind:
Plot is what your characters say, do and feel that makes a difference to what happens next.
Let’s create an example: in a moment of mild intoxication Marla tells her best friend, Jodie, that she once had an affair with Paul, a neighbour. The action of telling her secret sets off a chain of consequences. The ripples of that particular pebble will reverberate in the lives of all the characters.
Thought and emotion can also set off consequences but only once they are acted upon. Jodie can be angry with Marla for betraying her husband but that’s not plot until Jodie acts on it. Thinking about or feeling emotion isn’t plot. But emotions are a very good way to start an action that leads to further consequences and thus to a satisfying story.
What plot is not
Writing that ‘this happened and then that happened and then this happened and then that happened’ is not plot. It’s not even a story because there are no consequences. As an example: a man dies. That is not a plot. A man dies and his wife dies. Again not much of a plot. But, if a man dies and his wife commits suicide as a result, that is the beginning of a plot.
Let’s take the next step. A man dies, his wife commits suicide, and her daughter starts to ask why her father died and why her mother was so frantic that she kills herself. A plot! The father’s death is the event that has significant consequences. If the daughter merely felt sad there would be no story.
All plots emerge from that one moment when something happens that is significant enough to start off a chain of consequences.
I’m trying to imagine how I would put those words of wisdom to good use in my present project. My next Nana Naills story is a crime novel (working title: Nana and the Nest of Wipers). So the plot hinges on the finding of a dead body – as must happen in a crime story. That’s my pebble. Ah! Now I see. Each incident has consequences for the suspects. Hmm. I think I could work with that.