Have you ever wondered what it takes to plot a story? The elements required to be present within every story? In this excerpt, we take you through the three critical elements of plot every story requires.
This article is an excerpt from the “WAW Fiction MicroMasterclass: Plot”, a collation of learning notes from the WAW Fiction Masterclass series. #WAWFM are one-day fun fiction masterclasses focusing on elements of fiction. It features learning sessions, reading excerpts, videos, writing, workshopping and review of pieces. There’s also music, food, and a sense of community and networking with great writerly folk.
The next #WAWFM, Plot, Description and Setting, is scheduled for 25th March, 2017 in Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria. Registrations are ongoing, and seats are limited to 25 only. Register now.
Plot vs Character: Which?
Can you have plot without character?
Usually, we set attendees into two groups and have them go at each other’s throats for about five minutes. Then, after much laughs, we tell them what the answer really is:
Because there cannot be a story without a character to drive it. Remember, Character is ALWAYS at the heart of the story, so never get carried away by the plot. CHARACTER is intertwined with plot, and is the first element that must be present before you can have plot.
Don’t forget though: the events of the story must logically follow from the character’s actions, else you’ll end up with a Dues Ex machina (explain) and that makes for the worst of stories. So even if you plot a story first, ensure the character’s actions are very believable, and are true to the character and do not seem contrived.
Goal + Motivation
So, this is what you must understand: the character must have a goal, and must be motivated to achieve it.
A man whose wife is kidnapped immediately has a goal to get her back. But what if he hates his wife? How much motivation will he have then? Won’t he be happy to be rid of her? These are the questions the writer must ask themselves.
The goal could be tangible (like a million bucks), or abstract (like love). If abstract, it could (and should) be made concrete in some way (e.g. in the case of love, a love interest). And this character must be motivated to do it. Usually, the best way to set up this motivation is to make something at stake if they don’t get it.
If one doesn’t find love, one might die alone, sad and depressed. Those are the stakes. These stakes could get higher if a character, say, has limited days to live on earth. So, if a character identifies someone whom he/she can fall in love with and quickly experience happiness before dying, he/she will be immediately motivated to pursue that person relentlessly. Even if there are challenges along the way, the person will be motivated.
If you put the protagonist and the goal together, you get what we call a Story Question:
Will Cinderella find true love with the Prince?
The answer to this question, in fact, becomes the resolution. It could be a Yes. Or a No. Or a Yes, But. Or even a Maybe. The Yes, But… bittersweet answer is a modern-day favourite.
Conflict / Complication / Problematic situation
“One does not simply walk into Mordor.” – Boromir, The Fellowship Of The Ring
And then, of course, the fun part: the goal can’t be easy to achieve. There must be difficulties. Lots and lots and lots of if (did I say lots?). Conflict is what creates suspense, tension and provides the narrative drive. The more of it there is, the merrier.
These conflicts could arrive from internal or external sources. The best stories have both.
- Internal: from within the character, their mind being their biggest problem
- External: other characters, nature, society, machines, godly beings, etc.
Usually, one character will be the strongest opposition to the protagonist (the protagonist is the character whose actions drive the story). This is the Antagonist. Antagonists aren’t always “bad” people, and sometimes could be simply causing the protagonist problems while trying to reach their own goals. An antagonist could also be abstract, like societal culture, for instance.
Conflict doesn’t necessarily mean physical conflict or threat of physical harm. It could be anything from a particularly frustrating situation (e.g. being too short to reach something placed high up) to a psychological hindrance (e.g. being too lazy to start a workout plan).
Here again, remember: the motivation to surmount these conflicts and achieve the goal must be strong. The character can come under fire that they know will blow them out of the water, but dammit, they will try until their last breath. Or they will give up and let go. Either way, we have a resolution to the story that leaves us with a different feeling from where we started.
To learn more about Plot, Setting and Description, register for the upcoming fiction masterclass. Only a few seats left.