Monday, October 14, 2013

What and Why Is a Plot?

When I was in grade school, I learned about plots. I was given a diagram that looked something like this:
As students, we were taught to write stories that matched this diagram, always introducing conflict at a certain point (the inciting incident) and so on. I never really understood what everything meant, though, in fact I still don't. I don't think I ever really knew what exactly a climax in a story is. Looking back on it, I realize that a message I somehow got from all this was that all stories should fit this diagram, and few of the stories that I read actually did in a way that made any sense to me.

There are multiple problems with this idea, when I look back on it now. For one thing, the diagram is an oversimplification. Many stories have plots that include these plot elements, but they aren't necessarily well-defined, or in this particular order, or occurring only once in the story.

Another problem, which is more notable to me, is that this plot structure is just one aspect of creative writing. I was taught to write stories like this, and I found it to be constraining and unintuitive. As soon as I let go of the idea of plots, specifically formulaic ones, I had this realization of "I can take a story wherever I want." It was liberating. And yet it seems so obvious.

I know plots can have different forms, but now I often reject the idea of plots as applied to my own work, because I associate them with this idea that fiction should be a certain way. I write Think Before You Think, and I never say that it has a plot - to me it's just a somewhat spontaneous progression of events, and if a plot somehow happens to it, then sobeit.