Fiction writers come up with some interesting metaphors when speaking of plot. Some say the plot is the highway and the characters are the automobiles. Others talk about stories that are "plot-driven," as if the plot were neither the highway nor the automobile, but the chauffeur. Others seem to have plot phobia and say they never plot. Still others turn up their noses at the very notion, as if there's something artificial, fraudulent, contrived.
James N. Frey
I plot as I go. Many novelists write an outline that has almost as many pages as their ultimate book. Others knock out a brief synopsis... Do what is comfortable. If you have to plot out every move your characters make, so be it. Just make sure there is a plausible purpose behind their machinations. A good reader can smell a phony plot a block away.
Chris Claremont once said of Alan Moore, "if he could plot, we'd all have to get together and kill him." Which utterly misses the most compelling part of Alan's writing, the way he develops and expresses ideas and character. Plot does not define story. Plot is the framework within which ideas are explored and personalities and relationships are unfolded.
Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.
Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.
And if I'm guilty of having gratuitous sex, then I'm also guilty of having gratuitous violence, and gratuitous feasting, and gratuitous description of clothes, and gratuitous heraldry, because very little of this is necessary to advance the plot. But my philosophy is that plot advancement is not what the experience of reading fiction is about. If all we care about is advancing the plot, why read novels? We can just read Cliffs Notes.
George R. R. Martin
Do you ever get moods when life seems absolutely meaningless? It's like a badly-constructed story, with all sorts of characters moving in and out who have nothing to do with the plot. And when somebody comes along that you think really has something to do with the plot, he suddenly drops out. After a while you begin to wonder what the story is about, and you feel that it's about nothing""just a jumble.
P. G. Wodehouse
What happened is the least of it. It's a novel, and once you've finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matter are the possibilities and ideas that the novelist's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.
To plot is to live. [... ] We start out lives in chaos, in babble. As we surge up into the world, we try to devise a shape, a plan. There is dignity in this. Your whole life is a plot, a scheme, a diagram. It is a failed scheme but that's not the point. To plot is to affirm life, to seek shape and control. Even after death, most particularly after death, the search continues. Burial rites are an attempt to complete the scheme, in ritual. Picture a state funeral, Jack. It is all precision, detail, order, design. The nation holds its breath. - (WN 292)
There's that lovely thing for the first month or two of writing a new book: OK, I don't know what that character's going to do, but we'll find out later. After about three or four months you come to that bit where you've got to put some plot in before it's too late, and you have to go back and start inserting plot, and, ooh, I've left out the literature, OK, lets put some in.
Plot is just not my gift. I'm fascinated with complex characters, and that doesn't mix well with complex plots. And by the way, when the plot is simple, you can move one piece around and make it feel fresh. 'Hell or High Water''s a good example: I don't tell you why the brothers are robbing the bank.
When I started 'Still Missing,' I had a few key plot points in mind, which I played around with mentally for a couple of months, then one day I just started writing. Not having an outline led to some cool plot twists, but also many rewrites! A lot of the plotting happened on subsequent drafts.
I had to write something and couldn't think of a plot, so I decided to write a Cinderella story because it already had a plot! Then, when I thought about Cinderella's character, I realized that she was too much of a goody-two-shoes for me, and I would hate her before I finished ten pages.
Gail Carson Levine
Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean I'll just say to Jack, "Let's let the next villain be Dr. Doom" ... or I may not even say that. He may tell me. And then he goes home and does it. He's so good at plots, I'm sure he's a thousand times better than I. He just makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing ... I may tell him that he's gone too far in one direction or another. Of course, occasionally I'll give him a plot, but we're practically both the writers on the things.
Physiologically adult humans are not meant to spend an additional 10 years in a school system; their brains map that onto "I have been assigned low tribal status". And so, of course, they plot rebellion accuse the existing tribal overlords of corruption plot perhaps to split off their own little tribe in the savanna, not realizing that this is impossible in the Modern World.
I find that I am much slower in the beginning of a book. I am thinking of the plot, of the characters and who they are, and where they are going. I often throw out a lot of the writing I start with, because the characters and plot improve as I write. Or perhaps I should say it is my hope they will improve as I write.
Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel. If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.
I always write a draft version of the novel in which I try to develop, not the story, not the plot, but the possibilities of the plot. I write without thinking much, trying to overcome all kinds of self-criticism, without stopping, without giving any consideration to the style or structure of the novel, only putting down on paper everything that can be used as raw material, very crude material for later development in the story.
Mario Vargas Llosa
I spoke of the tragic illusion of perpetuity, but, no, my friends, it is a comic one. The ludicrous plot in which we are all trapped. The ancient Greeks referred to plot as mythos, attributing the random drift of human affairs to some sort of unknowable but glimpsable divine motion, attempting to attach a certain grandeur to it, the delusion of meaning. But we are characters who do not exist, in a story composed by no one from nothing. Can anything be more pitiable? No wonder we all are grieving.
One thing that we learned that we published on our blog post is that uniformly, men lie about their height by almost exactly two inches. So if you look at a plot of census bureau data on the distribution of men's heights in the U.S. and you plot men's heights on OKCupid, it is exactly shifted two inches to the left.
The writer must always leave room for the characters to grow and change. If you move your characters from plot point to plot point, like painting by the numbers, they often remain stick figures. They will never take on a life of their own. The most exciting thing is when you find a character doing something surprising or unplanned. Like a character saying to me: 'Hey, Richard, you may think I work for you, but I don't. I'm my own person.'
Richard North Patterson
One of the things I learned as a young semiotics nerd was that if you have plot moving forward, no matter how banal the facts of it, simply the fact that the plot is rolling forward makes you wonder what's going to happen next, which creates suspense. So you can control peoples' attention simply by having things move forward in a story.
You will be surprised to learn how some very knowing people have misunderstood Plotto. On glancing at it, some of the intelligentia have jumped at the false conclusion, that Plotto is a dictionary of situations, a mechanism that yields a cut and dried plot by the mere use of a thumb index. Plotto, to the contrary, merely suggests the situations for the plot, explains what is to be done through Purpose and Obstacle and even offers suggestions as to the way in which it should be done.
William Wallace Cook
If I had to catalog all the moronic plot turns in The Day After Tomorrow, we'd be here until the next ice age. It's just so very bad. You can have a pretty good time snickering at it-unless, like me, you think there's something to this global warming thing, and you shudder at the irony of a movie meant to warn people about a dangerous environmental trend that completely discredits it. Is it possible that the film is a plot to make environmental activists look as wacko as anti-environmentalists always claim they are?
Anyone can write five people trapped in a snowstorm. The question is how you get them into the snowstorm. It's hard to write a good play because it's hard to structure a plot. If you can think of it off the top of your head, so can the audience. To think of a plot that is, as Aristotle says, surprising and yet inevitable, is a lot, lot, lot of work.
t this point I would like to return to the question of the plot movement and the different narrative levels of the book. David Lodge raises a crucial issue when he asks 'how Charlotte Bronte« created a literary structure in which the domestic and the mythical, the realistic world of social behaviour and the romantic world of passionate self-consciousness, could co-exist with only occasional lapses into incongruity.' As far as the plot and setting go, however, this states the question rather misleadingly, for in fact at Thornfield there begins a progressive plot movement from realism to fantasy. By 'realism' I do not mean the predominance of the every day and commonplace, or an authorial objectivity of treatment, but simply the use of material that the reader can accept as existing in the ordinary world as well, or of events of a kind that might happen in it without being viewed as extraordinary. That is, things that have a face-value currency of meaning prior to any concealed meaning they may hold or suggest. Thus while Gateshead and Lowood School fit neatly into, and contribute importantly to, the symbolic pattern of the book, they are perfectly believable places in their own right. Even the heavy-handed and obvious satire of Mr Brocklehurst and his family does not invalidate him as a credible conception. But with the beginning of the mystery of the Thornfield attic the plot starts moving away from this facevalue actuality.
This element of surprise or mystery - the detective element as it is sometimes rather emptily called - is of great importance in a plot. It occurs through a suspension of the time-sequence; a mystery is a pocket in time, and it occurs crudely, as in "Why did the queen die?" and more subtly in half-explained gestures and words, the true meaning of which only dawns pages ahead. Mystery is essential to plot, and cannot be appreciated without intelligence. ... To appreciate a mystery, part of the mind must be left behind, brooding, while the other part goes marching on.
E. M. Forster
A circular plot structure, often seen in adventure novels and quest fantasies, is a narrative devise involving setting, character, and theme. Typically a protagonist ventures from home (or the starting place of the story), goes on a journey, often a dangerous one in which many challenges are overcome, and then returns home a changed person. The plot is usually chronological, with the events occurring in a setting that becomes a circle. By returning the character to the place where he started, the author can emphasize the character's growth or change while also highlighting the theme of the story.
Carl M. Tomlinson
Cinema is a mixed form. L'Avventura has characters, it has social context, and these things are not trivial. Its plot is the disappearance of a disappearance. Possibly the most frightening plot imaginable. Forgetting the dead, whom all of history tells us we must remember. But what makes movies themselves, rather than novels or plays, is something else. What is it if not the film medium itself? The purity of the visual, which lies in the silence of the stilled image. The freeze frame. The deeply, deeply silent image. Like death. The image in itself in its silent purity reaches-it reaches!-for the purity of death.
It came as a surprise to us, as I suspect it does to many, that marriage changed us. We'd felt as though we'd always had those rings, wrapped about our fingers, like the scraggly garlands of those first, revelatory conversations. But those real rings, wooden as they were, began to set their roots, and that settling, the calming feeling of having been planted into the same plot to flourish, was a relief from that once-nagging question of loneliness. No matter what happened now, even if we'd found ourselves lonelier than we'd ever been, we'd know that that plot of land was our own to cultivate. Each moment was now a dual-moment, each of our lives a dual-life. The open road, that atlas, the open-faced moon and that wine were the first conscious recognitions of our floating life. One that perhaps we'd have created on our own, but now no longer had to.
We have a bad habit of seeing books as sort of cheaply made movies where the words do nothing but create visual narratives in our heads. So too often what passes for literary criticism is "I couldn't picture that guy", or "I liked that part", or "this part shouldn't have happened." That is, we've left language so far behind that sometimes we judge quality solely based on a story's actions. So we can appreciate a novel that constructs its conflicts primarily through plot - the layered ambiguity of a fatal car accident caused by a vehicle owned by Gatsby but driven by someone else, for instance. But in this image-drenched world, sometimes we struggle to appreciate and celebrate books where the quality arises not exclusively from plot but also from the language itself.