Moving the plot
I probably could’ve thought of a more creative title, but . . .its my second week back in school. My head hurts.
Anyways. Plot. It seems so easy to craft a plot. Introduce characters. Introduce conflict. Rising action. Climax. Fall action. Right?
Well . . . it is not that simple.
Most books follow that basic pattern, yes, but not all of them, especially not modern books. If they do, they break it up a little. Take Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind—amazing book, really, 5/5 or maybe even 6/5 stars—doesn’t really have much of a resolution or climax. Yes, a bigger problem is solved at the novel’s end, but the story kind just drops off, like, “Hey, let’s stop here.” It also starts at the end of the entire trilogy. You know what? It works. The book is told from the third and first point of view and it is bloody brilliant, (can’t say why: spoilers). For most books such a format would not work. It would read like a clunky disaster no one bothered to get through (like what Joseph’s Heller’s Catch-22 could’ve been).
So. Back to you (or us). The plot should follow a basic pattern, but don’t limit yourself to it. On the other hand, if you decide to go rogue, make sure its damn good. If you want to break the rules, you better break them right.
Generally, I would recommend sticking to the expectations of your audience, (please note: this doesn’t mean you should give them some cookie-cutter story they know the end too before they start reading. Now that I think about it, they might love or hate to have some fundamentals get shaken up. It depends on if you do it right. Sorry, I know that’s not helpful).
Here’s the rule of thumb I follow: make every scene count. There should be no “throw away” scenes. If you can cut it out of the novel and the characters still make sense, the plot still makes sense, and the reader didn’t lose some vital piece of information, then delete it. Don’t clutter your book with scenes that add nothing to the story; it will only slow your story down.
Some people may ask, “Well, what about character development? Or world building?”
Good question. Answer: build characters and world while moving the plot forward. Even in a scene where you’re supposed to learn something about x character or x world, it should move the overall plot forward.
This doesn’t mean every scene needs to become some plot-twisting thriller page. Rather, every scene should build towards something. Here’s where knowing your genre is important. You have a lot more time to build in a fantasy novel than a YA one. On the flip side, fantasy novels run a higher risk of “letting the world get away from the author”.
I try to keep my scenes as tight as possible. If you pointed to any scene in my story and asked, “What does this scene do?” I’d have an answer.
So how do you pace a story?
Again, depends on the genre. If you don’t write or read a lot (then start reading and writing; honestly, you can’t write unless you read), you’ll want to start small. Introduce a character and a conflict right off the bat (in fantasy, introduce the world too). Then, move the character/plot forward; introduce new characters, plot points, and conflicts as they come along. While all that is happening, develop characters, explain plot, and resolve or complicate conflicts.
Doesn’t that sound like fun?
This isn’t really something you can be taught. Read a lot. Write a lot. Practice. If you do that, it will come naturally (eventually, maybe).
One thing I will recommend is go through every scene and ask, “What happens here?” If you can’t point to something important, odds are you don’t need the scene.
Reminder: Iron & Glass comes out September 16th! Check it out and critique my plotting abilities. A gold start for anyone who tells me.
Question? Just ask.