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COMING UP WITH A PLOT

December 21, 2011

            For those of you that have been following my articles for a while, you know my reference to the Polkadot Sewer. I was thinking today about some of the writer’s workshops and how they get fiction writer’s together to come up with plots for stories and it kind of bugged me.

            It is a well-known fact (or should be) that there are only so many basic plots available. An occasional workshop occurs where writers are asked to mix these plot elements to create their “unique” plot so they can go off and create their story. Okay… I suppose that’s fine, in a way. My problem with that is if the author has to use a tool (or session) like that to come up with their plot, the well must be dry. Am I wrong here?

            Every plot I’ve come up with has been an inspiration, not from some seminar. They’ve all just popped into my head. I’ve known a starting and ending point. Everything else in the middle is a total surprise. You’ve all heard those words from me many times before. Do I come up with a plot that’s been used before? Of course! Then again, if there are only a finite number of plots out there anyway, it’s an inevitable fact. So, why worry about it? I can’t really knock where people get their ideas, but it just seems to me that the best creativity comes from the heart, not from some seminar.

            I think it’s much better to come up with the plot on my own and not worry if it’s been done before. I know it’s been done before, but you know what? I don’t care! So, if you are all hung up on that while you’re trying to come up with a story, I think you’re chasing the impossible dream. It’s all in the telling, not the plot. It’s your unique voice.

            Look at all the vampire novels out there right now. I am so sick of vampire stories I want to scream. Are any of them that different? Mystery genre? How many ways can you murder someone? Westerns? How many ways can you head them off at the pass?

            My question to you is, wouldn’t it be better for you to come up with a plot all on your own that have to manufacture it from some formula or instruction book? Don’t bury yourself in angst worrying about if it’s been done before. Trust me, it has! It’s how you tell it and how you build your world around it that makes it different.

            Drawing your world is how you make your story unique. Harry Potter? The plot’s been done a hundred times if not more. It’s the world MS Rowling drew that makes it unique, not the plot. Twilight? Kissy-face teen angst love story plot. Okay, I’m not a big fan. However, MS Meyer knew how to push the right buttons with women in the world she drew. That, my friends, is how you make your story different, not the plot.

            There is something to be said for workshops that teach you how to construct basic plots so that you understand what a plot is and how to make it clear and not too complicated or not too muddled. Basic plotting is a good thing to learn if you don’t come onto it naturally. However, creating plots in a seminar is what I’m talking about. Fretting over whether it’s been done before? That is what I’m talking about.

            Your world is unique, your story is unique, not the plot.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2011 2:58 am

    Fred,

    That’s the same in jazz. As a young person I heard dozens of jazz records, then tried to emulate the stars on them. I knew almost from the beginning that when you played a chorus of a song that had been used a thousand times in jam sessions or recordings, you had to be creative using your own ideas that I did. But many if not most of the ideas came from records I had heard, but I used them differently or changed the rhythms so they came out my way, my style. Every jazz musician I ever played with were the same, and we recognized each others creativity. When I taught kids to play jazz they all became creative, some greater than others, many becoming professionals. The ultimate creativity is within yourself.

    • December 22, 2011 2:18 am

      Well spoken, Felix! Creativity comes from inside us all, at least the best does.

      Fred

  2. December 21, 2011 4:16 am

    I find that the ideas I have in workshops and seminars are very different from the ones I come up with on my own though. It’s a way to try something new and shake up your writing habits, a sometimes necessarily thing. It might be a matter of ‘being dry’ so to speak, or it might be a matter of breaking from the norm, which is fun and productive.

    • December 22, 2011 2:31 am

      Kaitlin,

      Yes, I guess there can be uses to those workshops and seminars, but not for me. I’ve just never had that problem. I know a few of my readers have attended these workshops and I expected some objections, or some controversy. You are the first!

      I sat on the periphery of one and watched as the group created their plots. It just struck me as manufactured and phony for some reason. I never did find out if any of those writers ever actually used what they came up with in a real story. I guess ideas can come from anywhere and who am I to say? Maybe I’m a purist or a snob or whatever, but I draw my ideas out of the air, independently, somehow just NOT from a structured environment. Why that makes them seem more legitimate, I don’t know. I suppose they aren’t, really. As you said, you didn’t actually use the plots you came up with from them.

      Thanks for writing.

      Fred

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