Another fabulous class (actually – they were all fabulous) was given by Rachel Ann Nunes, author of 28 published books including the Ariana series. She spoke with us about plot and conflict.
She started off with talking about why plot is the most important element in a novel. Without plot there is no story. You can have elegant, insightful prose, exotic settings, well-developed characters, witty dialogue, and an amazing first paragraph, but if nothing happens to the characters, no one will care. If you are a little weak in one or two of those areas, success can still be possible IF (and only if) your plot rocks.
She gave the definition of plot as: The causal sequence of events- meaning that each event causes or leads to another event, which then leads to another, Each of these events involves some sort of conflict or tension, which lead to the climax and resolution. You may have several conflicts and resolutions in a book. Without both conflict and resolution, you have no plot.
- The framework on which the other elements of the story are built .
- Focused on a single character or a small group of characters.
- A combination of characterization, a journey for the characters, suspense, conflict and context – draw readers into the story and the decisions the characters will make.
She stressed a few times that a good plot is a combination of strong characterization, a journey for the characters, suspense, conflict, and context – you can make your plot stronger by adding to any of these elements.
Then we discussed the four main parts of plot:
1. Character’s conflict or problem
- What is your character’s problem or goal?
- Start as close as possible to the action or point of change
- Your character is in the most pain ever
- Murder mysteries begin with murder
- Action stories begin with action
- Throw your characters into the middle of a mess, so they have to take action
- Action propels plots
2. Complications – thins get worse – ‘out of the frying pan into the fryer’ – the hero or heroine has something great at stake
Character Motivations – ( so important and something I am continually working on)
- Do things for a reason – act from motivation – not because plot demands they do something
- Examine motivation and find ways to complicate plot
- Readers care about character’s goal and become emotionally involved
Conflict with Others –
- At odds with others (quiet family mand drafted and serving with a playboy, etc)
- Family goals and desires vs. individual
- Society vs. individual
- endless possibilities
Conflict with self –
- greatest siyrce if difficulty with character adn most emotionally staisfying when finally resolved
- The Ticking bomb
- Jack-in-the-box – know somethign will happen and waiting for moment to arrive
- Maintain uncertainty
- Outcome ust seem possible to the reader – even while surprising them
- stakes have to be high (its okay to kill someone) – allow bad things to happen to good characters
- Unresolved questions
- things don’t quite add up – keep in mind that the readers trust you that you will resolve their questions
UP THE STAKES!
The roller coaster ride begins – tension climbs as the characters head toward the first crisis. Then it plunges into sort of a lull, where the characters and the readers regroup before the next disaster – or perhaps a subplot is developed, In a romance, this allows time for the relationship to progress.
Do we need the lulls? Yes – it gives readers a chance to relax a bit from the tension
Costs to hero/heroine: As each problem or twist unfolds, the next one becomes greater, more dangerous, or more emotion-filled
Beware of coincidence – its okay when:
- It’s an initiating force in the story
- It makes things worse for the protaganist
- It’s religious works or miracles
It’s not a coincidence if it is a logical consequnce brought about by th plot
Ending each chapter with a hook – or a plot complication – keep the reader involved and asking “What happens next?”
The active protaganist:
- Difficulty increses as a result of positive action by the antagontist
- Character needs to stand up, take charge, and do something – even though their attempts to solve the problem make it worse – your character can only be acted upon so much until they start reacting
- Problems can worsen without direct impact from character, but the character should always be doing something
- The more significant the events for the character the more effective the plot.
- Major problem is resolved
- Point of high tension and drama
- Major prolem=major climax
- Final climax=moment of truth
- Fully developed scenes
- Deal with crises on-screen
- Right prevails and evil is punished – usually
- Crucial elements bring everything into focus
- Logical consequence of prior events
- Your resoltion should bfeel inevitable after it is over, even if it is surpirising
- Tying up Loose Threads
- Know When to STOP Writing – one of the biggest problems is the author wants to over-tell the story – the end should come very close to the resolution – don’t drag it out.
Well, it was awesome class and I was able to recognize some things I was doing right, and found areas I definitely need to improve on.