In the last of three posts about the craft of writing, Tony Bradman tells us a thing or too about Plot:
Firstly, remember that plot grows out of character. If you have a good central character, with a real problem to face or conflict to overcome, and a specific goal to follow, then it should be fairly straightforward to devise actions that character will take. Those actions will lead to reactions from other characters, and so on. But all those actions and reactions should be consistent with the kind of characters they are. As soon as you lose sight of that, your characters will become puppets that you manipulate, and the story will feel unreal and contrived. It’s taking the easy way out – it’s much easier to think up what feel like dramatic scenes on their own than to create living characters. But it’s often the kiss of death for a story.
Secondly, it’s vital not to give too much away, especially at the beginning of the story. That might sound paradoxical – isn’t plot all about giving hints and clues? But that’s the point – you’re teasing readers, making them interested in your world and characters, hinting that there are thrills and spills and surprises to come. The temptation to start a story with huge chunks of exposition and character description is strong, but must be resisted at all costs. Remember, you can hint at something and then not mention it again for hundreds of pages, but if you do it properly you’ll have readers in the palm of your hand. And if you can let them
work things out for themselves sometimes, they’ll love you even more.
And thirdly – study plot in all its forms. Try to be aware in your reading of what the writer is doing. Watch out for those early clues and hints, and try to follow them through the story. Do the same with the films you see and the TV programmes you watch. Stories told on screen are often very plot-driven – they have to be to hold an audience’s attention. One particularly good example of plot is in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. What Macbeth hears from The Weird Sisters in the first act sets him off on a course that leads ultimately to tragedy. And at the end their words come back to haunt him. It’s a brilliant example of a number of storylines coming together and delivering a satisfying surprise. Reading crime fiction is also a good way to study plot – it’s all in the clues!