Friday, October 10, 2014

Plot, Baby, Plot*

By Russel D Mclean

This week was supposed to be Plot Week (unofficially) which kind of brought up an issue for me as I'm actually working on a thing about plots for another market just now and most of my thoughts on plot are being taken up with that.

But I have been thinking about what plot is. I think a lot of folk believe that plot is action. That there is a dividing line between plot and characters - character is the psychological part of your story, where plot is the action, and often the two are seen as separate things (are you a "plot" or "character" kind of writer). But this kind of thinking is, I believe, quite wrong.

Plot isn't action.

Plot is interaction.

By which I mean that there is no plot without character and likewise no character without plot. Plot - and therefore action - is driven by the interactions of characters. At its most basic level, plot is about what happens when beings with conflicting goals come into contact. Its about how people are affected by the actions of a) other people/animals/Great Faceless God beings who have opposing goals and b) their environment, which can in a metaphorical way have opposing goals, too.

Plot is character. Plot is opposing characters. Plot is characters opposing environment. Plot is about forces pushing against each other to produce change.

I first realised this when reading Elmore Leonard. You don't think of Leonard neccesarily as a plotter. You think of him as character. But reading his books, what you see is that they do have plots that are composed of character interactions. The book unfolds because of the people involved and the choices they make. Every Leonard book is exciting because he sets up so many apparently disparate people and lets them interact with each other in ways that are exciting and utterly true to their characters. The plot stems from the characters. Do it the other way around and the plot becomes something forced and unnatural and ultimately unbelievable. Force a plot onto characters who cannot act in ways that would create that plot and you only create a mess. "Plot" is our way of describing the bigger picture of character interaction on a macro scale.

Plot is character. Character is plot. Once you realise that, everything becomes a little easier.

*with apologies to Dave White

1 comment:

Scott Parker said...

Actually, when I read "Plot, baby, plot," I jumped Bowie's "Cracked Actor" where he sings "Crack, baby, Crack."