Tuesday, April 26, 2011

8 Elements of Plot

I recently read this article on plot that speaks of 8 elements you need.  Although it's all common sense or so it seems it was rather eye opening to see it spelled out so clearly.  I thought I'd mirror it here in brief.  Here's a link to the page if you'd like to read the article in full.  I suggest you do.  It's from:  How to write a book now.

Why I think this is important.

Building on my study of Aprilynne's comments on outlining, I've been world building in a new way that puts the focus of my world building on character and plot.  Before it was open book.   I'd open my composition pad and just free write.  Which was fun at times, but I'd end up with 7+ full comp pads and fragments of a story.  This new way I'm paying attention to the elements of plot that I need to develop and I'm asking questions along them to get the answers I need to really focus on my plot.
I think it's making a difference and I feel that I'm gaining confidence.

  • Story Goal -
The plot of any story is a sequence of events that constitute an attempt to solve a problem or attain a goal. The Story Goal is, generally speaking, what your protagonist wants to achieve or the problem he/she wants to resolve. It is also the goal/problem that involves or affects most, if not all the other characters in the story. It is “what the story is all about.”
  • Consequence -
Take your goal and ask, “What would happen if the goal is not achieved? What is my protagonist afraid will happen if he/she doesn't achieve the goal or solve the problem?”

The answer to these questions is the Consequence of the story. The Consequence is the negative situation or event that will result if the Goal is not achieved. Avoiding the Consequence justifies the effort required in pursuing the Story Goal, both to the characters in your novel and the reader, and that makes it an important part of your plot outline.
  • Requirements -
These describe what must be accomplished in order to achieve the goal. You can think of this as a checklist of one or more events. As the Requirements are met in the course of the novel, the reader will feel the characters are getting closer to the attainment of the goal.

Requirements create a state of excited anticipation in the reader's mind, as he looks forward to the protagonist's success.

  • Forewarnings -
Forewarnings are the counterpart to requirements. While requirements show that the story is progressing towards the achievement of the goal, forewarnings are events that show the consequence is getting closer. Forewarnings make the reader anxious that the consequence will occur before the protagonist can succeed.
  • Costs -
Good plots are about problems that mean a lot to the characters. If a problem is trivial, then neither the protagonist nor the reader has a reason to get worked up about it. You want your readers to get worked up about your novel. So you must give your protagonist a goal that matters.
One sign that a problem or goal matters to the protagonist is that he/she is willing to make sacrifices or suffer pain in order to achieve it. Such sacrifices are called Costs.
  • Dividends -
The element that balances Costs in your plot outline is Dividends. Dividends are rewards that characters receive along the journey towards the Story Goal. Unlike Requirements, Dividends are not necessary for the goal to be achieved. They may be unrelated to the goal entirely. But they are something that would never have occurred if the characters hadn't made the effort to achieve the goal.
  • Prerequisites -
Prerequisites are events that must happen in order for the Requirements to happen. They are an added layer of challenges to your plot outline. Like Requirements, as Prerequisites are met, the reader feels progress is being made towards the goal.
  • Preconditions -
The last element to balance your plot outline, Preconditions, is a junior version of Forewarning. Preconditions are small impediments in the plot. They are stipulations laid down by certain characters that make it more difficult for the Story Goal to be achieved.

If you're having trouble getting your plot figured out, I suggest reading this article and learning about all the parts.  Even if you have, you might find a few points that you can strengthen.

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