Premise, Plot and Story

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We’ve all been there: staring at the screen or notebook wondering how to write the middle of your story. You’ve built a wonderful world and crafted some deep characters. You might even have done a great job at setting the stage and have a great idea on where you want to end up. You’ve written down a few scenes and they are glorious. But still the flashing cursor looms.

about-us-buttonThis is what happens to pantsers, mistaking premise for plot. I am one of them. We are Legion.

Of course, Stephen King makes a strong case that plot, in and of itself, has little value. Real life isn’t plotted out. What drives story forward is how characters grow and change within the physical premise and plot.

Start with your premise, say, a world torn by civil war on the brink of collapse. Next: what characters live in this world? What motivates them? A rebellious soldier with a cruel streak, a pacifist forced into action as a field medic. Then, upset the apple cart and create conflict and uncertainty. Aliens attack! How do your characters change and grow?

Redditor CrownMule offers this advice:

When plotting, don’t just think in scenes. Think about what defines and connects the scenes. Think about cause, conflict, and consequence.

Cause: What initiated this event or decision? What is the catalyst? What is the character’s desire or objective?

Conflict: What complicates this event or decision? What keeps the objective from being easily attained?

Consequence: What is the result of this conflict? What are the unintended effects or the unfortunate sacrifices?

Write your plot out as a list of the essential events (not just scenes!), including their causes, conflicts, and consequences.

And that’s about all I got. Feel free to weigh-in on the topic in the comments below. Write on!

There’s a great thread on Reddit (including the rest of CrownMule’s comment):
http://www.reddit.com/r/writing/comments/2araff/i_need_help_with_creating_plot_rather_than_premise
Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling is also gold:
http://io9.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar

Stephen King’s Top 20 from ‘On Writing’:  http://www.openculture.com/2014/03/stephen-kings-top-20-rules-for-writers.html

A little more on Plot, Theme, the Narrative Arc, and Narrative Patterns can be found here:
http://www.sandhills.edu/academic-departments/english/film/narrativearc.html

And here:
http://www.udemy.com/blog/tips-for-writing-your-novel-difference-between-plot-and-story/

Written by Writer’s Carnival Team Member

Doug Langille

me256x256Causing a ruckus as a member of the IT leadership team at the Nova Scotia Community College since 1999, Doug is one of the primary technology architects for the college’s IT platform, managing teams responsible for many key systems. He is a husband, father and shameless technophile living the good life in Nova Scotia. He’s also a grandfather, bird keeper, dog owner and cat butler.


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