Monday, October 3, 2011

Plot: Discovery

Human nature. We as a group of mammals are distinct in that we struggle to learn who and what we are. The plot today, discovery, is about this struggle. Because of that it is a character driven plot at its heart as well as an important plot.

This plot differs from Maturation because it is about the process of discovery. In maturation, we have a character that grows up into themselves. In discovery, we have a character that learns who they are.

Many children's books, young adult, are based on this plot. Young people more than adults are constantly asking the questions about who they are, what is their purpose, why this or that. As adult writers, are greatest struggle with a plot such as discovery is the temptation to preach. Make sure you tell your story through your character to avoid such an outcome.

Character driven: Your task as a writer is to make that world and the people in it so real that the reader can bridge the fantasy or words with the reality of belief. Ronald B. Tobias, 20 Master Plots and how to build them.

Act 1:
Establish who your character is but don't spend much time on this. Get to the catalyst quickly. Flashbacks are an important tool in this plot. But don't give us a hundred pages at one sitting or you risk losing the reader. Yes, there are some gifted writers who can do this, but if you are new to the craft, avoid lengthy flashbacks or back story.

Act 2:
The middle of any plot can get bogged down. In this plot, discovery, it is important to delve into your character's personality. Who are they? What is the struggle, the challenge? What is the character flaw that puts them into the current situation? What must they learn? In Death of a Salesman, by Bowman. (The book not the play). The character learns that he led an incomplete life because he never loved anyone or married. What ever the revelation is for your character, it must be BIG. Don't make it trivial. If your character is a peacekeeper, don't give this revelation after a family argument. It must be bigger than that. Avoid melodrama.

Act 3:
Your character begins to fully understand what and who they are. In Death of a Salesman, the character understands what he has lost and learns to appreciate the love of a young couple who has given him shelter. He understands that he is dying. If your character is a peacekeeper as I mentioned above, they must understand the nature of their true calling and its cost.

While I was reading the section in Tobias book, 20 Master Plots and how to build them, about this plot, discovery. I couldn't help but think about Harry Potter. In the first chapter of the first book how much time did J. K. Rowling spend in Harry's past? Zero. We are presented with an infant who is delivered to relatives and left on the doorstep in a wicker basket by some rather odd people. Two wizards and a giant. We learn about Harry's past in flashbacks handled with the use of dialogue and visions. Harry is a baby. He doesn't remember his past until a vision reveals bits and pieces of it over the course of seven books. Masterful.

Over many years of learning the craft of writing I have attended conferences and workshops and in all of them I have heard the advice that states, no back-story in the first three chapters. This is excellent advice and I follow it, but…what I have learned after reading many books by talented authors is that this is a base guide that occasionally must be broken. How you break it is crucial. There is no substitute for excellent writing. If you are new to the craft, don't despair, the act of writing will develop the necessary skills you need to move forward. I am developing a line of classes to help if anyone is interested and will announce it soon.

Next week the plot is: Wretched Excess                                                   

Are you plotting a book with discovery as the main plot?



Not So Simply Single said...


So very interesting....


Bish Denham said...

Excellent. I think I'm going to have to get the book. Sounds like a very good guide.

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Lisa.

Hay Bish, I have enjoyed this book a great deal. I hope you do get it.

I have errands and will be back some time this afternoon to visit all of you.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If done with dialogue, backstory can be provided. Just got to do it right.

N. R. Williams said...

I agree Alex.

Southpaw said...

It's interesting how closely related this is to other plots yet it is quite different too.

PS: I changed my URL and username back to southpaw, but managed to mess up my feeds.

Joanne said...

I like the idea of learning the backstory throughout the book, in pieces that make sense to the reader in the right places.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Holly, I will try to find you.

I agree with you Joanne.

Thank you both for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Carolyn V said...

Yes I am (the discovery thing). How funny is that?!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Such great information. Thanks Nancy.

I weave back story subtly through my novels. It is necessary to inform the reader.

As with all writing balance is key.

Nancy, thanks for the super kind comment on my blog. It meant a lot.


Claire L. Fishback said...

I stumbled upon your blog from a link from the Writers on the Brink blog. What a coincidence! I happen to be writing a story now where the plot could be discovery. The guy doesn't have a clue where he is, and ultimately, WHO he is. So cool to have read about this here! THanks for the post!

N. R. Williams said...

That is cool Carolyn.

You're welcome Michael, I meant it.

Nice to meet you Claire, I'll be by shortly.


Tonja said...

In software development, there are a lot of books about design patterns. I can't help but see the similarities. I think sometimes it's good to just write the story (or the software) organically instead of following a preset pattern. I'm guessing most stories follow the pattern without intending to. Thanks for stopping by my blog today.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Tonja
People write in different ways, it sounds like you are a seat of the pants writer. Your welcome.