Monday, March 08, 2010

Desire Is The Source Of All Unhappiness And, Possibly, The Source Of All Plots

Cynthia Lord's plot talk on Saturday involved what might be called the classic structure of giving characters something they want and then throwing obstacles in the way of them getting it. The characters overcome the obstacles and, voila, you have a plot and a book. I've heard elementary school teachers talk about a variation of this, advising students to give characters a problem and then give them obstacles to solving the problem.

While I have been trying to generate plot ideas by working out character desires for my recent books, I've always felt uncomfortable with the Wants/Obstacles/Resolution writing plan. I used to think it was formulaic, that you'd end up with one of those inspirational overcoming-adversity things that are all so much alike. But that's not fair because this kind of plot structure would also work for thrillers and mysteries ("I want to find the murderer"), survival stories ("I want to live"), romances ("I want to love somebody"), journey stories ("I want to go home"), and any number of other types of books, depending on the characters' wants. Any plot structure can probably be described as a formula. One person's structure is another person's formula.

A more reasonable reason for being uncomfortable with this plot creating format is the fact that it still doesn't help you come up with the various plot points. What will my character want? What will the obstacles be? Come on. We're still talking about pulling those out of thin air.

On top of that, for some of us a story begins not with a character but with a scene or situation. We may not even know who in that scene is the main character, forget about what he or she may want. I'm into ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Coming up with a desire for those ordinary people may not be easy because they are in situations they've never been in before. All of a sudden they're supposed to want something?

I am giving this a great deal of thought, and you can be sure I'll be getting back to you on it.



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