One of the writing sites I subscribe to had a recent article about plot. This topic was pertinent as I am planning out my next story. Yet, it is also relevant in putting the finishing touches on a piece I am revising.
A good book must have story. The author needs to take the reader by the hand and lead them to a new world, a new reality. The main character’s circumstance must be believable and the writing smooth. I want to open a book, delve in, and become so absorbed by the story that my own living room seems foreign a few hours later when I come out of the story.
Jane McBride Choate, in the Children’s Book Insider October newsletter, describes plot as a summation of cause and effect. Often this is referred to as sequence action & reaction. It is not merely a series of events. The events must be connected to each other, with each new incident building on the last. Each attempt the MC makes to solve his problem should change something vital for him or her. Choate says every part of the story should be an absolutely essential step along the way to the outcome. If a scene does not belong in your story it should be removed. If its removal can be done without altering the outcome of the story then it doesn’t belong in your story.
Choate advises the author to look at each event through the MC’s eyes. Continually ask, “how does this make the MC feel?” “how will he react to this?” “how will he act in the future because of this?” Ask these questions of each scene of the story. If no answer comes, the scene is either out of order or doesn’t belong. Cut the scenes that don’t advance the story.
In the classic story arc, the main character has an object of desire they pursue. In that pursuit, something gets in the way – the cause, altering the MC’s path – the effect. That, then, becomes the new cause, forcing a change. You can build your whole plot right there. Dorothy lands in Oz and inadvertently kills the witch of the east. This causes celebration of the Munchkins, which in turn causes the arrival of the wicked witch of the west to claim her sister’s powerful red slippers. Acton and reaction, the events connected and built upon the last.
Choate’s message applies to the new story I’m developing, but is important to the one I am revising. In it MC1’s agenda guides the scenes and the story and MC2 merely has to respond. MC1 reacts to that response, and so on. As a writer, I must ask myself if this action/reaction sequence plays out. When it does, fine. If a scene does not help advance the story, it is superfluous and must be deleted.