All Stories, Editor Picks, General Fiction, Short Fiction

425: Plotting, The Week in Love and Derivative Devices

The Plot is in the Mail

The concept of plotting a story is alien to me. I’m as able to plot as I am able to dunk a basketball. Personally speaking, I, at best, have only the fuzziest idea of how something I work on ends. Nine times out of ten it doesn’t end that way, but is an ending directed by wherever the flow of the thing takes me.

The problem I have with plotting is it appears to be a blueprint for creativity, not far from the formula romance writers follow. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they both live nakedly ever after. Inaccurately, or otherwise, I see a difference between story and plot. I see stories unfolding in a natural manner with interesting things and interesting people meeting up–all left open for happy surprises that the author was unaware of until the composition began. And plotting as something on par with paint by numbers.

Of course structure is important. And it should be considered before the work begins. But I cannot envision writing something from an outline. The way I see it, you just blast your way into the thing with an idea of sorts then ad lib your way through until something sets in your mind.

Still, there are some parts of construction that must always be followed or the story will, well, suck. Mainly if you have unlikable or dull characters, then the story had better be damn compelling for it will have to carry the load. Yet you can have the most charming people on Earth in the story, and it will fail when it becomes obvious that nothing is going to happen. Even though this appears to be true, I always begin with characters first and see what happens.

Some writers need notebooks and a plan before going at it (Dickens was like that), while others appear to be playing with matches in comparison. I fall into that second category. I used to make all kinds of notes and little biography files for my characters, but stopped when I realized that I never consult them.

I think it will be interesting to hear how you go about writing your stories. I don’t see a right or wrong way of doing it. But I still wish I could be a bit more organized, for there are hundreds of files in my storage that have no meaning whatsoever because they were attempts at organization. I guess chaos can be described as a failed attempt at order.

All You Need is…

Although I don’t know for certain, none of the stories that appeared this week feel plotted. If any were designed ahead of time, I express further admiration. Each one has a facet of the elusive quality called love. That lost, that deferred to annoyance, as well as that found in friendship and family.

I’ve long believed that being a pain in the ass is a component of love. And such was evident in Paul Kimm’s fourth appearance, this Monay, Pompeii. It is obvious that only one member of the marriage was excited to be there, but the other was such a good sport by not killing the former. The “for worse” part of the deal. The prose is insightful and the setting is well presented.

Loss of love highlights Jessica Aike’s brilliant debut story, Yellow. At first the MC doesn’t believe in love then has a great cause for wishing her previous belief was true. The MC has a challenging personality and makes her utterly human and even vulnerable in her cynicism. The best thing here is that her mind follows a realistic, not plotted path toward discovery.

Tim Goldstone made Wednesday wonderful, with R.I.P. Beautiful Man. Despite the eccentricities of the character, this is a moving, loving tribute to a passing generation we will not have around much longer, simply due to the inexorable passage of time.

James Bates made his fourth appearance on Thursday with Desert Dust. Jim is a pro who edits without complaint and has an unerring way of improving his work with every draft. There’s a different shade of love in this piece–a sort of lament for that which never was.

It’s hard for me to think of anyone who writes as fluidly as Jie Wang. Jie’s third appearance, Their Greenness is a Kind of Grief brings forward a doomed love that you get the impression will endure even though existence itself appears destined to interfere.

Let’s hear it for this week’s contributors. If you haven’t yet read their works I entreat you to do so. Each one is a little revelation on its own.

Derivative Devices

Although I admit to my ignorance when it comes to plotting, I am not blind to plot devices and contrivances. Some were heavily used in TV of the sixties, while others appear in pages. There’s always room for additional observations.

TV plot contrivances

  • The Amnesia Episode (The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek, etc)
  • The Big Head Episode (The Brady Bunch, Munsters, Gilligan, etc)
  • The Matchmaker Episode (All of them beginning with Lucille Ball)
  • Let’s have a baby! (This also began with Lucy, who actually had a baby. Taken to the extreme with triplets on My Three Sons and eventually with nine in the Simpsons.)
  • Casting a new Cute Kid character (usually an orphaned cousin) when the cute children on a show have entered their “awkward” years (just about all of the ones that had kids and were on for over four years.)

In pages

  • Arrival of a stranger on a dark and stormy night
  • Romance beginning at a train station
  • Natural disaster interruptous–postpones revelations for a few pages
  • “I am your Father.”
  • The sudden death of characters no longer needed in the story


21 thoughts on “425: Plotting, The Week in Love and Derivative Devices”

    1. Thank you, Doug

      The Y comment reminds me of a game show clip from 50’s. Like Truth or Consequences.
      The host is in the audience with a mic toward the end of the show. He says to a lady “For five dollars, name a car that starts with P.”
      She laughed embarrassed. He asked what’s wrong. She said “No car starts with pee.”

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Ah yes the pantser and the plotter. I don’t plot. I can’t plot and for me not plotting is what makes it all such fun. The novel I am working on right now is just winding up and I have only just discovered who the bad guy/gal is. I have found that when things pop up that don’t fit in you just keep on writing and that odd event that happened in chapter 6 will suddenly become perfectly sensible and even vital to chapter 60.

    I sometimes have just a sentence. One book started with the the words ‘It rained on the day of the funeral’ and that was it and it took me down many peculiar highways and byways.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I was reading a mystery and the good guy was sure to be killed by the bad guy. A bear out of nowhere killed the bad guy. I didn’t read another book by that author.
      My writing is very simple, nice and tidy, and stupid. The worst may be “Reprieve” which was a pandemic book in 2015 before they were cool. It came to a very happy ending which I hated as being like “they lived happily ever after”. I destroyed the world with an asteroid which was even worse. Segue time – another of mine is “Asteroid” which doesn’t have one. Parity.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good post. For me, writing “by discovery” is the most fun and generally produces the best results. But somewhere along the way, I like to have an ending in mind so I don’t wander all over the place. It’d be interesting to hear from those who write longer works.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hi Leila, your post made me think. Plotting stories is also a rather alien concept for me. My stories seem to happen all of a sudden, like a big wave crashing, although I have to spend time on the shore of my own emotions if I want to catch that wave! For a book, though, it’s a bit different. I’m currently writing one, and I’ve been plotting and replotting thematically. Linear plotting isn’t very useful for the way I create, but thematic plotting helps me get a sense of what I can do in one book with X number of pages, and it also helps me think ahead in terms of further books, perhaps.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello and thank you Dominique

      Those are excellent observations. Book writing is so extremely involved that I imagine one must take special measures to keep the narrative thread alive. Unless you have one incredible memory.

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Method?!? Plotting?!? What are these words you speak? Okay, yes, sometimes. More often, it’s a three-step process. One (or Two): Find–Observe–Think up an interesting character. Two (or One): Read About–See–Imagine a weird or quirky situation. Three (here’s the good part…): Grab an imaginary character by the ankle. Swing her (or him) vigorously, bashing them into various situations. When a situation and character become hopelessly entangled, let that mess simmer in the noggin for about two weeks. Remove the lid, grab a keyboard, and start banging. That’s how it works for me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sounds wonderful. Can’t do it. No patience. If I have a certain number of points, I put them at the top of the page. Cross them off and I’m done. Read it make obvious changes, send it to live in editor Sharon. She marks errors. I make changes. All my ideas now are so short, the story is done in a day. Send it off. Sometimes make changes when I think of them. No nuance, no skill, break the rules, off it goes. If I had to work at it, I wouldn’t enjoy it. Plus I’ve got the non-writer writer niche.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Leila,
    I’ve planned before, sort of, in some longer works. Mainly it consisted of what I wanted to include per chapter. But once I started writing the chapters the story went it’s own way.
    With shorts, all I look for is a line or an outlook and again, the story takes it from there.
    Regarding contrivances, I can only mention what I have (Unfortunately!!) noticed in films. (Gwen watches them and my ears get abused having to hear the shite that they are!) I despise the idea that every fucking romantic film has a misunderstanding between the two love interests.
    I can’t say anything about novels as there is no way that I’d read any.
    Oh and Christmas films are the same – Most of them are romance films with some plastic snow.
    Excellent post as always!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Hugh,

      You are right about Christmas films. Give me Bad Santa anytime. I’ve often wondered if the plot line for romance was actually invented by someone or just sprouted on its own like a fungus.

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have a terrible time with plot. The problem with that is that many stories go nowhere, I’ve got a few dozen lying around like bunches of skin with no bones. Sometimes if I work at it enough, there will be a central meaning, which is what I’m aiming for, with interesting characters of course. Endings are pretty much impossible. After a long time, they may or may not happen. Trying to form an ordered story from chaos – and the mind and the outside world are pretty chaotic – can be a frustrating and difficult task.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The first book length work I ever wrote was my Master’s thesis. I used every plotting trick, device, and method known to humanity to pull it off. That was, however, the last time I’ve ever used those methods…at least working forwards.
    Like most commenters, I have characters that are in places where things happen and they react…and I have no idea, or very little, how it will turn out. This is true for short stories, essays, and even the one novel I wrote before my hard drive actually began to smoke (before cloud computing, it’s a long, sad story that needs several beers to bring out fully). However, once I get through the first draft, I will (sometimes) go back and outline as a way to make sure everything flows properly.
    The exception to this rule is with a mystery – you have to know who committed the crime and how before you start and you have to know how and when to reveal the clues and red herrings. This is one reason why I have never successfully completed a decent mystery.
    As a separate note – I once wrote a beautiful six-page introduction to a story that was entirely about a man sitting on a toilet. Every word was exactly what I wanted it to be and in exactly the right place. And there was no place to go from there. It seems somewhat symbolic…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Really interesting post and great comments. I also don’t plot, but I can’t start without a reasonable idea of the beginning and the end – the journey between them is what comes as it comes after that.

    Liked by 1 person

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