05 August 2008


Recently, I asked a random sampling of writers not familiar with my work what they thought of plot. Most of the answers I received bordered on hostile. I include a few of the tamer ones here:

"I view plot as an enemy that must be destroyed, lest it pilliage my village and rape my wimmins." UJ

"When I think of plot, I stop thinking about writing." JT

"I have a deep disdain for plot, really." LJ

I was most surprised when I read AK's comment: "All anyone cares about is plot, plot, plot."

Most writers I come in contact with "care" about plot because they're grappling with not only what plot is but, even more importantly, how best to use it.

Plot is more than a prescribed course of dramatic action.

Action in and of itself is not dramatic. Conflict that creates tension, suspense, mystery, and/or curiosity make action dramatic.
Random action is not dramatic. Action that unfolds through cause and effect is.
Action that happens in scene can be dramatic. After all, scene "shows" the action happening moment-by-moment on the page.
Action that happens in summary is not. After all, summary merely "tells" about action.

When a character emotionally anticipates conflict that is coming, emotionally reacts to conflict at hand, and emotionally responds to conflict after the fact, the action is dramatic. Dramatic action paired with meaningful character emotional development then becomes plot.

Plot is deeper than structure.

Dramatic action that happens in a novel, screenplay, memoir, short story, and any other kind of writing that causes a character(s) to react and thus be affected by and changed at depth over the duration of the story. The crux of every good story is character transformation.

Plot is the full integration of dramatic action, character emotional development and thematic significance in a story.

Some writers prefer to start writing about or with characters. Other writers begin with action. Still others begin with only a point they want to prove. All starting points are equally valid. It's the showing up and starting that counts.

Are you confident about what you know about plot and how to use it? Are you ever intimidated by the concept of plot? Confused by it?

I keep asking these types of questions because I'm afraid plot gets a bad rap. I'm hoping by asking what you think when you think plot, I might better understand the opposition.....