Monday, June 22, 2009

Plot Spots

Last Tuesday, in my Writer's Workshop, we discussed Plot. Now -- I'm not one of those who believes that a story is either plot-driven or character-driven. No: I happen to believe that all stories are inextricably tied to the characters within them (even if the only character is the narrator...).

However, I also believe in the Plot Spot. The Plot Spot, as I explained to my students, is the Thing that impacts a character's life and forces that character to make a choice. The resulting story, then, hinges upon the character's choice. For instance:

A major early Plot Spot in Wanted, is the Store Shootout. It establishes every major plot point that drives the next 30 minutes of the film, and it presents Wesley, the main character, with a choice that will impact the rest of his life.

A significant Plot Spot in Happy Feet occurs where Memphis loses the egg that has been entrusted to his care. Though he recovers it, he blames that incident for damaging his son and making him "different."

Some stories have many Plot Spots -- many crossroads that force their characters to make life-changing, long-term, significant decisions. The story line of such works eventually looks like a dot-to-dot of possible turning points, connected by a single line of choices.

Other stories have very few Plot Spots. One could argue that Twilight only has two. If Edward didn't save Bella in the high school parking lot, she wouldn't even know to ask about his special powers. And if James wasn't such a tracker, there would be no reason for Bella to run to Phoenix. (Of course, that's overly simplifying the story -- but the point is that some story lines are heavily reliant on Plot Spots. Others are not.)

After examining what constitutes a Plot Spot, I challenged my students to examine their current projects in the light of "What Happens?" One way to do that is to practice Playing God with a particular scene. For instance:

Underline, or otherwise identify key plot points in your scene. For each one, articulate:

• How will this point pay off later?
• Why is it important for the reader to remember this?
• How will this affect the character’s choices / life?

• (brainstorming option) Identify at least 5 reasonable, logical choices the character could make as a result of each plot point. Follow each choice a short distance to see where that “plot road” takes you.

o Look for ways to work in these “alternate paths” in other characters, to illustrate to the reader the validity of your lead character’s actions.

o KNOW, beyond any doubt, why the story unfolds the way it does. The lead CANNOT a passive victim of chance. Know the consequences your lead unleashes.

o Explore dark alleys. (This is especially effective in ascertaining that you, the writer, are not being Too Nice to your main character. Let him or her fall into some difficult places. Beware of treating your characters with kid gloves. Remember: how we handle hardship is what defines us.)

My students are to bring their re-worked scenes, complete with Plot Spots, to class this week. I'm always amazed and inspired at how a hard look at What Happens can make one's writing SOOoo much more interesting.


My friend, Trudy Morgan-Cole, had a very successful online book launch for her latest work, By the Rivers of Brooklyn. In fact, she actually charted in the Top 10 of the Canadian online bookseller that she used to do the launch. I'm so proud of her! Yay, Trudy!

I donated a complete "Character Building Practicum" as a bonus prize to a lucky winning writer who participated in the online launch. I'm always happy to help my friends with their marketing efforts. And I'm looking forward to working with the writer who claimed the prize.

I've just finished a manuscript edit of an inspirational memoir written by an author I've been mentoring for the past year. It's quite good, I must say. She is attending the Grand Rapids Christian Writer's Workshop with me later this week. With luck, she'll be able to bring the project to the attention of a good agent or publisher who can get it in print in a timely manner.

The Marathon Man screenplay edit continues, and should (God willing) be finished this week. This is great, because Ryan has promised me that he will have his edits and additional content ready for me by the end of the month.

I hope to also finish the sample chapter for the Marathon Man book proposal by the end of this week. Not only will it be good to be able to send it off to the agent who has requested it, but it will free me up to work on two personal projects that are clamoring for attention.

Never a dull moment. If someone were to chart the Plot Points in my life, I wonder what sort of story would be taking shape...