Thursday, December 8, 2011

What is Plot anyway?

We all know that without a plot, you have no story...but what is plot anyway?  One way to explain plot, is that it is movement through time.
     First, a plot moves chronologically. A plot begins at one point in time and progresses through to a later time. A plot may cover a period of years or merely a few moments. Alex Haley's novel Roots traces the history of a family over many years. Other novels concentrate on one central character's journey from cradle to grave, such a William Makepeace Thackeray's Barry Lyndon. Plotting a story over a long time period gives it an epic feel, and it provides the pleasure we associate with the great old novels, such as War and Peace. The reader enters what feels like a parallel universe and "lives" there for a while.
     However, the amount of time a plot covers in fiction can also be very short. The most memorable example of this might be the short story by Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. A confederate spy is being hanged upon a bridge. As he drops, the rope breaks and he goes through an extraordinary, surreal escape back to his own plantation. Just as he is about to embrace his wife, the rope breaks his neck. He has imagined his entire escape as he dropped from the plank to the end of the rope. Bierce's ending is one of the greatest surprises in literature, yet is emotionally wrenching even when you know it's coming. As a whole, the plot takes place in seconds.
     Ah, but those of you who favor science fiction might offer the following: A character goes into the past with a time machine. He goes back to medieval times. He has a hard time adjusting, but when the time comes for him to return to the present, he chooses to stay with the woman he loves. So, then, you might say, the plot isn't chronological. The character goes backward in time!
     Sorry, you know better than that. The character is experiencing one thing following another. Whether he experiences this succession of things in different settings is irrelevant. The "past" is "another country," things are done differently there. A character begins in one setting, say, France, in the present and takes a time machine into another setting, say Burgundy, in the twelfth century. It isn't any different than if he had taken a train from France to Belgium without a time machine. His time is still moving in one chronological direction. He is experiencing one thing after another.
     Another aspect of plot chronology that should be made clear is this: in many stories, the plot is presented nonchronologically. We experience parts of the plot out of the order in which they occurred. The has long been a technique of the novelist, though most novels are pretty straight-forward in going from the beginning to the end.
     Underlying these variations on presenting the plot is the plot itself. Such stories allow us to see the plot in a different way and reveal something about character or morality or whatever that might not be as obvious if the story were told in a chronological order.
                                                  Excerpted from Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis
In fiction writing we are taught to NEVER start a story at the beginning....but to open the first scene somewhere in the "middle" of the story.  So, for us, the middle is the beginning....and the "real beginning" is our back story, which we cleverly spoon-feed in at an appropriate spot, so as not to be obvious.  We can all do that, right?

Keep Writing, Ya'all,
Sunny Marie