When I was a student of creative writing, the teacher pulled me aside one evening and said, “I have to be gone next week and I can’t find a sub. I want you to teach a class on PLOT.”

Of course I panicked. I would be teaching my peers, my classmates. So for a week I studied plot – everything I could find on it.

That was years ago and now all that information about plot has filtered down to the important points. Here they are:

  • The hero’s journey is a simple tool to use in designing a plot.
  • The story comes first.  Everything else is a slow second.
  • Develop the dreadful alternative in your hero's journeystory. What happens if Susie doesn’t get her man? She’s disappointed? Sure, but the whole free world is finished if Susie doesn’t get her man. (I exaggerate, but you get the point)
  • Put the main character up in a tree, a python around his neck, a bear at his feet, and a pot of boiling water below him.
  • Feel free to steal a plot. They’ve all been done. Shakespeare is a good source for
  • Summarize your plot in one sentence, as TV Guide does.
  • Draw the cover of your novel. It helps you to see what the story is really all about.
  • Never start at the beginning. Start with action. Only after the reader becomes involved can you lay in some background material. David Mamet, the screenwriter, says, “Come in late and leave early.”

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4 responses to “Plot

  1. Great advice, Ed. The only rider I’d add is that while plot matters most in genre writing, often it’s character that matters most in so-called literary writing. I remember reading a couple of years back a book by John Updike, who shot to fame in the (I think)1960s with RABBIT, RUN. It was about an old couple living in a house in the UK, and I swear nothing happened in that book at all (wish I could remember its name) but, believe it or not, it was a great read! Not a money maker, though, I feel sure. The hero’s journey is a sure fire winner, based as it is on the unconscious.

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