Issues of Plot

Chemanius murals - Guenette photo

I’ve been pondering issues of plot. I often describe my novels as character driven rather than plot driven. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to say my books have no plot.

I recently read a post on Writers Helping Writers that has me thinking – why the emphasis on character over plot? Guest poster Dario Ciriello quotes C.J. Cherryh, a multiple award-winning science fiction and fantasy author, defining plot. “… a webwork of tension-lines between characters and sets of characters. You pull one [line] and one yanks several characters. It’s not events [that drive plot]. It’s tensions.”

Okay – music to the ears of the writer of self-defined character driven novels! The tension between characters drives plot. A character driven novel with enough tension is by it’s very nature developing plot as it goes.

The Writer’s dictionary defines plot as the way an author structures a series of events into a story. Typically, an author works at organizing events in a way that will pique the reader’s interest. Usually events are not resolved until near the end of the story. “A good plot is one that has well-developed characters who are engaging in several conflicts.”

Literary devices website   describes the five main elements of a plot. Before I list their points and add my thoughts, remember that plots are often broken into sub-plots and maybe even sub-sub plots. The whole idea of the web works well for me.

1. The exposition or introduction – characters and settings are established. The conflict or main problem is put on the table. I usually think of getting all the players on the board.

2. Rising action – series of events build tension and increase conflict. Once all my characters are on the playing board, it is inevitable that they interact and create tensions.

3. Climax – main point of the plot. This is where all the tension has been leading. I often envision the climax as a set of waves. I might have three or so climaxes before the main one, each wave crashing on the shore of the story a bit harder than the last.

4. Falling action – the winding up of the story. With a character driven novel that creates tension between sets of characters, this is a challenging stage. All the loose ends need to tie up. Well, except for those I choose to leave open-ended.

5. Resolution – good or bad, up or down, happy or sad. Endings should be satisfying. That doesn’t necessarily mean the reader agrees with how everything went down. It’s more about knowing I did a good job of making the events believable. Given what I described and the characters I let the reader know – the story makes sense.

I’m going to keep considering the idea of plot. But for now, I’m going to keep doing what works for me – multiple characters, multiple points-of-view and character interactions driving untold tensions. Let me know what you think on the issue of plot.

Wildflowers in Chemanius - Guenette photo

2 comments on “Issues of Plot

  1. MariHoward says:

    Well … like you I write character driven stories. I dislike the tendency to take things to bits and work to a hard-line ‘story arc’ with stuff – i.e. events – leading – though in reality, I think, we have instincts for how plot works – underlying the character driven thing, we know that what the people do will weave the events together, and what they decided will make things happen (or not) … Right now, for the first time ever, I am coping with the realisation that 2 characters, a gay priest and a artsy rebellious woman, have fallen for one another … yep, he is pondering this one, like maybe he isn’t gay at all, he’s bi … hum … I never planned that event! But, as I say, first time … character has seized plot it seems … and is underlining character driven! 🙂

    • I agree, completely. I feel like we both have an instinctive sense of plot without overthinking the whole concept. The situation you describe – between the gay priest and artsy, rebellious woman – makes me excited to read the next installment of your series. I love when the characters become unruly and decide to break out of the limits we have set for them. I never planned for Liam to sleep with Lisa-Marie but at some point I realized he would and he would pay a large price for his lack of control and/or good judgement. It seemed to me, at the time, that the whole thing was beyond my say, one way or another. I never imagined Alexander (Liam’s father) would gain the prominence he did in the second book. He simply took over. These are the experiences that make writing such a treat.

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