That Darned Plot!

At my local RWI meeting, lingering over books in our lending library, I had a chat with a published member about plot. Although my group has critiqued my book through chapter five, and seemS to like my writing (except for too many spiders), no one sees my plot yet. I do have one, so I outlined it and sent it to Jennifer. She responded with some suggestions she'd learned at a recent workshop. Since I've never attended a fiction-writing workshop, I'm taking her suggestions very seriously.

In the example of a book that sold quickly, Jennifer outlined a plot where the two lovers' goals are completely opposite. In my book they are the same, but if both achieve their goals, they will not end up together.

Some "rules" say that the characters' goals must be in conflict. For one to win, the other must lose. Humm. So, in my plot, if they end up together and one gets their goal, the other loses. If they stay apart and go their separate ways, both can have their goals. They each have to grow & change to achieve HEA.


My characters goals are:

Do what she needs to do to get rid of the boat & satisfy guilt about mom. Get back to her life in Paris.
Get Hadley back to Paris without involving his father, and get on with his life at Grand Lake.
Then I found one article that clarified my goals and also questioned the "rules."
Conflict and Resolution in the Romance Novel  by Linda Shertzer
For me, the best plots make the hero's and the heroine's goals the same. Sounds silly. Sounds impossible! If they're both working toward the same goal, where's the striving? Where's the conflict?
In reality, there are two types of conflict: the apparent conflict and the underlying conflict. The apparent conflict is loud and showy, and starts your novel off with a bang. It seems irresolvable. It may eventually be resolvable, but the solution lies beyond the control of your hero and heroine, as in the outcome of a battle or natural disaster. As devastating as it may seem, it may be of relatively minor importance in the actual relationship between hero and heroine. The underlying conflict gradually makes itself shown through the unfolding story. This conflict is what is really important to the continuing relationship of your hero and heroine, and is resolvable. Not easily resolvable, I'll grant you, but there is a solution.

Linda says a lot of what I was thinking, but.... she made me realize that the goals I have for each of my characters above are not their underlying goals. Here are their real goals:



To continue the life she’s always expected to lead, based on her mother’s perceived values.

To continiue the life he’s always expected to lead, based on his father’s perceived values.

Hadley has farther to go to change because Kain has already learned a lot about his dad that has upset his apple cart. But both come to the realization, through several subplots, that their parents were different than they thought and that happiness will be found together if they can learn from thier new insites into their parents.


When I had first plotted my book, I based it loosely on this 5-scene plot chart:

Today, I found a chart that Kurt Vonegut used in some of his talks and used it to analyze my plot:

Kurt Vonegurt Story Grid for Cinderella:

When I plotted my story, it was a little more complex.  It had four peaks and three valleys. What I realized in looking at it was that, at first, each peak did not rise higher than those before, so I adjusted it. And I made sure my last valley was the deepest. We must plunge our characters down, down down to make that last peak even more extreme, right? 


So, with this analysis, I don my fighting gear and punge back into the story with a better idea of my characters MAIN goals and what the rythm, the pattern, should look like.  I also realize that I need to work on outlining what the obvious (not so much underlying?) plot is in my first chapters. My readers need to know that they're in for a rocky ride.  I thought I'd had, but I see now that I didn't do it well enough.

Thanks Jennifer, for asking the questions you did and inspiring my next total re-write! 

I still have these questions:
  1. Do editors really like very simple, clear-cut plots the best?
  2. I know that you can't base a book on a misunderstanding that can be solved by a good, honest talk, but can't a scene be based on that...a small misunderstanding that prevents the resolution of the main plot for a bit? 


Three scene plot:

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