By Jeanne Marie Leach

Read Part 2 here.
Read Part 3 here.
Read Part 4 here.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a plot is the plan or main story of a literary work. Plot implies careful foresight in planning a complex scheme, as in an assassination plot.

In other words, the story is the sequence in which events occur, while the plot is the sequence in which the writer arranges those events, and which events the writer chooses to include.

Plots are actually either masculine or feminine.

  • Feminine plot = A character-driven story. It’s all about relationships, or the relationship is a huge part of the plot. Think of Driving Miss Daisy and Steel Magnolias.
  • Masculine plot = James Bond. The main character has very little growth throughout the story and doesn’t change who he is or how he acts. This is the “winning against all odds and often has a romantic thread.

Below, I list several types of plots. This is by no means all-inclusive. There are many other types of plots, but this list will give you an idea of some of them.

  • Plots of chance
  1. Things happen to a character through no fault of his/her own
  2. A character is to blame for his/her own downfall
  3. A character suffers adversity
  4. A character gets through misfortune through his/her own determination
  5. A character survives the misfortune through chance and circumstance
  • Plots that make up and distinguish an individual
  1. A purposeless character finds direction and strength
  2. A character makes the right choice after many wrong choices
  3. The character suffers a loss resulting in disillusionment
  • Plots of realization
  1. A character experiences trouble and comes out a better person
  2. The main character must seek out the truth
  3. The main character comes to see another character more truly
  4. A character goes through loss and loses faith completely

Regardless of what type of plot a story contains, there must be conflict. Conflict is:

  • Man against Man: Competitive or opposing action of incompatibles
  • Man against Self: Mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands
  • Man against the world (nature): The opposition of forces other than other people or self

It is important to understand that there isn’t a specific formula for how to write a good plot, but you should make sure it follows this basic line.

  1. Check to see if you’ve given your character a dream or goal.
  2. Then somewhere in the story, pull the rug out from under him/her.
  3. Take the character’s dream away or put a roadblock so huge, he/she feels he/she will never achieve his/her goals.
  4. Then at the last minute the conflict is resolved, either in a good way or bad.
  5. Remember, the trouble must be most intense near the end of the story.

Watch for Part 2 on Plotting next week, where I’ll be talking about Sagging Middle Syndrome.