FiYoShiMo – Day 15 – Plot Sustenance

More plot today on FiYoSHiMo Day 15. I hope you’ve been finding this series helpful. Plot is one of the more abstract and variable elements in storycraft, since we can all come up with a different one even if we start with the same components.

Let’s keep at it today, where we talk about plot sustenance.

You have to be able to keep a plot going once you get it started. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking main plot (the big conflict in the book) or a subplot (a lesser conflict in the book) or a character arc (the evolution of the character over the course of the book), because whatever you start, you need to keep it going.

It’s sort of like running. If you stop moving your legs, you’re not running anymore. Thinking about it now, without moving your legs while running, I think you’d be falling. Someone go test that for me.

Or maybe you’d see it like a fire. You have this nice stack of small pieces of wood and then you introduce this spark, and it catches and burns, continuing to do so for as long as there’s wood to consume.

Either way, you need to keep the plot moving.

This breeds three questions:

a) How do I move the plot forward?
b) How much do I move the plot?
c) How quickly do I move the plot?

So let’s look at each question.

How Do I Move Plot Forward?
The nice thing about plot is that it only has one intended direction (forward) and two possible speeds (moving or immobile).

Plot is driven by scenes, and scenes are driven by character decisions and any consequences that arise from those decisions. Any reactions that other characters or the world has to those initial decisions are also decisions, which is also bear consequences, and around the cycle turns. Basic algebra tells me then that plot is driven by character decisions.

And since a plot can only be acted on by the characters involved in it, the number of decisions is actually pretty small. Which means you get to map them out. Go get your opening scene. I’m going to go get a cup of tea.

Ready? Cool. List me all the characters in this scene. All of them. In any order, doesn’t matter. Just make a list.

Now put a star by the main character(s). Include any antagonists. These are your decision makers in this scene.

What decisions can they make? Write them down too. If any characters can make the same (or similar decisions), make sure they each get it on their list.

As an example, let’s say I have 3 people: A, B, and C. They’re going to go holiday shopping. A and B arrive together in B’s car. C meets them there. The mall is crowded, noisy, and busy. A and B get into an argument about a gift. C is tangential to it.

So what can they do?
Both A and B could work out their problems.
Both A and B could concede their position in the argument
Both A and B could use a variety of tactics to win the argument.
Both A and B could drag C into the argument
C could jump in to defend or attack either A or B
A, B, or C could walk away from this scene at any time.

I’m not talking about what could happen, I mean, I could easily introduce D through Q into the scene. Hyperintelligent dinosaurs could attack the mall Santa. Asteroids could strike the parking lot. There could be a sale on handtowels. Tons of things could happen.

But I want to see the decisions that the involved characters could make, because those decisions are going to make this scene feed into the next. The scene needs to resolve itself, but not all resolutions are pretty things with bows on top. Resolution just means conclusion. It doesn’t always need to be satisfactory, it just needs to be over so the next thing can start.

To move plot, make decisions.

How much do I move the plot?
Since we agree you have to move the plot along over the course of however many words and pages you’re writing, now we start to look at pacing.

Pacing is the flow of plot. The first part of pacing is called “plot division” which is a measure of how big each package of plot is. Do you give out plot every (I’m making numbers up here) 3 scenes? Every other chapter? Every tenth page?

There isn’t a single “you must do it this way” answer. Whatever speed at which you choose to lay out the plot, you just need to be consistent about it. Why? Because if you’re inconsistently delivering plot pieces, then you’re not establishing how important each piece is. And your plot is supposed to be important.

This is usually where someone asks, “What about unimportant pieces of plot?” and I have two responses:

a) Why are you giving the reader unimportant plot?
b) If there are many similar items that can be grouped together (like all the evidence at a crime scene, for example), why aren’t they coming all in one package?

As you build your story through the first two acts, as you reach the climax, your rollercoaster should be gaining momentum. The pacing of details and scenes should reflect the chug-chug-chug of the car up the tracks until we have no choice but to rocket down the slope. And on the downturn, the pacing can slow back down until we’re off the ride.

How fast do I move the plot?
We just talked chug-chug-chug. Now it’s a question of how many chugs, how quickly.

How quick a pace can you maintain? That’s an important question to consider, because you have to be writing this thing, and invariably there are going to be moments that are slower than others. And knowing your own development, even a little, can provide a lot of insight as to how you’ll plan to write. And I’m not just talking about the time you’ll spend sitting and writing, I mean the scenes you right as well. Do the intense scenes take more out of you? Does knowing that you have to do the dull scenes tempt you more to procrastinate? You’ve got to do all the scenes either way, but how you view getting them done is going to affect how you write and what you write, even if you don’t realize it.

Move the plot at whatever speed works best for your production and whatever speed works best for the development of the tension you want to build. Rush me through something, I’m going to assume it’s not important. Take your time and set up something, I’m going to look for a proportionally large payoff.

All of this is up to you: based on your plot, how you divide it, how you choose to dole it out, and how large a story you’re telling. Try out a few different pacings, see what feels comfortable. Practice. Try again. Keep trying.

Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about plot filler. See you then.

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