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Hello, writers. In last week's session, the subject of plots came up, raised, I think, by Mettle Fatigue. Here's what I said:

 Yeah, I can't plot either. (8+ / 0-)

But I just do it anyway and hope no one notices.
Essentially, character IS plot. That is all you need to know, really.

Fortunately Wonderful World replied rather more perspicaciously:
 Give 'em something to work towards (9+ / 0-)

Saving the princess, blowing up the evil tower, chasing the guy who stole their Bible, stealing $50M from the CIA, finding the perfect font, etc., etc.

Then stick 'em in the various situations and have 'em react according to their characters. Throw in a moment when it all seems hopeless and drag 'em through it, then have them achieve their goal...or not.

That's plotting. A great many good books...and a lot of bad ones...have been written with no grander ideas.

For the most part, plot qua plot is a thing of the past. It was killed in World War II, or shortly afterward.

Before that, you got novels and short stories where character development basically didn't exist. The male protagonist might be known by his last name only and be completely unencumbered by any relationships at all-- except, possibly, a girlfriend, who would have a first name but no last name (aka “Dollface”).

It was all about the plot, which should contain plenty of twists... so many twists that readers were always kept guessing as to what would happen next. And with no characters to distract them, the readers did keep guessing, probably correctly. This was bound to get boring.

Writers could buy books of plots, which were essentially lists of twists. I have a couple of these ancient tomes. They're the most boring books about writing I've ever read. And the only writing books I've never learned anything from.

I'd say for today's writer character is as important as plot was to the writer of 100 years ago. Readers today read for character. They want to identify with your protagonist. They want the supporting characters to touch a chord with them. To show them something they recognize as true about human nature. To remind them of someone annoying... but in a way that's actually funny. (Even Gollum might be good in a tale.)

So. It's all about character. Multi-faceted character, flawed character, no paragons allowed. It's all about character and then, as Wonderful World said, it's all about how the characters react to the situation you put them in.

Or in other words, in today's fiction, most of the time

character + problem = plot
This is true even in a lot of mystery novels, where you would think the Plot Twist would still reign supreme.

When I plan my stuff in advance, I usually think of a series of situations-- or worsening problems-- and then of each of my main characters. I think about how each of them will react to/ be affected by/ cause each of the problems. That's pretty much plotting as I do it. There are a couple more bells and whistles, but that's the greatest part of it.

Which brings us to tonight's challenge.

A callow youth and his stout companion, vowing never, ever to return to the swamp, are relieved to learn that they must now venture into a nice, dry city and seek out the Wise Grebe of Grimm, who will tell them the location of the missing Jewel of Togwogmagog... if he feels like it.

When they find the Wise Grebe's lair, they learn that the Grebe is protected by a mighty secretary, who decides just who will see the WG and who will not.

Pick a character from a book you've read. Have that character play the secretary. Write the scene.

Now pick a different character. Have him or her play the part of the secretary. Write the scene so that it ends differently.

(If you want, the second character can be from your work-in-progress, rather than from an extant book.)

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