The Plot Thickens

The Hero's Journey

There are two types of writers when it comes to creating structure in a story–Plotter and Pantsters. A plotter figures out, maybe even draws a map or outline of the events that will take place in a story. A pantster puts a character in a situation and maybe has a vague idea where the story will end up, but “flies by the seat of his pants” when it comes to writing the story. BOTH ways are valid.

Stephen King is a pantster. He says, “Plot, I think, is the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.” (from ON WRITING. Check it out. This is one of the best books on the craft of writing, ever!)

King’s way is to start with a situation…a predicament. Into this situation he puts a character or a group of characters. These characters reveal themselves over time. They act, he records. He starts with situation–he calls it a tableux–and throws in some characters and watches to see what they do and writes it all down.

What is the downside to this, you ask? It sounds so simple, and when people ask, you can say something like, “Oh, I don’t want to know what will happen. It would take all the fun out of writing.” Well, here’s the rub. King has read A LOT. He’s also written a lot. He has incorporated the conventions of story (including the rhythm of plot) into his subconscious.

Either that or he really has made a deal with the Devil.

So, while King makes pantstering look fun and easy and, dare I say it, cooooool, the rest of us may not have developed our talent to that extent. What happens when we try? We end up writing ourselves into corners we can’t get out of. We go down dead ends. We lose the threads of the story. All those threads get tangled up, and we waste time rewriting, scratching our heads, wondering how the heck we are ever going to unravel this unruly story/novella/epic plot.

Since we are beginners and we really want to finish something in our lifetime, what can we do to compensate? Especially when we are still in the beginning stages of learning the craft?

We can become Plotters, if only for a little while.

Okay, so King thinks it is the dullard’s first choice. Whatever. I love King’s characters and his stories pull me along, but guess what? We aren’t all Stephen King! There are other ways to get the action down on paper, and they are just as valid. There are outlines. There are index cards. Story maps with bubbles and lines drawn in between connecting them are another choice. There are many plot worksheets, maps, schemes, rubrics, etc. that the beginning writer can use. You can find many on the internet and many more in books specifically written on the subject of plot. Try a few, if you want. See what works best for you.

Keep in mind, though, that even here in Plotter-land you start with the basics: A situation and at least one character. The character has gifts and foibles and goals and fears and needs. The character will act in situations and from that other situations will arise. Pay attention to cause and effect. Pay attention to how your character is learning and growing. Have a premise in mind, i.e. what is the point of this story, anyway?

Eventually, you and your character will make it to the resolution, and you’ll both be able to revel in the rewards of your hard labor.

If you are interested in learning more on this subject, click HERE to access Lesson Four in the Teen Writing Workshop series. At the end, I include a short plot “aid” as well as some helpful websites about plot structure.

In Joseph Campbell’s classic study of universal elements in plot structure of mythology and legend, Campbell’s heroes are given a Call To Adventure which they can either chose to accept or not. Consider this your call to adventure! Embark on a new story today . . . Outside the Box.

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