The last, but certainly not least, speaker I’m going to cover from this year’s Prairie Writer’s Day conference is editor Cheryl Klein, of Arthur Levine Books. She discussed plot, both from the aspect of the story and characters.
She said story is what happens. Plot is the structure which gives the action shape and meaning. In other words, story is a sequence of events, and plot is the larger change that happens through those events. This happens through both the external and internal plots.
External Plot: change in circumstances via action. These are the challenges that are presented to the main character from the outside. Entertainment comes from this aspect.
Internal Plot: change within the character. These are the challenges that are presented to the main character from the inside. Emotion and meaning come from this aspect.
Or, to simplify it even more...
External Plot: plot. As in, a major problem or situation is thrust upon the main character.
Internal Plot: character. As in, the character’s growth.
Ms. Klein really stressed how important the characters are to the story. She said you might have the best plot idea in the world, but without a sympathetic character to carry it off, she won’t be interested. Neither will most readers. Her fabulous advice is to start writing the book as if that plot didn’t exist, telling us only about the character to whom the plot will happen – after all, the character doesn’t know what’s going to happen, so why should we? This will show us more of the character and what he wants, which will ultimately add to the plot.
She went on to define different types of plot.
Conflict: One character vs. another character, or one character vs. herself
Mystery: a story where the characters need a piece of information
Lack: a story where a character needs something to be complete and live a full life
She said that good plots often have more than one of these types of plot going on at the same time. That you SHOULD have more than one plot in your book, since novel is a window into a real life and nobody has only one thing going on at a time.
As far as pacing goes, she said at least one plot event must happen per chapter. Or, your character must make at least one choice. The Lightening Thief is a good example.
On Frame Stories, where a story happens within another story, i.e. The Princess Bride. A change must happen in both stories, otherwise the one without the change isn’t necessary.
On a similar note, for multiple main characters, each must undergo his own change or internal plot. Otherwise that character isn’t necessary.
She said much, much more, but I’d be here forever if I relayed everything so I will stop here. Often, Ms. Klein puts notes from her talks on her website, cherylklein.com. This one isn’t up yet, but she’s got some other good notes on plot. This is one lady who loves to talk Plot, so I recommend checking them out if you haven’t already.