|photo courtesy pixabay|
"Ay, now the plot thickens very much upon us."--George Villiers, The Rehearsal (drama, 1671)
Travel has certainly changed over the years. When we were first married, we found that the best resource for planning a road trip was the local AAA (American Automotive Association), a place where you could sit across the desk from an agent who would meticulously line out a flipchart map--famously remembered as the "triptik"--on which she would highlight the route with a yellow marker and even make note of the stretches where road construction might slow us down. In later years we made use of mapquest.com. Of course now there's the GPS and even more recently, all you have to do is ask Siri.
But I still like to hold a printed map in my hands and watch for upcoming landmarks on paper as we putter down the road.
The process I go through for plotting a book is similar: I like a hands-on, up-close approach, seeking help from those who have gone before and from whom we can draw on expertise. Over the years, I've collected a number of definitions, explanations, and "mile-markers" that have helped map my process on the road to plot, starting with the basics:
1. Plot (n.)--"1. Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story; 2. a map or diagram." --dictionary.com
2. "Traditional plot has this structure: 1. exposition (setting forth the beginning); 2. conflict (a complication that leads to a climax); 3. denouement (literally unknotting, the outcome of the conflict, the resolution)." --An Introduction to Literature
3. "The greatest gift the Greek dramatists bestowed upon humankind was this: ascending action, climax, denouement...In writing, it's the classical plot outline." --Steven Taylor Goldsberry, The Writer's Book of Wisdom
4. "Plot is nothing more than the way you organize your story--the way you fit the puzzle pieces together to form a connected and coherent picture for the reader." --Nancy Lamb, The Art and Craft of Storytelling
5. "Essentially and most simply put, plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is a logical sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters." --Elizabeth George, Write Away
6. "All fiction is about people, unless it's about rabbits pretending to be people. It's all essentially characters in action, which means characters moving through time and changes taking place, and that's what we call 'the plot.'" --Margaret Atwood
7. "Plot springs from character in conflict." --Martha Alderson, Blockbuster Plots
8. "Plot is the crucible in which character is formed." --Stephen Roxburgh, Editor
9. "What happens is the plot. Someone is the protagonist. The goal is what is known as the story question. And how he or she changes is what the story itself is actually about." --Lisa Cron, Wired for Story
10. "Plot is what happens in your story, and structure is the shape of that plot." --Laura Witcomb, Your First Novel
11. "Let us define plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality (cause and effect)...It it is in a story we say 'and then?' If it is in a plot we ask 'why?'" --E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
12. "Cause and effect: that's what makes a plot." --Ansen Dibell, Plot
13. "A textbook definition of plot would be 'the sequence of narrative order.' Or, 'the sequence of events showing characters in action.' But in fact, when thinking about plot, it's best to remember what some British school children said when asked what writers they liked to read. Enid Blyton, they said--because 'there's always something going on.' Always something going on. In some ways plot boils down to those four words. Always something going on." --Jane Yolen, Take Joy
So to plot includes a plan, organization, action, sequence of events, outline, cause and effect, character in conflict, and a story in which there's always something going on.
Wow, that sounds like quite a trip. Are you ready to get your map together? What road signs along your route have helped you with your story's plot?