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Stirring the Plot: Taking your basic plot across the genres

Photo by https://mattbango.photo/at Morguefile.com 

About my upcoming presentation to the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Romance Writers chapter of the Romance Writers of America

Making your story work, no matter the genre

“Do you imagine your story as a single sentence or as a series of sentences? Do you find yourself telling someone about your story, only to have them tell you, “That’s not the kind of thing I’m looking for”?

Plots. Aren’t they fun? You take a premise or an idea and you craft a story, using elements out of nowhere (or somewhere). In my workshop “Stirring the Plot,” we’ll be looking at plots, how you can mix and match them so you can come up with a fully fleshed out story, even crossing genre barriers. In the workshop you’ll also have a chance to work on your very own story plot in a series of exercises.

So what the heck is plot? It’s the observation of the human condition, the bones of your story, what your story means. That’s the fancy definition. Plot is story, more than theme (which is a main idea, a central topic or idea or underlying meaning of a story and shapes the events of the story), less than the events and characters of your novel. It’s not genre.

Okay, in that case, what’s the difference between story and plot? The novelist EM Forster explained the difference this way, using the example of “The king died and the queen died.” Two events, two simple statements.

You’ve probably heard how to connect the two deaths and work them into the start of a story: “The king died and the queen died—of grief.” Now, think of how you can turn the simple statements into variations of plot. The plot asks why and how the story happened. Could it be:

  • Was the king murdered and the queen decided to take revenge, only to be killed trying to do so?
  • Did the king die of an illness, and in her grief the queen made a series of decisions that destroyed the kingdom, only for her to realize too late what had happened? If this were a historical Japanese story, she’d probably get herself to a convent or commit dramatic suicide. If this were an opera, there would be a lot of singing.
  • Or, say, the king died and the queen died of grief, plunging the kingdom into a war among the children over who would rule?
  • Or the king died because the queen murdered him, and the ensuing guilt drives her mad, leading to her suicide?
  • Or did the king die when aliens landed, led by the queen, who’s been in disguise all these years and waiting for her people to invade?
  • For that matter, did the king and/or queen actually fake their deaths and run away for a reason you’ll come up with? Did they kill their doppelgangers for a reason you’ll think up?

So many questions!

All those from the initial simple statement. And there are more, of course, but I’ll leave that to you to think up.

Plot requires the ability to figure out the intricacies between characters and the events in the story. In essence, it’s what you find yourself thinking about after you finish reading the story.

We’ll be discussing popular plots. They won’t be new to you and they aren’t the only plots out there—you can probably come up with more on your own, but it’s a useful starting point and it’ll allow you to think of all the variations.

Here are the 20 plots, stated briefly. The plots are pretty much self-explanatory by their names, and you’re already going to get an idea of the themes involved:

1: Quest
2: Adventure
3: Pursuit
4: Rescue
5: Escape
6: Revenge
7: Riddle
8: Rivalry
9: Underdog
10: Temptation
11: Metamorphosis
12: Transformation
13: Maturation (coming of age)
14: Love
15: Forbidden Love
16: Sacrifice
17: Discovery
18: Wretched Excess
19: Ascension
20: Descension

And you’ll be able to figure out how to work those basic plots into a story appropriate for your genre. Think about those and how your story reflects one of more of these. You’ll be doing more of that later.

Intrigued? In that case, I hope to see you next month at my FF&P workshop!

4-Week Course Starts March 7, 2022
Through a series of exercises, this workshop tells you how to identify your story’s strongest plot points and how to start shifting its elements so you understand exactly how your story comes across to your audience and how you can strengthen it.
$35 for non-FF&P members • $25 for FF&P members