Friday, May 18, 2012

18. Plot… or not? Part I: The six essential elements of a plot.

Genre books such as thrillers, mysteries, and romances may be popular for a number of reasons--a likeable hero or heroine, a trendy subject--but if the book is really a page turner, you are turning the pages because of the plot. Because you want to find out what happens next.

Good plots don’t just happen--they all have the following elements, expressed here in the form of a question. For purposes of illustration, let’s use The Wizard of Oz.


1. What if? (The premise)  What if an ordinary girl were taken to a magical land far from her home?

2. Who? (The protagonist) Dorothy.

3. What does he/she want? (The basic conflict)  Most of all, Dorothy wants to go home. In the course of the story, of course, she wants many other things, including to meet the Wizard and to thwart the wicked witch.

4. Who/what is trying to prevent her from getting it? (The antagonist) Dorothy’s main enemy is the wicked witch, but the Wizard himself also tries to thwart her for a while.

5. What happens? (The main action and complications) She and her new friends go off on many adventures en route to destroying the wicked witch.

6. How does it end? (The resolution) Does the character get what he wants? If not, what does he get instead? For example, a valuable lesson, or what she really wanted. Yes, Dorothy goes back home, AND learns the valuable lesson that there is no place like home.

Does your plot include all these elements? If not, you may want to re-think it. Often the problem is that you have a premise, but not a plot.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at the difference between a premise and a plot.

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