(MP 2) A good story includes an interesting plot.
(INTERNAL PREVIEW) Two central themes to keep in mind when writing plot are: plot naturally emerges out of character, and plot must provide gripping drama.
(SUB-POINT 1) Plot naturally emerges out of character.
(SSP 1) If you focus on who your characters are and let there be something at stake, you've got plot.
(SSP 2) Plot is what people will up and do in spite of everything that tells them that they shouldn't...let the chips fall where they may.
(SUB-POINT 2) Plot must provide gripping drama.
(SSP 1) The plot must give your readers the feeling that they simply have to find out what happens next.
(SSSP 1) In order to create this sense of urgency, drama
is the key, and it must come fast and furious.
(SSSP 2) The basic formula for drama is: setup, buildup, and payoff (just like a joke).
(SSP 2) Famed author John Gardner, in writing about plot, said that
the writer is creating a dream into which he or she invites the reader, and that the dream must be vivid and continuous.
(SSSP 1) Just like a real dream, the plot must flow smoothly, yet be compelling.
(SSSP 2) There should be no jarring "wake-up" moment when the reader says, "Huh? What happened? That makes no sense!"
(INTERNAL SUMMARY) Therefore, with the story's focus firmly upon the characters, plot naturally emerges, and that plot must provide constant drama.
(TRANSITION) So...here we are: we have well-developed characters, speaking realistic dialogue, involved in the high drama of an interesting plot. Now all our story needs is one final ingredient.
(MP III) A good story includes a vivid setting.
(INTERNAL PREVIEW) Two basic rules of thumb when choosing and writing your setting are to give descriptive detail and to make the setting fit the character.
(SUB-POINT 1) Give descriptive detail in writing your setting.
(SSP 1) When commenting upon the art of effectively describing a setting, Michele Driscoll, MCC professor of English and teacher of Creative Writing, said, "There is no such thing as a tree."
(SSSP 1) There's a massive South Carolina live oak, the Spanish moss dripping from its heavy limbs like the drooping, lacy cuff of a lady's blouse.
(SSSP 2) There's a northern Minnesota jack pine, tall and straight, its bark covered with sticky sap and its pine needles razor-sharp to the touch.
(SSP 2) The spot where the action will be taking place--what is its feel, its temperature, its color...can anything be heard or smelled there?
(SUB-POINT 2) Make the setting fit the character.
(SSP 1) Just as everyone is a walking advertisement for who he or she is, so every room is a little showcase of its occupants' values and personalities.
(SSSP 1) Make the individual character's own space fit his or her
(SSSSP) If the character is a neat nut, his or her home will not likely look like a tornado just hit.
(SSSSP) If the character is a lazy oaf, he or she will not live in a perfectly organized environment.
(SSSP 2) Make the character's private space fit his or her interests.
(SSSSP) If you're describing a cop, there will likely be a handgun, handcuffs, and a badge on the table and maybe a uniform in the closet.
(SSSSP) If your character is a priest, it would make sense to have a Bible on the nightstand.
(SSP 2) If the space you're describing is a communal area (police station, hospital, park, department store, etc.), first visit a similar place and then describe it accurately.
(INTERNAL SUMMARY) You can see that by giving descriptive detail in writing your setting, and making the setting fit the character, the readers will feel like they are actually there, present in that space.
(TRANSITION) We've now broken down the process of writing a good story into a step-by-step procedure that should be easy for any writer to follow.
(Summary Statement) A good story includes three important elements. First, it must have well- developed characters engaged in realistic dialogue. As we've seen, it's vital that the reader be able to both relate to the characters and believe their words. Next, the story must offer us an interesting plot. Using the basic formula of setup, buildup, and payoff, the drama must be absolutely spellbinding. Finally, it's key that the story's setting be vivid. The reader needs to feels as if he or she is actually there, witnessing the action.
(Memorable Closing Statement) There will never be another Mark Twain, John Steinbeck or J.
Rowling; however, each of us can know what it means to write well. We can experience the thrill of connecting with an audience...of touching our readers' hearts...and of creating in them a greater understanding of the human condition. We can be heard telling the truth.
Driscoll, Michele. Assistant Professor of English, Maui Community College. Comments from in-class lecture, Creative Writing, English 104WI, Spring, 2000.
Gardner, John. Excerpt from bird by bird by Anne Lamott. New York: Random House, 1994.
Houston, Robert. The Nation. Excerpt from review of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. New York: Random House, 1989.
Lamott, Anne. bird by bird. New York: Random House, 1994.