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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Action is not the same thing as Plot

As someone who teaches writing, I see a lot of things. One recently is that the young people I work with try to add things that happen without those things adding to the plot. The result of this is somewhat comedic -- how much STUFF can a character go through in a day?

Plot should be action. You probably don't want characters who just sit around talking. You want them to get up and kick ass -- at least every once in a while. But that action needs a focus point. While there are things (like weather-related disasters) that happen for no good reason, the plot should center around the question: "What does this character WANT?" and then describe the path and the obstacles to get that character to that place -- or help the character deal with NOT reaching that goal.

Authors CAN beat the crap out of their characters. Life does this, too. Some of the most dramatic stories involve wondering how much more a person can take. But the story is not the events. The story is how the person dealt with the challenges.

A character's drive doesn't have to be flashy, either. Fault in Our Stars and Perks of Being a Wallflower were both incredibly well conceived stories about people not looking to be much more than ordinary. A character does not have to be a superhero to be a hero.

Elementary school students have led me on perfectly ordinary adventures about nighttime rituals involving getting that last drink of water before bed. Middle school students have led me on bizarre quests in search of the perfect golden Ticonderoga. School and home plots have plenty tension and drive without murder and mayhem of the macabre caliber.

So plot with purpose (I'm certain someone has trademarked that, I mean no infringement). Focus on what drives your character to get up in the morning and stumble through the day. Or why your character is so overwhelmed that the bed is a sanctuary. You can do a lot with plot, and actions do drive that plot home. But actions for the sake of filling pages will cause your reader to be confused, put down YOUR book, and reach for something else.

Phyl Campbell is the author of I'm Not Writing a Book Today, the so-called procrastination guide for writers and other dreamers, and a number of other books in various genres (available on Amazon). Books she has published for young authors can be found on her website. They are also available on Amazon under their own authors and titles. Campbell lives and teaches in York County, PA.