The hot topic for our Writing A Novel students this evening is Story vs Plot. Now, despite us pitting them against each other like that, story and plot are actually good friends. They get along nicely. They need each other in fact. And our novels need them both. But understanding the difference is really important, too.
Story is how we sum up the novel in its entirety. It’s the flavour of the thing, the What. What’s this story all about? is the question, and you should be able, at this stage, to answer that in a single sentence.
Plot is the Where and the How. It’s all the individual bits that make up and drive the story from A to B. Writing A Novel tutor Sarah May describes it as ‘the detailed scenario, event by event, which makes up the story, together with sufficient character motivation to link them logically.’ Sounds simple, right?
Welllll… maybe not. So for this week’s exercise, let’s pull that plot apart. We’ve sort of borrowed this particular one from very clever Shelley Harris, who just happens to be the tutor on our upcoming one day Fiction Skills course on Plot. So she knows her stuff.
- Get yourself a roll of wallpaper, or wrapping paper, or any kind of paper that unrolls and is super long. Now get yourself two types of Post-It – two different sizes, or two different colours, even fancy shaped ones if you like. On the first type, write down all of the key events (there might even be an inciting incident in there) that happen in the novel, and stick them in order, down your unrolled and super long piece of paper.
There! Your novel has a skeleton. It just needs fleshing out now… So on the second type of Post-It, write down all the things that happen between each of those key events, and stick them on.
Now the thing to do is to look at it. Are there lots of Post-Its bunched up in certain bits, and then only a single one between another two key events? Would it make sense to move some of the Post-Its to other places? Could this thing happen here, to make more sense out of that one? And what is driving the plot? Are all of these Post-Its things the characters are doing, or are they things which happen to them, beyond their control? Could you have more of a balance between the two?
Lastly, are there enough Post-Its? If not, look at your characters. Ask yourself How can I make this more difficult for them? Answers on a Post-It, please.