Here we are for the 4th installment in this writing tips miniseries! As usual, if you’ve missed the previous posts, you can read them here.
Without much more ado, let’s begin!
What’s a proper journey without a map? While the more adventurous of us may prefer to set off without a map and go where our fancy takes us, maybe checking the map when we get lost or simply making our own way, it can be dangerous. You never know when you might fall through a plot hole and get lost in the darkness of confusing ideas. Or stumble upon a plot bunny that leads to nowhere or, worse yet, another story that has nothing to do with the one you’re writing.
Now, while this intro is referring more to the whole outlines thing, I will go more into technical plot in a bit.
With outlines, everyone’s different. As I mentioned in our very first post, being a plotter/planster/panster really impacts how your story takes shape. Using an outline (or map) can be helpful to at least be a guideline for where your story goes so you don’t get lost and end up abandoning the story. But I’m merely going to gloss over this since I’ve talked about this before and don’t want to wear this theme out.
When we usually talk about plots, we’re usually referring to the scheme of the story. So it’s similar to an outline, but instead of being a bullet-point about events that take place, it’s the river current or journey path that the story takes.
Using the example of Lord of the Rings, we could say that the outline is the following:
Hobbit Frodo inherits magic Ring from his uncle Bilbo. The Ring is dangerous and must be destroyed. Frodo, along with his companions, must journey to the land of the Dark Lord who made the Ring and destroy it in the place where it was made in order to save Middle-earth.
A bit boring, but it provides a rough outline for where the story goes. More detailed plotters would probably include all the other details that make up the story, naturally, but it suffices for the point I’m trying to make.
But when we speak of the plot of Lord of the Rings, it’s the driving force that moves the story along. Instead of being mere events that highlight the passage of the story, it’s more. It’s the individual actions of the characters, the way they speak and make decisions, the way the world around them shapes what happens, as well as the major events. All these things make up a plot. It’s all the details about how the story flows.
Pacing is another crucial point with plot. While plot is partly the events that happen, pacing determines when these events take place. Some stories have slow plots, especially Dickens’ work. It feels like all we see are small scenes involving one or two characters, but the grand scheme of the story seems to be going nowhere. And then suddenly it all speeds up and before we know it, the story’s over. Other books have quick plots where we flit from one thing to another, racing through the book and having to process it later because it moved so fast. It’s good, in my personal opinion, to have an equal balance of both. Yes, quick pacing is great for actions scenes or for building tension. But the slow moments are just as important, especially for developing characters and relationships, as well as setting the scene and more. While I do enjoy a good action scene (especially as I struggle to write them well myself), I love more the exchanges between characters through dialogue or sometimes physical interaction. Simple gestures can speak worlds of change.
I hope this offers tips as to how to write an effective plot. If you’re struggling, always remember. You can always edit pacing later. I’ve fixed most of my pacing issues when going back and editing the finished first draft. So do not despair. It will all come right in the end.
I will give tips on editing plot/pacing in later installments. ^_^