The Plot Point

07/13/2023

The man at the bank has a gun. The girl is about to tell the man of her dreams she loves him, the child is about to fall from a cliff. Aliens contact earth. The fundamental concept of plot boils down to the sequence of events within the story. It's not an account of what happened; it's a cause and effect of what's happened. The characteristics of a good plot consist of:

If, Then

If x happens, then Y happens

X should not be able to happen without the character at the center of the plot. If plot is the sequence of events, character is the reason the events happen.

Character and plot are like two sides of the same coin, intricately intertwined to create a captivating narrative. A character serves as the driving force behind a plot, as their decisions and actions propel the story forward.

Every pivotal moment, every twist and turn, is a direct result of the choices made by the characters. Simultaneously, the plot significantly impacts the character, shaping their development, motivations, and emotional arc.

Plot Engages the Reader

To ensure the plot remains dynamic and engaging, it is essential to place a character at the center of the story. Let their desires, conflicts, and growth fuel the plot's progression, driving the narrative forward. By making the character an indispensable element of the plot, you create a powerful synergy that captivates readers and viewers alike.

Examples of compelling plot include:

  • The Hero's Journey: A hero embarks on an epic quest, facing trials and tribulations, ultimately leading to personal transformation
  • Murder Mystery: A detective uncovers clues, solves a mysterious crime, and unveils the truth
  • Love Triangle: Three individuals entangled in a complex web of love while navigating their emotions and making life-altering decisions
  • Rags to Riches: A protagonist starts with humble beginnings, overcomes obstacles, and achieves success, showcasing determination
  • Apocalyptic Survival: A group of survivors battles against a post-apocalyptic world, fighting for their lives and struggling to maintain their humanity

Character vs. Plot

At the center of each plot type is not the action itself but the character. The plot is a dynamic force propelled by the actions and decisions of your characters. As an author, it is your role to breathe life into these characters, giving them purpose, desires, and conflicts that will shape the trajectory of the plot. But every choice they make, every step they take, reverberates throughout the story, driving it forward with purpose and intrigue.

If they go left instead of right, the plot changes. If you choose the focus the story on the best friend, the plot changes. If Nevil Longbottom had been the Chosen One, the plot changes, even if the end result is the same. The steps we take to reach the ending is not the same.

The Well-Crafted Plot

The relationship between character and plot is not one-sided. Just as the characters influence the plot, the plot, in turn, affects the characters. The challenges and obstacles they encounter on their journey provide opportunities for growth, transformation, and self-discovery. A well-crafted plot serves as a crucible, pushing your characters to their limits and revealing the depths of their personalities.

  1. Character-driven decision-making: the decisions your characters make must align with their desires, motivations, and values. Their choices must feel authentic and consistent with their personalities
  2. Conflict as a catalyst: conflicts force your characters to confront their fears, face moral dilemmas, or grapple with internal or external obstacles. Conflict serves as a catalyst for growth, sparking change
  3. Consequences and repercussions: the choices and actions of your characters have consequences. Their decisions must ripple through the story, shaping future events and impacting the plot and their personal development

It's an intricate dance. Each step must remain in-sync. The synergy between these two elements creates a powerful narrative that captivates readers, immersing them in a world where the characters come alive and the plot pulses with tension and excitement. Why? Because it feels authentic? Why? Because we know the character and every event that takes place feels true to the what the character would or should face given the actions they have taken (or haven't taken).

People who read for plot, people who suck out the story like the cream filling in an oreo, should stick to comic strips and soap operas. . .Every book worth a damn is about emotions and love and death and pain. It's about words.
—J.R. Moehringer

Here are plot exercises you can use to test your ideas. How does the sequence of events play out in the story you want to tell?

1. Write a scene where the protagonist faces a moral dilemma that tests their values

2. Create a plot outline where the main character must confront a long-buried secret from their past

3. Craft a story where the protagonist must make a life-altering decision with far-reaching consequences

4. Develop a plot centered around an unexpected betrayal by a trusted companion

5. Your protagonist discovers a hidden world within their own reality

6. The main character is forced to confront their deepest fear

7. A race against time to prevent a catastrophic event

8. The protagonist undergoes a transformational journey through self-discovery

9. The main character must navigate a treacherous political landscape

10. The protagonist must overcome their own flaws and limitations to achieve their goal

Plot Is Character-Character Is Plot

Remember, a compelling plot is driven by the actions and decisions of the characters while simultaneously influencing their growth and development. What must the character become in order to influence the plot? How does the shape of the plot influence who the character was, is, and will be?

Let your characters take the lead. Let your characters guide the plot through. Let their choices and actions mold the story. In turn, let the plot shape your characters. Let the plot give them the opportunity to grow, evolve, and conquer the challenges you have placed before them.

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