Plotting Your Settings…Setting Your Plots
As beginning writers, we tend to break down our craft into bite-sized pieces so we’re not overwhelmed by all that we must learn. We take a class on plotting. One on characterization. Another on POV (Point of View). Etc. Our goal is to master each element before we move on to the next lesson. This is a wonderful way to learn craft.
I’ll be the first to admit I built my writing skills this way. Yes, I had a journalism degree under my belt when I started but I didn’t know the first thing about writing fiction. Well, with the exception of term papers!
Incorporating new skills into our mindset can sometimes be a challenge. Take plotting and setting, for example. They are not mutually exclusive. We may analyze them separately on contest score sheets or for our critique partners to help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in our story development but, the truth is, we can’t have one without the other.
We write about characters, their dreams and goals. We trace their movement toward those goals by identifying the pivotal plot points. i.e. In Romancing the Stone, Joan Wilder learns Jack T. Colton has only been romancing her because he wants the treasure map, and subsequently the jewel, she carries. (Romance Rug Pull – “W” plotting technique) This plot point “sets” the scene. Where else does she discover this but in the cavern after helping Jack dig the jewel out of its hiding place? This setting “sets” the plot point.
Try to imagine reading Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara’s story without the O’Hara plantation, Tara, and the war-torn city of Atlanta as a backdrop. (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell) Can you see how Mitchell’s choice of setting for each scene is as important as the epic story she tells? If Scarlett and Rhett lived in Philadelphia on the opposite side of the Civil War as Union supporters those scenes, their story, would have been dramatically different!
One of the main reasons writers get so frustrated with plotting is they forget how intricate this symbiosis is within a novel. They focus on what their character wants without paying enough attention to the world he lives in. To become successful plotters, we must uncover this world. Not just to set a world the character can move through but to discover how it influences his dreams and goals.
Let’s take another look at the heroine in Romancing the Stone, Joan Wilder. What is her world when the movie starts? She’s essentially crawled into the fantasy she’s created for her fictional characters. Joan lives a solitary life with her cat and publisher as her only real friends. Then an envelope with a map arrives and she receives a phone call from her sister that throws her out of this insular world into a new and dangerous arena. This arena not only provides stumbling blocks to the achievement of her goal, but affects the fabric of who she becomes as the story unfolds. She doesn’t return to the life she had when she started. Her world is changed.
The point is that plot affects setting and setting affects plot…no matter what technique you prefer to use to develop your stories. Personally, I prefer the “W” plotting technique because the pivotal plot points I identify are imbedded in actual scenes. I set the purpose of the scene in a physical scene. I create a variation of a holodeck in my mind and move my characters around in it to see what is, and isn’t, working. This makes story development a lot easier, especially for this pantser.
I’m such a visual creature!
For plotting to be effective, it needs to be simple. At the same time, it should develop your story as well as pull your story elements together into a cohesive whole. If you, or a friend, are still looking for a technique that works for you, please consider joining me at Savvy Authors in September for my workshop, The “W” Plot…Or Other White Meat for Plotters. (FMI, click NEWS and/or WORKSHOP) This will be my final hands-on-your-own-book online class until 2012. We’ll explore the relationship between plotting and setting, identify the specific scenes you need to carry your characters forward to the end of your novel and, hopefully, take the terror out of your future plotting efforts.
If your writing is lagging a bit after a summer filled with family and social activities that replenish your soul, your creativity – something else we all need – take time now to bolster your writing skills, whether you take a class with me or with someone else. Launch into the fall and winter months with the tools you need to write the story of your heart. It is, after all, why we’re all here, to write the very best story we can.
Plotting…Beauty or Beast?
First Print – savvyauthors.com blog, June, 2010
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