Ladies and gentlemen, new writers and experienced professionals: welcome to Part Two of a three Part blog series dedicated to the basics of every novel. Part One was Setting. This is about the plot.
So, you've figured out what the stage (setting) is going to look like. If you have no idea what the stage is going to look like or your set designers are on strike: it's okay. You can still gather your actors (characters) and direct them on how to tell the story. What's that? You don't have a direction or a story? Oh. Well, that's okay too.
There are three types of writers. Many authors have come up with cool names for all three types and some even say there are five types of writers. Technically speaking there are two types: those who write and those who dream about writing but never do.
There are three types of writers who write: The Plotter or Planner, The Pantser, and the...Hybrid. Yes, like the fancy new cars but unlike the fancy new cars: it doesn't matter what kind of writer you are.
Plotters or Planners know how their story begins, how it ends and how they will get to that ending sometimes in the greatest detail. Pansters have NO CLUE what's going on. They might have a setting, maybe even a single scene, and the thought of a few characters but have no idea what the characters are doing or why.
The Hybrid? A mix of The Plotter and Planner in varying degrees. I'm a Hybrid: energy efficient, good for the environment, er, sorry. As a Hybrid I have to know how my story ends. I have to know kind of where/when the story is taking place and I have to have the main characters in mind. Everything else is up in the air.
What does all this have to do with plot? A lot. If you're a Panster: you can stay for the ride but we're going to get into a lot of planning which you're not used to doing. But, do stick around because you might find something interesting and could begin a transformation into a Hybrid *cue Transformers music*
Plotters/Planners and Hybrids: buckle up and keep all limbs in the vehicle at all times. There is a package of cookies under your seat was well as a carton of milk. If you need spiked milk there will be an attendant coming along shortly.
Every novel needs a plot. Sometimes the plot isn't as simple as "hero is introduced, bad guy is introduced, hero fights bad guy and wins (or loses depending on who you are), and everybody goes home." The plot varies with every genre but it boils down to this: YOU MUST HAVE CONFLICT.
Conflict does not always mean your main character is fighting with someone else or against something in order to save the world. Conflict can mean something as simple as: main character grows up. No magic, no evil demon lord to defeat, no world to save, and no ninjas. Of course, you can have the magic, demon lords, and world-saving in a growing up story but not all novels have a 100 percent crystal clear conflict.
The goal of your main character could be to get through life and its various changes without getting beat up too horribly. Examples? Glee, The Big Bang Theory, Fresh Prince of Bel-air, Full House, Friends, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, and the list goes on. The one concept all these shows (and shows similar) have in common is the fact there is no major conflict. There is no evil villain and the world doesn't have to be saved.
Everyone one of those shows was popular in some sense and most of them went on for many seasons. They were shows about the characters growing up and changing depending what life threw at them. Yes there was something to "defeat" in every episode (someone getting fired, someone moving, a new person at school, failing a test, etc) but the entire show did not revolve around the little conflict. The villain was life.
The plot of these shows is simple: throw believable hurdles in front of the characters and see how they react. Make sure it's funny, heart-warming, sometimes sad but definitely makes you care about the characters, wash, rinse and repeat until the characters can move beyond the show in the readers/viewers mind.
Of course the plot of a novel is easier to figure out when the conflict is clear. If you have a villain who wants to destroy the world because he believes we suck in general and he can fix it then you can give your main character direction on how to defeat said villain. It's also easier if your character has a set profession like doctor, FBI agent, or cop. Shows like House MD, CSI, Criminal Minds, Law and Order, and Flashpoint have characters who not only have to go through the changes life throws at them but also have to deal with saving people's lives every episode.
The point of the plot is to give your characters something interesting to do. No one wants to read about a person getting up and going to work every day unless said person is a superhero by night or they have to solve a murder or life is particulary evil to said person.
The problem with plot is every plot is as different as every novel. Yes all the concepts are the same (boy meets girl, falls in love with girl, tries to get girl, struggles to get girl, finally gets girl) but it changes depending on your characters and your setting.
The only rule when it comes to plot is: make sure you have an interesting conflict that will keep your reader/viewer entertained. Everything else is up to your imagination. My advice? Know where you're going or what your main character wants/needs to do. If you get stuck you can throw ninjas at it.
Next time we'll talk about characters which will finish this three-part series. I'll be expanding on concepts mentioned in this mini-series with posts about world-building, subplots, and minor characters.
Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.