Writers wonder: What exactly are plots? How do you write them? How do you structure them? Where do you get your ideas from? How do you make them original? How do you make them compelling for the reader? How do you pace your stories?
Put very simply: Plot consists of the events of your story.
It’s the what and how of a story, rather than the who (the characters), the why (the theme), and the where and the when (both of which make up the setting).
However, it’s very important to state that plot isn’t just a lump of unconnected events. It’s a series of events, each of which arises organically and inevitably from the one before. This series of events fundamentally linked with your character’s personality, as the choices she makes will be a function of her personality – and the choices made lead to the next event in the plot series. (This is why you can have a finite number of plots and yet have an infinity of stories as the characters are different in each case, making different decisions.)
So, plot is inextricably linked with character. You cannot have one without the other. The plot is both what happens to the characters, and what the characters do in reaction to that.
Having said that, some stories are more plot-driven and some are more character-driven.
In extreme examples, thrillers are often extremely plot-driven. The story is all about what happens, and the characters are not fully developed. The characters, indeed, are more like cardboard cut-outs, just along for the ride. They’re not real people to us, and the characters don’t evolve much – if at all – during the story. The characters often start the story as already very competent men (it’s usually men) who don’t need to evolve in order to reach their goals.
The plots are dramatic, eventful, high-stakes, full of excitement. The Indiana Jones films are an excellent example of this kind of story, with the minor exception that Indy gets over his fear of snakes. Or even better, James Bond would be a classic example of this.
On the other extreme, literary fiction is often intensely character-driven. Not much happens, but there’s a good deal of character development. The character may not resolve her dilemma, but will come to a new understanding of it, or acceptance of it.
But, to my mind, the best stories are those in which character and plot are finely balanced, where each depends upon the other, where both are richly developed and interesting, where lots happens but it happens to fully-written and evolving characters who seem real to the reader.
A very good example of this is in what is possibly my favourite novel ever: Daughter of Lir by Diana Norman. The plot is absolutely rich and compelling, but yet the characters are so real that they lived in my mind and my heart long after I finished the story. Indeed, when I went to a real place which had been a setting in the story, I found myself thinking: Oh, so that’s where such-a-character experienced such-an-event, only to shake myself and remind myself that it wasn’t real!
That’s so what I want to happen to my readers!
To learn more about plots and plotting, check out pages linked in the sub-menu.