By The Hilt

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Emerson

Archive for the tag “plot”

Plots, Schemes, and General Nefariousness

It was the butler!

It wasn’t the butler!

You only thought it was the butler!

You only thought it wasn’t the butler, but it is!

How important is plot?  Obviously, very, so let me rephrase that: how important is an original plot?

Let’s face it; coming up with an original plot idea these days is virtually impossible.  With the abundance of stories out there, almost every plot has been written.  When it comes down to it, all plots today are recycled, just with a new “twist” or “spin.”

So what’s a writer to do?  All of this just reinforces my conviction that plot is far from being the most important part of the story.  It’s still obviously better to have a better plot than a worse one, and the plot can still make or break the story – but that still doesn’t mean it’s the most important element of a story.  I’ve always been a firm advocate that characters are the most important element of a story.  You can tell the same story a hundred times and love every single time if the characters are good enough.  For me, characters are what make or break a book.  If I like and connect with the characters enough, the story will suck me in and make the experience magical.  If I dislike the characters enough, I might not even finish the book.

Of course, there’s another way to get around the “plot problem.”  Simply put, some writers don’t write for the sake of the story.  (“Story” here means the cumulative total of plot, characters, world, etc. in a novel.)  Some write to convey a message.  For example, dystopian novels.  I’m thinking of books like The Giver, by Lois Lowry, 1984, by George Orwell, and A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle.  I’m also thinking about movies like Gattaca.  I’m not saying these are bad stories, but I know that while I came away thinking them interesting and enjoying how thought-provoking they were, I didn’t really like them as stories.

Other authors carry their stories in other ways too – science fiction and fantasy especially sometimes get away with mediocre plots and characters by creating a world so incredible that you become absorbed into it that way. (See James Cameron’s Avatar for a great example.  I love it, but let’s face it – it’s just Disney’s Pocahontas all over again.)  And I’m not saying that any story that doesn’t focus on its characters as the most important element is miserable – far from it – but I would argue that all the best books have the best characters.

So what say you, my readers?  How important is plot to you?  Would you rather read a twisty mystery novel with a great plot but horrible characters, or would you rather read a book with an unoriginal plot but characters you love?

Write always,

E.S. Hilt

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To Plan, Or Not To Plan?

That is the question, of course.  (Yes, I stooped to that terrible of a Hamlet reference.  Welcome, blogosphere, to the dregs of my writing.)

I must admit that planning isn’t something I’m terribly good at, at least when it comes to my writing.  I usually start with an idea, or a character, and let the story unfold from there.  Take my unpublished novel, for example.  I knew how it started, and one or two things I wanted to happen along the way, and very generally speaking, how it ended (very, very generally speaking).   And this is how I’ve always written.  I know the beginning, a few, very small, vague bits of the middle, and very vaguely, the ending (usually as vague as, “they defeat the bad guy” or some such).  If that.  For the most part, the vast majority of the novel is as much a surprise to me as I write it as it is for a reader reading it.  I’ll write  a part, and think of the next either during or after writing of that part.

Now I will stand back and acknowledge that this isn’t how “good” writers write.  However, I’ve tried those “good” techniques of writing out an outline with detailed notes for what will happen where, when, how, and with who.  I never wrote that story.  By the time I got to the actual writing, I was bored.  There was no excitement; it ended up more like writing a  history or a report than a story.

Sometimes I envy people who can utilize the “good” writing strategies.  I think it might be nice to be able to remain so in control and to know what the future holds.  And I know those strategies really do work for some people.  My best friend, who also writes, is one of those people.  But I can’t do it; not won’t, can’t.  It just doesn’t work for me.  It kills my creative energy, somehow.  Sure, when I get an idea, I’ll jot it down, and I may or may not use it at a later date.  But it won’t go in an outline, I can tell you that.  I like to take the journey with my characters.  It’s more exciting, and for me, more genuine.  I realize that I’m also limited my ability to weave a more complex plot, but while I occasionally enjoy a nice, convoluted story, that’s not usually what I’m in it for.  (“It” being the reading/watching/etc of a storyline.)

For me, writing is art, like drawing, or music, or any other form of creative expression.  As such, I need a certain degree of spontaneity.  I need to get excited about something to write it out, and if I’ve already picked it over ten times before I get around to writing it, then the excitement is all gone.  And that’s not too bad sometimes, for some parts, since you can just slog through it until it gets better, but a whole story?   It’s not gonna happen.

When it comes right down to it, every writer is different.  I’ve read advice given by published authors and other writers, and some say to make a detailed outline and know everything will happen before it starts.  But then others say not to bother planning (in fact, I think I read one that said even “whatever you do, don’t plan”) and that’s when you must acknowledge that no two writers write in the same way.

My blog posts are also not terribly well planned out.  Can you tell? (Probably.  But then, these are even less planned than anything else I write)

So which are you?  Are you a planner  or someone who just wings it, like I do?  Do you have any particular stigmas regarding one or the other?

Write always,

E.S. Hilt

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