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12 July 2011 @ 06:56 am
Let's talk about plot  
I woke up this morning and realized that at 7am tomorrow I will be on a plane to Pittsburgh to be the first of four instructors at the Alpha workshop for young F&SF writers (the others are Tamora Pierce, Ellen Kushner, and Scott A. Johnson). I know that I can do this, but I'm still kind of freaked out. It seems like so much responsibility.

I will be giving four lectures, of about an hour each (1:15 in the morning, 0:50 in the afternoon). I have decided I'm going to speak on the following topics:

  • How to develop an idea into a story
  • What is plot?
  • Using sets and props to develop character
  • Using all the senses (there are more than 5)
For the first one I'm going to use the method Pat Murphy gave us at Clarion West, and I'm pretty solid on the last two. But plot is important, and I don't feel that I have as firm a handle on it as I'd like.

One way of looking at plot is Algys Budrys's basic seven-part outline: a person, in a situation, with a problem, who tries, and repeatedly fails, but eventually succeeds, and is rewarded. Another is the three-act structure used in Hollywood: setup (inciting incident and first turning point), confrontation (second turning point), and resolution (climax). One definition of plot is "a series of events that happen for a reason." I can't talk about plot without talking about how plot, character, and setting are thoroughly intertwined.

What are some of the most useful things you've been told about plot?

Oz Whiston writing as Oz Drummondbirdhousefrog on July 12th, 2011 02:23 pm (UTC)
Connie Willis from TT2007...a simple way to describe plot. Plot is about using the word "because." This happened because that happened because that happened. As opposed to saying: this happened and then that happened and then that happened. The distinction between events one after the other and causality. When you get to the end of something that has been plotted, you can look back and it was all inevitable, based on each decision made, each event, each path taken. She said you can tell whether it's a plot based on how you describe the story to someone else and if you're using that "because" word.

Hope that's useful in terms of teaching youngsters. I have oodles of other notes from TT07 and TT10, but this sort of sums it all up.

e_bournee_bourne on July 12th, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
The Pentad
We use the pentad at work to determine the flow of a case line, and I've come to use it to determine the flow of a story. The plot will oftentimes then come from determining which sections of the pentad to focus on. You can only pick two, the other three then become background elements. There's a ton of stuff written on the dramatic pentad, but wiki has a good intro.

CJ Smithcjsmith on July 12th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
Most useful for me so far, originally from a book by Peter Ruby and Gary Provost: http://nanowrimo.livejournal.com/794116.html
Tomvoidampersand on July 12th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
David Langford's take on Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law: 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a completely ad-hoc plot device.'
Wolf Lahti: antimonywolflahti on July 12th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)

In plotting, all you have to do is come up with a sequence of events that resolves in a totally unexpected way but that is, in hindsight, nevertheless perfectly logical.

Piece of cake!
Steve Hutchisonfoomf on July 12th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
Just re-read your Clarion diary. Snickered madly at the last paragraph.
They Didn't Ask Medr_phil_physics on July 12th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
Two words: Chekhov's Gun.

Dr. Phil

Edited at 2011-07-12 07:12 pm (UTC)
kzmillerkzmiller on July 12th, 2011 08:36 pm (UTC)
I don't remember where I heard it, but I find it useful to think about what the plot proves (or disproves) and that sometimes it's awesome to show the opposite over the course of a plot. So, for example, if your overall plot 'proves' that love conquers all, it can be interesting to have love fail to conquer something, maybe even several times.

I also like the idea that regardless of whether the a plot point (or the ending) culminates in an up or a down note, you can reveal satisfying subtleties in having an opposite tweak as part of the culmination. So maybe they lost the girl, and the ring, and the dog, but they find a lead. Or maybe they finally got back the money plates, but a piece was missing. And maybe in the end, the country is now free, but it cost the protagonist his arm (or his life.)
pingback_botpingback_bot on July 12th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
July 13, 2011 Links and Plugs
User charlesatan referenced to your post from July 13, 2011 Links and Plugs saying: [...] d Levine on Let's Talk About Plot [...]
question mark with teethpantryslut on July 12th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
The very best advice I ever got was (paraphrased) "plot is purely mechanical, like a clock or a car engine. All you have to do is find a way to periodically raise the stakes." Plus a walk-through of one of my stories to show how it could be done. Raise the stakes, work toward a resolution, raise 'em again, keep going until you reach a climax. That's it. For me at least, it's worked like a charm.

Edited at 2011-07-12 10:14 pm (UTC)