Monday, November 09, 2009

Storyline vs. Plot, part 1

(The following is cross-posted from my LiveJournal.)

A little while back, I made comment about having a storyline for my next book, but not a plot. I have since realized that may be causing some people to scratch their heads as to what the difference is between the two. Then again, maybe no one is wondering. I don't know. But, for the sake of the narrative ploy, let's assume that at least one of the five people who read this blog regularly are, indeed, perplexed, and not merely plagued by dry scalp.

I'll start out by saying that the definition, and therefore the difference, between storyline and plot is going to vary by writer. For some, it is essentially one and the same beastie; for others, there can be a big difference. As for me, well...

When I say storyline, I am talking about the overall arc of the narrative. (In fact, "story arc" would be another way of putting it.) So, when I say I have a storyline, I am saying that I have an idea of not only what the story is going to be about (plot-ish), but also how it is going to unfold over the length of the telling. I know most of the key players, I know what at least a few of them want, I know how what happens will impact them, and I have some idea how it will resolve itself. Mostly. Sort of.

Does this mean I have the fabled Beginning, Middle and End? Not quite: what I have is an idea of what comes first, know a few things that need to happen on the way, and a basic idea where things will end up. I know where the story is going in a general sense, but I don't yet have all the dips and curves in the road mapped out, let alone know all the stops I will need to make on the way.

But -- and this is the important part -- I know what the story is about. Not thematically, but intellectually/creatively. I know that all of the action, all of the plot I develop, all of the victories and defeats I throw at my characters, have to lead towards a couple of specific goals. I know that certain things must happen, and have an idea of the order they must happen in. In short, I know the story -- well enough that, if I had to, I could probably throw together a back of the book teaser for the reader. (Note: I am not saying this teaser would still necessarily be valid by the time I am done with the book. Things change as you plot and write the work itself.)

So how is this different (for me) from plot? Good question, and one I think I will come back to in my next post. :)


Kelly McCullough said...

Fascinating and just about perfectly reversed from the way I think about it. For me the arc is the plot and the individual events expressing the plot are the storyline.

Douglas Hulick said...

Well, Kelly, I think we've pretty much established that you and I are the ying and the yang to one another's story development and writing methodology, so it's not surprising we are at different ends of the spectrum on this one. :)

For clarification (and not necessarily for Kelly, who I suspects gets it), I don't want people to think that when I say I have events in mind, I am talking about "Bob has a sword fight with Steve mid-book" or "Steve gets taken captive in Chaper 11." I may in fact want that to happen, but at this point I don't know if it will pan out that way. What I do know, though, is that around the 1/3rd mark in the book, I need Jane to confront Bob, thereby introducing conflict X, which will in turn help propel the narrative on to event F further down the line. I don't know how Jane will confront Bob, or where it will happen, or even if it will necessarily have to be Jane -- all I know is that it is a necessary mile stone in story. I can still see the road stretch out before me over the hills (the story arc), just not all the twists and turns (the plot).

Bill Henry said...

Wait, is Steve a Degan? I'm finding book 2 very confusing already.

Douglas Hulick said...

Bill: I'm trying something new -- I'm renaming each character every book to make the series more challenging. All this knowing who is who and what is what from book to book is so passe any more, don't you think?

(To paraphrase the immortal Foghorn Leghorn: "That's a joke, people...a funny, that is.")

Bill Henry said...

. . . and Bob is a Gray Prince? I think. ; )