Recently I’ve been reading “Creating Stories” by my friend Hank Quense. It covers slightly different, more advanced ground than -“From Story -idea to Reader. I think they’re both excellent books.
Take it away, Hank!
From Chapter 6: Constructing a plot
A plot consists of a series of events that connect the inciting incident to the story’s climax.
Events are not the same as incidents in this context. What’s the difference? Events are major happenings or plot twists. Incidents are everyday occurrences. Humdrum and ordinary, they are the stuff that should be omitted from the story for the most part. For instance, let’s suppose a character wakes up in the morning. If you then describe her routine of taking a shower, putting on makeup, selecting an outfit to wear to work and eating breakfast, these are all incidents. You, the author, have to ask yourself why am I even writing about this stuff? All it does is slow down the story, consume words and bore the readers.
However, if the woman’s estranged husband replaced the water in the water heater with sulphuric acid, then the shower becomes an event: a very messy one.
Constructing a plot is a three-step process. The first step is to come up with a plot problem for the characters to work on. The second step is to develop the story’s ending. The third step is to develop a series of events to connect step one and step two. After that, you are ready to write the first draft, provided all the other design work has been completed.
That’s all there is to it, but don’t be deceived by this simple formula. It’s hard work.
Step two may be a shock to some. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but it isn’t. The purpose of a story is to take the reader on a journey from the beginning to the story’s climax. Everything in the story must take the reader closer and closer to the climax. If you’re writing a first draft and you haven’t figured out the ending yet, how can you move the reader closer to the climax? The story’s climax doesn’t exist yet.
Let’s develop a generic plot path for a story.
One: Hero recognizes the plot problem.
Two: Hero makes an effort to solve the plot problem and fails.
Three: A second and more serious effort also fails.
Four: A third desperate attempt ends in a disaster.
Five: A do-or-die attempt follows.
Six: The hero succeeds (or not).
In a short story, these steps could become the scenes in the story. In a longer work, each step could be several chapters.
What’s the point of all these successive failures? To jerk the reader around emotionally. As the protagonist repeatedly fails, the tension increases and the characters’ emotions become stronger. The tension and the emotions affect the readers and keep them turning the pages.
After step six, you need one more scene: the validation scene. This scene describes what the reward is for all the hero’s hard work. Does he win the gold medal? Does he get a big kiss from a beautiful woman? Does he find the treasure? The validation scene is the final scene in the story. In a longer work, the validation scene can become the validation chapter as you wrap up all the loose ends.
All these factors contribute to a key element in the story construction: the story’s emotional arcs.
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