Sunday, January 22, 2012

Week 4 - Plot

22 Jan - 28 Jan

In The Writing School Guide to Writing the Short Story, Roy Lomax lists Georges Polti's Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.  I include them here as a continuation of Story Ideas from last week, noting that  they, in themselves, are not plots, but can be developed into plots by the imaginative writer.  Even if I seldom use this list for stories, I enjoy letting my imagination run wild with the possibilities...

1. Supplication                                                                
2. Deliverance                                                               
3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance                                  
4. Vengeance Taken for Kindred Upon Kindred             
5.  Pursuit                                                                     
6.  Disaster                                                                    
7.  Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune                        
8.  Revolt                                                                         
9.  Daring Enterprise                                                     
10. Abduction                                                               
11. The Enigma                                                               
12. Obtaining                                                                
13. Enmity of Kinsmen                                                  
14. Rivalry of Kinsmen                                                 
15. Murderous Adultery                                               
16. Madness                                                                 
17. Fatal Imprudence                                                      
18. Involuntary Crimes of Love                                      
19.Slaying of a Kinsmen Unrecognised
20. Self-Sacrifice for an Ideal
21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
22. All Sacrificed for Passion
23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
25. Adultery
26. Crimes of Love
27. Discovery of Dishonour of Loved One
28. Obstacles of Love
29. An Enemy Loved
30. Ambition
31. Conflict With a God
32. Mistaken Jealousy
33. Erroneous Judgment
34. Remorse
35. Recovery of a Lost One
36. Loss of Loved Ones

The same book includes an extensive list of proverbs as possible plot ideas.  Here are some of my favourites:

1. A beggar can never be bankrupt.
2. A bully is always a coward.
3. A dwarf on giant's shoulders sees further of the two.
4. A great fortune is a great slavery.
5. A guilty conscience needs no accuser.
6. A runaway monk never praises his convent.
7. All are good lasses, but whence come the bad wives?  (What!?)

A good plot list can be found (strangely enough) in 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias.  Here are the first ten with a few of my own notes:

1. The Quest - the protagonist is changed by the experience.                                                               
2. Adventure - the protagonist needn't change (eg Indiana Jones).
3. Pursuit                                                             
4. Rescue                    
5. Escape
6. Revenge
7. Riddle - what is real and what appears to be real are presented through ambiguous clues.
8. Rivalry - two characters share a common goal (eg parental approval).
9. Underdog
10. Temptation

With a plot idea in mind, it is generally agreed that a story should have a beginning, middle and ending.  The beginning typically introduces the players and their motives within a setting, the middle builds suspense around conflict and leads to a climax, and the ending represents some sort of resolution.  (That's my simplified definition for myself anyway).

A handy formula to remember is:  ABDCE (Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending) as a basic guide for plotting (borrowed from Lamott's Bird by Bird).

In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner proclaims that any successful story should be like a dream, where the action flows in the reader's mind.  He suggests methods for developing an effectively paced plot:
  • The traditional causal plot that flows from the beginning to a resolution, or that starts from a climax and works backward to a starting point;
  • Allegorical plotting that uses emblems (eg a rose or crown) and symbols to dramatize elements that lead to the climax; and
  • Picaresque plotting that sequentially reveals values to a character, usually on a quest, eg. Don Quixote.  (Okay, so I think this last one is a bit beyond me at this point in time, but I'm learning).

So with all these plot ideas, there is no excuse for not getting something down on paper, right (even if it's a crappy first draft)?

Exercise Seven.  Choose a plot idea from the lists above and write a short story using traditional causal plotting (this leads to that).  Try allegorical plotting that uses repetition of ideas through symbols.

Exercise Eight. Develop a simple plot outline based on one central character for a longer story or novel. Include: a) the main challenge or objective of the protagonist, b) the conflict, c) at least three crisis points, d) a climax, and e) a resolution. Parallel internal and external conflicts if you can.  Simple line diagrams, dot points or charts can be used to do this exercise.

Week 5 will look at the interaction between characters and plot.

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