2 Dec 2015

On Plot

Hail readers!

To continue from my previous post on the length of a story, I shall now write—relatively briefly, alas—on another troublesome matter: plot.

And why is plot so troublesome, you wonder? Well; the answer to that lies in its complexity. Some tales have relatively straightforward narratives—romance novels being one such. Other tales are more complex; thrillers, for example, depend on complex fast-moving plotlines to be effective. Being primarily concerned with fantasy and Sci-Fi writing, one might think plot would not be quite so significant as, say, worldbuilding. One would be wrong.

Plot in Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Any tale relies on plot of some form. Whether it’d be a boy and a girl and how they come to be in love; whether it be about an apprentice mage, and how she came to war with a necromancer (…); or whether, indeed, it is a mix of how two boys came to be love, and how the world around them begins to crumble. (In case you’re wondering: the Ark is what you want to be looking at for that.)

In the case of the latter two, plot has proven both crucial and difficult. Crucial, because plot imparts to a tale its strength; it gives it tension, and drives a reader’s curiosity. In the Necromancer, plot was what kept the readers on the edge of their seats:

I was constantly on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next and who it would happen to.

—Margaux Danielle, a kind reviewer.

But plot is also difficult. Here’s why.

Why is Plot Hard?

As I’ve already alluded, plot is highly complex. It is best understood with a metaphor. Consider the act of putting a puzzle together; one effectively starts with several separate pieces of puzzle, whose purpose is perhaps clear individually but less so in the aggregate. Now consider trying to put the puzzle together when certain pieces are liable to change, or indeed—when you don’t yet have certain pieces.

Now you may understand the nature of the problem. When one plots, one effectively brings together ideas and scenes: one may, for example, have the piece of Linaera (chief protagonist) meeting with the necromancer. But how, one wonders, did she get there? One can have the pieces of cities wrapped in cold winter, or of strange magics worked under the canopy of a distant forest; and yet numerous details remain unresolved.

What makes plot more difficult still is the aspect of pacing, and fluidity. Haphazardly moving from scene to scene does no good. It must be that the tale progresses naturally to its intent.

Furthermore, some plot elements work best when correctly timed. If one’s protagonists are to be attacked by mutant creatures, perhaps the moment when they do so can be subtly foreshadowed. And maybe if Linaera is to fight monsters wrought of dark magic, then may the reader also be in doubt, initially, as to whether she has perished.

But Alex! How do you Write Plot?

As of present, I am of the belief that plot is a process both planned and spontaneous. I begin by outlining the key events that are to occur in a tale; these will be the directions by which the tale is built on, but even so they are flexible.

Secondly, I plan individual chapters and scenes. But this is not a mere synopsis of everything that is to occur; rather, it more of an outline, and a tool by which to organise a great many thoughts.

Even with planning, my chapters never quite turn out the way I expect them to. That’s part of the charm. If I do not quite know what direction the tale is to take, how can the reader? Indeed, not knowing is what gives my tales that sense of pent-up excitement, of ‘wondering what would happen next and who it would happen to.’

But nor is this to say that one can just waltz up to writing a book. I initially took such an approach in the Necromancer, and it was a mistake I never quite got over. Planning is necessary to clarify and to give light to.

To Conclude

Thus far I have written a great deal on the matter of writing. I hope my musings have been both fascinating and entertaining; regardless, I shall next be writing on very different matters. I may write on Syria and the situation there. Or, perhaps I shall be bold and address an entirely novel topic: moral philosophy.

But until then, may the stars be with you. Also, do await my updates with regards to the Ark’s progress—including notes on chapter thirteen, and news of an upgrade I am making to my computer. That will allow me to spend less time waiting on the computer and more time writing.

Anyway: enough of that. Begone!

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