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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Plotting the way down the mountain

Other Plot Points
Photo courtesy of sxc.hu
This is the tricky part. This is where you plot the course down the mountain -- if we say that the climax is a mountain peak -- in such a way that climbing up the mountain will be difficult and interesting. And logical.

Going into this, it helps to know some things. Chances are good that the list will change as you plot.
  • Players: how many characters have a stake in the climax, and why.
  • Conflicts: what puts them in conflict with other characters, why, and what would be a "win" for them.
  • Circumstances: the role that the setting plays in the plot -- limitations imposed by place and time. Be careful with these, because the writer's hand can become too obvious if circumstances and/or coincidence dictate too much of the plot.
Track collision courses
Your climax is the final collision of two or more characters who are at cross purposes. There will have been previous collisions, in which what needs to be done became clear, and/or things were done to prepare for the climax despite the set-backs the characters have received. No final solutions were reached, though, and the tension increased.

Build tension
The Other Plot Points need to track a course of increasing tension. The stakes are getting higher, the consequences are getting worse, the characters have less to work with, or they have more to worry about. Don't blot out all hope, though. Maybe things get very dark before the characters put together the clues you gave them and figure out how to defeat their enemy, but don't paint your heroes into a corner that you'll have to rescue them from with some sort of deus ex machina.

Would five minutes of talking solve everything? 
Or: is this a real and serious conflict? If you find your plot relying on interruptions and coincidences to maintain tension, you might not have a serious conflict. If you find that your characters actually agree and you're trying to keep them from realizing that, you've got a problem. (I found myself in that situation, while working on these posts. So I took my plot sketch out back and shot it. Started over with the characters disagreeing, and why.)

Foreshadowing, patterns, etc.
There are tons of other things you can do in your plot lines: hint at what's to come, set patterns and then mess around with them, throw curve balls (which you planned, of course) to keep the characters on their toes, crush their hopes and dreams repeatedly, and plenty more. They all need to build toward the climax, though.


Charity Bradford said...

Great post! I do have to say that when it comes to writing YA (or more like reading it) a lot of times 5 minutes of conversation COULD solve the problem. Do you think that's one of the differences between YA and Adult conflict?

L. Blankenship said...

It's not a genre-dependent problem, I think. Hunger Games and Harry Potter both have real conflicts that can't be resolved with honest conversation -- good writers set up good conflicts.

I don't read YA, so I don't know how prevalent it is... but I'm willing to bet that the titles that are really popular all have strong central conflicts.

mshatch said...

I used to be more of a pantster but I found that plotting/outlining made a real difference in my last book so I'm trying it again :)

And I agree that it is sure annoying when people don't talk to each other to solve what could be a fairly simple problem.

Gina Gao said...

This is a great post. I really enjoyed reading this.


Liz said...

Ah yes, a plot of only misunderstandings. Hate those.