Last night at my Loft class, I had to admit the ugly truth. I know jack about plotting. This is always my worst lecture because I’m forced to rely on what other people have to say about plot and how to do it.
I know basically what plot is. It’s the stuff that happens in your short story or novel. Plot is a “verb;” it’s action, forward movement. One of the things that the Writer’s Digest PLOT book reminds me is that it is anything that a character experiences which makes a difference to what comes afterwards.
But how is it done? What makes good plot? Why do some plots snap and others fizzle? We read a short story by Maureen McHugh for class called “Homesick” which defies a simple explanation of plot because it is a deeply compelling story, and all of the students who read it thought that it “worked,” i.e., they felt satisfied by the conclusion. Yet nothing much happens, and there are events, such as a car crash, in which there are no immediate consequences for the main character, which is to say, she walks away from it and talks about how the driver was forever changed, but she wasn’t (though it can be argued that by the ending she was.) Still, it’s very non-traditional in its approach to plot, so why does it work?
Other than the answer: because Maureen McHugh is a genius, I didn’t really have a good reply because, frankly, plot is something I constantly struggle with. I think that when it works for me, it works by chance, by magic. Also, I think I’ve honed my “ear” to the point when I can tell when a scene isn’t going anywhere and I revise it so it does. If I screw that up, I have Wyrdsmiths tell me that things are dragging and that I need to get back to the plot.
None of this, however, is good advice to students. How would you teach someone about plot? Does anyone know of any good articles about plot out on the internet?