Plot? What of It?

By Meagan Jones

The “Writer’s Workshop” blog posts are meant to be a collage of writer’s tips, tricks, and strategies, including the first steps to publishing, writing prompts, strategies for writer’s block, and a general jumble of ideas to help you in your quest to create and publish.

 

Two people walk into a bar.

One says, “I’ll have a glass of H20, please.”

The second says, “I’ll have a glass of H20, too.”

The second person dies.

I swear, I have heard that joke too many times to count. The bar joke may be one of the most common jokes out there, but the H20 one is one, as a science nerd in high school, I have heard through many a chemistry student. But I’m not going to be talking about how unoriginal it is. I’m going to talk about what happens in it.

Even though it’s a joke, this is a tiny story. You have two characters. Dialogue. Setting. A plot. The plot, really, is what binds the joke together. The plot is simple: two people walk into a bar, and one orders poison and dies. This joke depends on what happens to make it funny, just as your story depends on its plot to work.

Plot can either be very simple, or very hard. The joke’s plot is very simple. For most longer stories, the plot will be more drawn out. Take The Great Gatsby for example. It has a series of events leading to (spoilers) Gatsby’s death, and ends a little after it. Compared to the joke above, it has many more events that constitute its plot.

Most people will know the general format of a story as taught in any English class: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. A mountain.

 

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But stories are often more complex than this. They can mix up their formats, have a few important events that could be considered the “climax” of the book (The Great Gatsby has a couple possible climaxes), and generally switch things up. That’s what makes stories continually interesting – because they can be told in many different ways.

Rather than focusing on the climax, though, in my opinion, it is more important to look at where you think the plot of your story is going. Most of the time, at least, in my brain, I will have an idea for the beginning of a story and sometimes the end. Sometimes I will have chunks in the middle. But really, when I think about plot, I imagine it as a chain. Not a mountain. A chain.

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What’s most important about building a plot is making sure that events flow between each other well, and relate back to each other. When you think about a chain, there are multiple links, usually of some sort of metal. They’re loops; they’re connected. And they build on each other. When you pull on a chain, another person on the other side can feel the tension between. That’s what you want to end up feeling when your plot is done. An important event in the character’s lives and the story affects how they act in the next act, and the next and the next. All the events affect the others.

But what’s the best way to make sure that happens? Honestly, I don’t think there’s exactly one way. However, one thing I can say – make sure to depend on your characters. Know who they are. Let them act in their situations. The way they naturally move through an event is a best indicator of how the plot is meant to go.