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A view on plotting

edited September 2007 in - Reading


  • From the Books section of the online Times,crimewriter Andrew Taylor.

  • Yes, it's in the paper version today (Sat), had a quick flick and I will read it properly later.

    It's a point I've thought about before, what is a plot and what is a story?.

    My understanding is (for example, my novel) is a kidnap story, but what is the plot?.  Is it simply X Y Z happens (these being the main points) but is plot something more character driven?.
  • Surely it is a bit of both. The plot is basically your outline/synopsis, while the story has much more to it.
    At least that is how I see it.
    What does everyone else think?
  • We had a talk on this at York Writers last week. The guy giving the talk (he's a professional writer of storyboards for computer games) likens the story to a clock face, and the plot to the inner cogs etc. So the plot would be the mechanics which makes the story turn.

    Another note I took from his talk is: "The STORY is what happens. The PLOT is HOW it happens."

    No idea if that's any help...
  • That's a wonderful description.
  • Thanks, Carol!
  • Resurrecting the thread.

    I've spent the evening researching my way out of a literary hole got me thinking. Is there two levels to plot?

    Bear with me. My novel is a kidnap story, so I have the 'rescue plot' structure. However, it isn't enough. I'm not sure what it is though. Is it that sub-plots reinforce a fragile masterplot?

    I just get this feeling that the basic plot isn't enough, that there seems to be a deeper level to plotting. But it's never mentioned in writers guides or the magazines.

  • I've touched on this just recently while writing a 'how to' for students.

    Sub plots support your story, they provide extra jam in the sandwich, so to speak. Weak master plots will be equally weak with sub plots thrown at it.

    You have the main thrust - kidnap - at the heart of your story. Sub plots revolving around other characters, that link into the main story, are a great way of buffering your main plot. According to Polti there are only 36 actual Plot ‘situations’ anyway, but these can be combined with so many different scenarios to produce any number of unlimited ideas and secondary storylines.
  • The interesting thing about the way the book has evolved is that the plot is a kidnap one, I've realised that the story is actually a revenge plot. So the two have intertwined. The kidnap plot didn't feel deep enough.
  • Perhaps you need to change the emphasis of the story- the reveng plot is the main story and the kidnap is the subplot?
  • You could be right Carol. Something to muse over this afternoon!
  • [quote=Stirling]there seems to be a deeper level to plotting. Thoughts? [/quote]
    Plot = contrivance = manage affairs resourcefully.
    May I suggest that a successful story absorbs the reader with the deceitful practice and inventions of its characters? Be it a mystery "whodunnit?" or its opposite of "romance", the story (or plot) unravels in stages that allow mere glimpses of the true purpose by attitudes and behaviour of its cast.

    Readers need insight of cause for the revengeful need before any protagonist can begin planning actions. Explanation of selecting kidnap as the most satisfying reward might be illustrated by analogy with "minor" activists in background whilst antagonists forage in the foreground. The result may be sprung on your audience (the reader) because other roles have distracted attention. Even though viewers have witnessed the various threads of your web, it is only when the final weave reveals that whole net that the intention becomes clear.

    Thus you have written vignettes or sub-plots in parallel with main theme until the whole jigsaw of interests become framed and hung for public display.

    Too flowery a description for practice but, hopefully, you gain giste of how seemingly unrelated scenes can be interwoven to form a complete picture. In the same way a stained glass window is manufactured in pieces and only illustrates theme of its story when erected with sunlight backlighting the whole orifice.
  • Don't lose the plot.
  • I like to think that plot is what you plan - story is what you don't see until you actually write it. Or maybe it's the other way round. There are definitely two different things at work for me, one much less "conscious" than the other.

    Jan's comment above sounds complicated but made sense to me when I read it the second time. It highlights the point that writing a novel is an incredibly complex thing to do, which is why no-one can do it purely with their conscious brain. We need help from our hidden depths - and that's often where, I think, our understanding of character motivation comes from.
  • [quote=Rosalie]no-one can do it purely with their conscious brain. We need help from our hidden depths ..... our understanding of character motivation[/quote]
    That's a great explanation. You've picked up on the timing when our characters begin to communicate with us and tussle for control of their actions.
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