Sunday, January 27, 2019

Storytelling 101 -- Fundamental Plot Development

All stories, whether it's a short story or Anna Karenina, revolve around conflict and basic plot structure, regardless of the genre. I call it, The Four "Cs" of Writing. Other writers may call it something different, but it's the formula I use with every story I write, and it works each and every time. They are:

  • Characters
  • Conflict 
  • Climax
  • Conclusion

Characters. This is as fundamental as it gets. Who is your story about? Without characters there is no story to tell. I begin my stories with my lead protagonist(s), but I don't consider this a hard and fast rule. Depending on your genre, you may wish to begin your story with a minor character or even your antagonist. Whichever way you go, the plot revolves around the characters and what they do.

Conflict. The meat and bones of the story. It's all about the conflict because conflict creates the drama. Imagine a story about a happy couple who never argue or disagree, and nothing bad ever happens to them. They live a long, happy, charmed life and nothing ever goes wrong. The end. Now let's take that same couple. He tells her he has to work late that night, but when he arrives home in the wee hours of the morning she can smell another woman's perfume on his clothing and she sees lipstick on his collar. So, which story would make the most compelling reading? Plotlines revolve around conflict, and how the characters react to it.

Climax. The high point of the story. The punch line. What the conflict has lead up to. They argue. She grabs a lamp off the nightstand and coldcocks him over the head. He's left on the floor, unconscious and bleeding. Meanwhile the neighbors heard them fighting and called the cops. The cops soon arrive and bust down the door. He's lying dead on the floor while his blood, and her fingerprints, are all over the lamp. 

Conclusion. This is where the loose ends are tied up and you end the story. She's hauled off to jail, goes on trial, and is convicted. Since I write stand alone novels I resolve the entire conflict and leave my readers with a definitive, satisfying ending, but again, this isn't a hard and fast rule. Some authors prefer a more ambiguous ending and may leave the readers with a hung jury And if you're writing a series you'll certainly want to leave something unresolved that can be continued in the next book.

And there you have it. The four basic components of plot development and storytelling.