Saturday, April 4, 2009

How Well Do You Know Your Plot?

Indeed, plot is an issue for any novel. You can have a character-driven novel that could fall apart because of a poorly-constructed plot. You might also have a plot-driven novel that is full of fallacies or loopholes. No matter what the type of novel, no matter how many characters, you need conflict, and you need a story. So: is there a plot, or isn't there? How good is it? Do you know it well enough so that your plot doesn't sound like you came up with your story while you were passed out, drunk?

There are thousands of ways for you to get to know your plot. Perhaps the first and best way to know your plot is to draw up a plot carefully very early on. True, you might work best with flying by the seat of your pants, by making your story up as you go along. Still, you need to write a story that makes sense – or at least enough sense to be readable.

If you are all right with drawing up a plot beforehand, then you may want to try out these tips: Print out a calendar with blank entries and plot out what happens by the day and by the hour. Supplement this with a timeline. This way, you know what happens before what, and what happens after. This will also tell you if the flow of the story itself is logical, or if you need to tweak certain events so that your story moves well (and quickly, as the case might be).

2. As an exercise, try writing your your plot out as a short story. It doesn't have to be grammatically correct (although that would help). You can babble on and say, “Character A does this and so-and-so happens, and this leads to a so-and-so event.” How long is your short story? If it's too short, then you may not have enough material for a novel – and chances are, if you try to expand your short story, you may end up with a novel that is overblown – a novel that is not as “meaty” as you might want it to be.

On the other hand, if your short story is going on for way too long (and becoming its own novel) then you might consider trimming some plot angles, or perhaps even breaking the novel down into smaller books. The dimensions of “short” and “long” are relative, so you need to use your best judgment.

3. When you have your short story trimmed correctly, then try this as an exercise. Mark out your major events in your plot. Next, write these major events out on separate sheets of paper, or on separate index cards. Then, shuffle the index cards. Rearrange the index cards into your original plot.

Do this exercise every day so that you remember your plot. You might also want to keep the index cards to guide you on what happens before and after certain plot events.

If you want to make your story up as you go along, then take the necessary precautions. Take notes on what happens in your story so that you don't forget what happened before. This can save you time when you write, since you don't have to keep on re-reading your work to get back on track in your plot. There are many ways for you to keep track of your story: you can keep a planner, have a notebook handy, or simply have a stack of index cards that you can rearrange according to how your plot unfolds.

Whatever the case, good luck, and happy plotting!

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