Thursday, May 17, 2012

Where the story begins, part 2

Since I'm a plotter, I sketch out all the plots in a story before I start writing. In each part of Disciple, that includes: the external action, the emotional arcs of Kate and her two co-MCs, and Kate's mastery of her magical ability. All the stories include these, but which one is the primary plot varies from Part to Part.

Humming "Drive" by Incubus. Photo courtesy of
Why do I need to know which is the primary plot? Because it's the one I will use to write my query letter, and it's the one I will base my synopsis on. 

How do I know which plot is the primary driver of the story? Well, because of the overall progress of Disciple, that was easy to pick out in Part IV. But when it's not so easy to tell, the question I ask myself is:  

What's the most important thing that happens in the course of the story?

That's your primary plot. I'm biased toward these being changes in a character, personally, but it can be an external goal. Catching a serial killer, for example.

In my scifi novel, Course Corrections (McBride's Eight? I'm waffling) I had to ask that question, think hard, and then  revise accordingly. The primary plot was:  Maggie McBride becomes a leader.* Therefore, the story began when she decided to do the thing that made her a leader -- to rescue her cousin Neal. I hadn't written that scene in the first draft because I hadn't realized it was the primary out of the handful of plot threads... so I added the scene in revision.

If the plot were: Neal McBride escapes prison, the story probably would start when he was captured, or maybe at his trial and sentencing. 

Where does that primary plot start? What is its inciting incident? Figuring that out is another blog post. But for now, whether you're a plotter figuring this out ahead of time or a pantser hacking your manuscript into shape:  

The story begins when the primary plot begins. 

Everything before that is extraneous, to be brutally honest, and every page you make your readers slog through to get to the story is a risk. A risk that they will put the story down and find something more interesting to do. You can take that risk -- I put about three pages in front of the scene where Maggie makes her choice, and I did it for the purpose of introducing Neal as a sympathetic character who deserves rescuing. (did I succeed?) Or you can jump right into the plot on page one.

How many pages are you willing to read before you know what the plot is? "It depends" -- on what?

*Though having read Ursula LeGuin's recent post, this may be the story, and the plot was how she went about doing that (rescuing her cousin.)

Part 1 is here.


Elizabeth Twist said...

You've outlined a good method for deciding where to start the story. In my WiP, the underlying driver is a global event / crisis that changes the power balance between men and women in 14th century Europe. The story / plot is how three women take advantage of that. It's a big story. Maybe it's too big. I don't know. I'm second drafting now to figure it all out. Typically I feel that I start stories too late, but maybe I'm just really bad with inserting backstory once the action is rolling.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

This is an excellent way to kind of break down and organize the different sections of your book and weigh them in terms of importance.

L. Blankenship said...

It must be something mighty big, to change so much. Maybe it wants to be a series? :)

Alicia C. said...

I got a lot out of this post. Thanks. it was an eye opener for me to distinguish between Story and Plot. kind of an Ah Ha...and then a Der. Moment.

I plot plan and plot. So this will help a great deal. :)

BTW. Sent you an award over on my blog. Don't feel obligated to do anything with it. I just enjoy your blog and feel more people should be aware of your brilliance! :)

L. Blankenship said...

Thanks! I appreciate the mention. And I'm glad the post was useful for you.

Luna said...

Oh that's a coincidence: I was humming this song all day yesterday. :)

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