The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #1: Plot

Can you believe I couldn’t think of a more creative title? Me neither. Some days are like that.

Today, is not my normal blogging day, but we’re getting into the meat and potatoes of writing a novel, and this kind of thing needs space. So, without further ado..

What is Plot and Why is it Important?

All right, I get it, it’s a dumb question, we’re all writers and we all KNOW that plot is the basic story of your novel. It is the idea. The “what happened”, and why, and “what’s going to happen next” of any decent story. I’m not trying to dumb it down for you. But the true test of a good plot lies in the simplicity of answering those questions.

Now, you can have books that are character driven (an event happening TO a person, or BECAUSE OF a person). And you can have books that are historical non-fiction, based on one specific moment in time or occurrence. The PLOT of your book expands more than just beyond an event (otherwise The Hunger Games would have been maybe 50 pages long). The plot is the premise or sequence of events. Some novels will follow a very specific order of events that are common to their genre, or as we like to call them tropes. Tropes comes from the Greek Tropos define as “turn, direction, way” and refers to common, recognizable elements or sequences of events.

Many genre specific tropes (I almost prefer ‘formulas’) are embraced by the audience and even expected. Examples include: “the hero’s journey”, “enemies to lovers”, “small towns”, “cold cases”, “missing persons”, “AI gone wrong”, “fairy tale retelling”. But if almost every novel follows a plot formula how is it #1, that readers don’t get bored and #2 that you tell an original story that hasn’t been done before.

It’s an interesting dilemma on the part of a writer. We know which formulas work in fiction and straying from them often makes a plot fall apart or leaves a reader angry or unsatisfied at the end.

(She’s gonna want to talk to your manager)

But how do we follow commonalities in plot structure and still make it a fun, captivating, and surprising journey for our readers? The answer my friends, lies your ability as a writer to do five things: (Fuck Yeah! A bullet list!)

  • Begin with a unique event or crisis. This comes back to the “scan the headlines” exercise I’ve had you do before. A lot of weird shit goes down in the world. A lot of undercover, shady AF stuff too. Use it as a springboard, to your “what happens then/if” story building.
  • Tie the reader to your character (through love or hate) and make their reactions to events unique or contrary to the norm. (ie a cheerleader who fights vampires. A small town farm boy who becomes a powerful Jedi. A teenager who comes into supernatural powers without the maturity to handle them and doesn’t use them to download free porn–come on.) Character building will come later in this series but if you create unique ones, their actions will create new takes on formulas.
  • Use honed writing technique to build tension for climaxes. Yikes, that sounds dirty. Tension is one key to making a story more than just series of events. So much of this depends on your voice and writing style. But the big take away here is about risk. Making the risks personally huge for your character, and even the world at large, will keep the plot fresh and drive it forward.
  • Play with the number and intensity of climaxes (story arcs). I think I’ll start using story arcs (some prefer ‘beats’) because every time I type climaxes I can’t stop giggling. Ok. Story arcs are BIG deals in your plot. Think of these as door ways, crisis-points at the top of your arc, that your character has to move through in order to get closer to what it is they want/need. Once they hit that doorway, or crisis point, they can’t go back. A serious change has occurred either in the setting or with-in the character and they must move forward. Next blog will be all about these arcs so I won’t go into much more detail here.
  • Consider using unexpected but intelligent twists. The best movies and books I can think of that do this are: “The Sixth Sense”, “Fight Club”, “Gone Girl”, “Mind Hunters”. What better way to shake up an audience than by having them accept one reality for the entirety of the story, only to show them the true reality at the end.

All right, so there are some tips for building an effective plot that carries readers throughout the book. My advice to you this week, is to explore various tropes and patterns, especially those in your genre. Turn a piece of paper (landscape-style) and write out the typical pattern of your story, then overlay events and characters of your proposed idea. See how they match up, see if you have enough tension building scenes, just play around with it. I’m not much of a plotter myself, but even I will do a general outline to keep myself on track and make sure I’m building a solid plot.

Next time, more on story arc, how to climax well (*snork*), and end satisfied (*hahahahaha). Until Thursday, happy writing.

The Human Genre

 

We’re not only defined by what we chose to do in our lives, but how we do it. We are categorized by outward and inward perceptions, each of us, akin to novels, and are thusly classified into genres.

 

Ah, she’s a romantic mystery with a dash of humor.

That guy over there is a political intrigue, with a splash of old school patriarchy.

Ah, she’s a pushy self-help, peppered with self-righteousness and a healthy pinch of praise-Jesus.

That lady over there is a bitter cozy mystery with a hint of post-menopausal lack of fucks to give.

 

We are defined by the things we do. We’re put into categories by people we know, and by companies that gather our data. Even when we don’t ask for it, we’re given a neat little label. And sometimes, when we’re overloaded and overworked, we start using that label as our only sense of self, as we desperately try to remember our purpose… And sometimes, we use those labels as a scapegoat for our less-than-desirable behaviors.

 

I’ve been trying to meditate every day and have been working through a series on my app (yeah, look at me, getting all tech-savvy with an app to help me reconnect with my humanness…seems oxymoronic) about acceptance, depression, letting go, and stress management.

 

One recurring phrase I hear is: You are not your thoughts or your feelings.

 

This is a hard concept to grasp.

Humans are this odd mishmash of biology and higher neuronic thought processes. I mean on one of our great ape-grasping hands we’re barely getting used to this hairless bipedal thing, on the other hand we’re philosophical, heavy in the head, braining entities who, when left to our own devices will overthink ourselves into a coma.

Maybe there’s a fear that if we disconnect to our thoughts then we won’t know who we are.

Maybe we fear we’ll lose the basis of our existence if we let go of the ideas and feelings tethering us down.

 

But this is not so.

 

You see, thoughts and emotions change. All the time. And the reason humans become so miserable is that we tie ourselves to them, try to define ourselves by them. Then we are less apt to let them go, especially when they hold the addictive qualities of self-spiraling sadness and anger. We feel sad. We are sadness. We feel anger. We’re angry humans.

Conversely, when we are happy or elated and the emotion passes, as it will with the natural ebb and flow of life, we cling to it desperately and feel like something’s gone wrong when its tying us down.

Should we let go of happiness. No. Should we reject sadness and admonish ourselves for anger? Absolutely not. Be in the moment, with the emotion, understand it is a feeling, acknowledge it and let it go. You’re all that’s left.

 

Just as we aren’t tied to labels; we are not one genre, we are all genres.

 

Why is it important that we understand this?

 

Two reasons:

 

If we are boxed in to what the world has categorized us as, to our labels, we won’t know we can change. We become stagnant and perpetuate behaviors that are detrimental to our happiness and the benefit of humanity.

 

Secondly: We will feel trapped. And trapped animals lose the will to live. Without will, without passion, we cannot create, we cannot solve, we cannot continue to thrive in the world.

 

So how do we escape?

 

Here’s the dirty little secret:

 

I’m not entirely sure.

 

I think it has something to do with opening your mind to new ideas, allowing yourself to be different, to change the things about your life you don’t want to be a part of anymore, without guilt or self blame, and to let go of the idea that you are the personification of your thoughts and feelings.

 

You can be anything. Or just some things.

 

Or nothing at all.

 

Cross genres. Explore. Maintain your free will. While those that seek to control will tell you, free will is our greatest vice as human beings, that it causes us to make decisions that don’t align with status-quo, religious concepts, or dictator-imposed law and thus brings about the downfall of society, this is not the case.

 

There’s a reason the Dark Ages happened.

 

Free will, your ability to change, to move, to think differently are vital to not just survival but your purpose in life.

 

So what genre are you today?