Thursday, November 5, 2009

Point. Plot. Conspiracy. She shoots. She scores!

So...still wondering what the point was to my previous post?

Thought you might be since you're still hanging around.

My previous post, other than showing my wonderful ineptitude in navigating downtown Mobile, Alabama, was to illustrate the wrong turns, U-turns, and chaos associated with plotting novel.

When I first began writing, I didn't give much consideration to the central plot beyond "Event A leads to Event B leads to Event C leads to end." The first novel I ever completed -- which is securely locked away and will never see the light of day -- taught me a lot. The plot was straight with no real twists or turns but I learned a great deal about character development, setting, world building, and pacing. Unfortunately, the plot itself sucked major rotten eggs.

There is a long standing argument in publishing of whether books should be plot or character driven. I'm a bit odd in that I believe a truly great book should be both. It's like driving a car. A driver (the character) guides the car (the plot) along the highway (the unfolding story). The car does not guide itself. (And don't give me the argument that some cars in the future or on other hard sci-fi worlds do. Those are still piloted by a computerized navigation system that is capable of making decisions regarding alternate routes...or even better, going completely bonkers and crashing the car.) In order for the car (plot) to arrive at its destination (story's end), the driver (character) must guide it there. However, without the car (plot), the driver (character) can't reach his/her destination (story's end). That's not entirely true since the driver (character) can make a choice to either stay with the vehicle, thus potentially ending the story, or continue on foot, thus continuing the story and therefore, the plot.

Which brings us to a new fork in this road... Did the car crash because of a random computer glitch or was it sabotaged? Either choice can make for interesting plot developments. Does the driver stay with the vehicle or continue on foot? If s/he stays with the vehicle, does s/he call for help or does someone come along and find them? If s/he continues on foot, what potential dangers do they face? Are they hit by a drunk driver? Picked up by a good Samaritan? Reach their destination unharmed? These are the twists and turns along the road that make the journey interesting. For example...

Penelope leaves her home in Golden, Colorado earlier than normal because today is her boss's birthday. She drives through her neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours and reaches Interstate 70. She then heads east into the Denver metro area and arrives an hour early at her receptionist job at a downtown law firm in order to prepare for the boss's surprise party.

Boring. Let's try adding a few twists and turns...

Penelope leaves her home in Golden, Colorado earlier than normal because today is her boss's birthday. She spills coffee on her blouse as she drives through her neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours. Pissed off that she ruined her favorite blouse she reaches Interstate 70 and heads east into the Denver metro area. Traffic ahead has come to a complete standstill. She waits forty-five minutes and finally traffic begins to move forward. By now she's drank all her coffee and is even more pissed off. Another driver in a bright yellow Hummer cuts her off as she's exiting the interstate to enter downtown. Cursing wildly, she swerves around the Hummer and passes it. The Hummer shoots past her on the right side. Penelope floors it and over takes the Hummer. The other driver speeds up. Both drivers fail to see a red light and rocket into an intersection, into the path of oncoming traffic. The Hummer makes it through but Penelope's car is struck by garbage truck. Penelope is shaken up but suffers only minor injuries. She calls her boss, a partner in a high-profile law firm, and asks if he would mind picking her up at the emergency room since she has no family in the area. He agrees and when she is wheeled out of the ER to his car, she discovers he drives a bright yellow Hummer.

Now, having established this chain of events, the story can continue in any number of directions. Is her boss responsible for her accident? If so, was it an accident or intentional? If not, was it someone trying to frame her boss? Why would someone want to set him up? Will Penelope and her boss work together to solve the mystery or will they become legal adversaries? Was the driver of the garbage truck a hapless victim or part of a larger conspiracy?

My point here is this: A story is just a story but characters turn that story into an adventure. However, that adventure would never take place without those characters. Different characters create different adventures. I can say Penelope drove to work and pulled off a surprise birthday party for her boss in the same way that I got lost in downtown Mobile. However, if I say Penelope drove to work and found herself at the center of a plot to assassinate her boss, then suddenly the story has become larger -- it's become an adventure. The same can be said for my previous post. I could've easily said, "Hey, I got lost in downtown last week." But, I chose to recount my actions, the actions of others, and give details of what happened. My story became an adventure.

That is the plot and point of any novel -- to have an adventure. So, go forth and adventure, my minions.

No comments: