Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fiction writing lesson #3 : Plot, Reversals, Recognition and Beats

Yesterday we got into a detailed discussion on how to construct a plot.

Stories can be plot-driven or character driven. A plot-driven story is somewhat like Transformer 3, a lot of things happen, but the author has to intervene and make the entire plot gel using a series of contrivances or coincidences. Plot-driven stories may have logical loopholes and tend to disrupt the suspension of disbelief. In Avatar, nature has to wake up just when the humans are about to destroy the Na'vi.

Stories can also be character driven. These stories are more carefully crafted and often are told from a person's point of view. The strength of this approach is that causation for the events are clearly spelled out so there is usually stronger logical consistency. The weakness is that character driven plots can be boring. I just read a Dance with Dragons and it's a very character driven fantasy series. In book 5, there is so much stream of consciousness writing that nothing much happens for thousands of pages until the author decided to fuck this shit and started killing the key characters in the story.

The best stories should a combination of both.

Then the lesson starts getting interesting. Due to my engineering inclinations, I can summarize storytelling into a simple equation.

Beat = Reversal + Recognition

Imagine a set of scenes as programmable objects that you use to develop a story otherwise called a beat. Fundamental in a good story is that the protagonist encounters an obstacle (reversal) and then experiences a personal change (recognition).

Chaining these beats allow you to methodically build your story into a climax.

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