Plot is the “to be or not to be” of writing. You must have a key plot to work with when you are creating a book, screenplay, stage play or short story. In a previous blog I showed you how to use your life lessons to tell a story. These are the incidents you string around a central plot.
What is plot? Basically it is the nervous system of your writing project. In other words, plot is all action and nothing else. It’s what keeps your audience reading or watching your creative work. Plot keeps your reader or viewer involved and wanting to know what will happen next.
Sounds a bit daunting? Yes, because you are nowhere unless you have a good plot. So how do I come up with one? First of all, you must understand that the essence of a plot is when you have one person wanting something or to do something and another person or nature keeps him or her from succeeding. Your creative effort is just a series of one person trying and another person throwing tacks in their path. The end of your plot is when person A finally wins or fails.
The more conflict you have, the better your plot and the easier it will be to write. In my view, one third of all books published have plot problems. Faulty plotting is what causes writer’s block and even abandoning a project after a chapter or a few scenes. Your plot not only has to be interesting enough for you to write but for your reader to read. Interest comes mainly from conflict.
I believe your best option for coming up with a winning plot is to think up a basic conflict. Then work a lot of minor conflicts around it until your leading character wins or loses I suggest you write down a quick synopsis of your story’s major conflict. Afterwards start listing a dozen possible minor-conflicts. Remember, the more conflict you have, the more interested you and your reader or viewer will have in the project.
Many books are on the market purporting to teach you all about plots. The old standby of them all is called The Thjrty-Six Dramatic Situations. Over a hundred years ago, a Frenchman by the name of Georges Polti scoured literature for all the plots he could get his hands on, ranging from Greek works up to French and English literary efforts of his day. He then narrowed their plots down to just thirty-six major conflicts. His text is a good place to go check out the thirty-six major conflicts in literature.
I remember once I wanted to write a play but had no idea for a plot. Via Polti, I came up with Cinderella. (Many people use fairy tales as the source of their plots.) I knew I didn’t want to call my play some clever form of Cinderella but needed to have a title that was catchy and fit in with the play in a kitschy sort of way. I knew I wanted it to be a comedy but it still had to have the basic conflict of the fairy tale. I would just modernize it in some way.
I ended up calling my play COLD DUCK after one of he cheapest bottles of booze you can get at the supermarket. Supposedly it’s a mix between red wine and champagne. It’s pretentious swill at best in my estimation.
I set the play in a modern home where a woman has a step-daughter and two daughters. Her children are rather nice looking. One works at a doughnut shop and the other as a cashier at a supermarket. The stepdaughter is not nice looking at all and has no shape but is a straight A student in college. The mother and daughters leave to go to a big Republican fund-raising party where a young, unmarried Senator will be the guest of honor.
The step-daughter is left at home to study and iron the clothing of her half-sisters. A door-to-door saleslady representing cosmetics and foundation garments drops by to sell her things. She quickly realizes the step-daughter is not a potential customer. The saleslady feels sorry for her thoiugh and fixes her up to go to the same party as her step-mother and step-sisters. . Instead of a glass slipper, the step-daughter is wearing fake hips to give her some shape. The saleslady’s son runs a limousine service. He takes her to the party but has to be back at his company by midnight. The step-daughter does meet the young, good-looking Republican senator (“ a prince of a guy.”) At midnight in leaving rapidly, the step-daughter’s phony hips fall off and that is what the Senator uses to look for his beloved. He does find her much to the chagrin of the step-mother and the two half-sisters.
The play was first produced at the Theatre de Tertre in Paris by the Paris English Theatre and was a roaring success. I have made more money off of this play than any of my others. I have cut and pasted the first page of the script. It will show you how I took the basic plot (conflict) and adapted it to my writing purposes. If you would like to read the entire play, it is part of an anthology of my plays entitle PARIS PLAYS. You can find it on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Remember, the better your plot, the better your writing.
The present. The interior of a middle class home. An air of total disorder prevails. The place, in effect, looks as if it had been stirred with a stick. FRANCINE, a plumpish woman in her early fifties, is seated on a couch and is talking on the telephone. She has a big mouth and laughs after each statement she makes as if to emphasize it. JOETTA, her eldest daughter, a rather pretty but strumpety looking girl, is under a hairdryer end doing her nails. VITA JEAN, her second daughter, is shaving her legs with an electric razor. VITA JEAN is a vixen of sorts and breathes lust. ERICKA, the youngest of FRANCINE’S brood, is her step-daughter. She, wears glasses and is dressed in blue jeans, a sport shirt and tennis shoes; she is ironing a dress. ERICKA is thin and shapeless and not pretty at all.
(on the telephone)
That would be just fabulous if you could swing it, Helene. I know the girls would really appreciate it . . . . Oh, they’re busy getting all dolled up. Even if I say so myself, they’re a couple of knockouts. . . . Just a minute, Helene. (cupping the mouthpiece with her hands and shouting over at the girls) Could you cut those contraptions off for a couple of minutes? I can’t hear a word Helene is saying. After all, this is more for your benefit than mine.
You’d better cut it short, Mom, if you don’t want to make us late for the party. (They don’t cut off the hairdryer and the electric razor.)
(back into the telephone)
Oh, Helene! The girls are so excited I can’t do a thing with them. I’d better get with it myself. I’ll see you at the party. Oh yeah. My girls will appreciate anything you can do in the way of getting them introduced around. They’re a little bit shy, you know.……Okay, Helene. I don’t know how we’ll ever thank you for getting us the invitations.. …See you later…Bye now. (She hangs up) (to VITA JEAN and JOETTA) Helene is going to meet us at the party and introduce us around. How’s that for speedy work?
Personally, I feel like I’m being sold by the pound.
That’s right, Miss Priss. Got any alternatives? Don’t you know it takes making the best of what you’ve got while you’ve still got it? And that takes salesmanship. In case you’re interested, it’s a buyer’s market.
(yelling at ERICA)
Ericka, for God’s sake, don’t scorch it. Use a damp rag. I can smell smoke.
Iron it yourself then. But of course, you can’t iron.
Girls, girls:! That’ll be enough of that. Joetta, you ought to be more appreciative of Ericka’s help. And Ericka, you don’t have that many assets to rely on. Once these girls are set up, they’ll help you.
I’m not holding my breath for that day.
I know you’re bent out of shape because you can’t go to the party, Ericka, but, dear, it’s just not your cup of tea.
You mean I haven’t got anything to sell.
My next blog is in two weeks, May 12th. In the meantime, my very best to you. .