This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
I was going to dive straight in with some tips on creating a plot for your novel, but then I realised something; plotting a novel is a massive subject. Without a plot, after all, there isn't really a novel to speak of. Plus, if we don't agree on exactly what plot is, then all the tips in the world aren't going to be much help.
Perhaps you're rolling your eyes right now, and thinking: 'Duh. Plot is the stuff that happens in the story'.
You're right, of course. But if I were to recount my morning: Got up and made a cup of tea. Washed up last night's wine glasses. Made the kids some breakfast. Got back into bed and read my book for an hour. Got up and had a shower. Played Boggle with my son.
Would you call that a plot? I've given you the 'stuff that happened' in the story of my morning, but it doesn't feel like a plot does it? We instinctively feel that, but why?
E.M. Forster said in Aspects of the Novel that it was causality that made a plot. He said:
'The king died and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died and the queen died of grief' is a plot.
'Ah-ha', I imagine you saying, 'life isn't like that. Sometimes thing just happen and aren't caused by the previous event at all. My novel is realistic!'.
Again, you're quite right. Life isn't like a novel. Life is messy and random and, in the words of Elbert Hubbard 'one damn thing after another', but we aren't in the business of faithfully transcribing real life (nobody, for example, would like me to continue describing my morning). We're in the business of writing novels and for that we need cause and effect. We need shape. We need every event in our novel to be there for a reason and to be linked – by causality and by character – to each other.
Which leads me to character. Often seen (or spoken about) as an entirely separate component of building a novel, your characters are the key to creating a believable and emotionally-satisfying plot. By 'believable' I mean that the characters can't act in a certain way just because it will suit your plot for them to do so, and they must take action (not just be acted upon) for your reader to want to spend 90,000 words in their company.
There are debates about whether character comes first or plot, and which should be more important, but I think (and I know you'll get sick of me saying this) the answer is complicated. Really complicated.
For one thing, it alters depending on the type of story you are telling. For example, in a lyrical novella where the beauty and value lies in the elegant prose and poetic description, a character-led piece in which very little happens (except in the character's delicately-wrought emotions), can work beautifully.
However, in an airport thriller, the characters might be drawn in a more perfunctory way and the description pared-down so as to showcase the convoluted and exciting plot.
There are, of course, a million shades in between these two extremes, but character will always be vital. Without character we just don't care. And, for me at least, that's what makes a brilliant novel. I can read a short story without caring too much, but for the long-haul of a novel, I have to give a damn. I don't have to like the characters but I can't be indifferent.
In short, character and causality are vital to creating plot. No matter how exciting the events in your story are (explosions! Car chases! Kissing!), without causality and character they will feel will feel as unemotional and unexciting as a shopping list. Or my morning.
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