You may be familiar with this basic outline of what a plot graph looks like, and it is nice for writing a basic outline for a story.
However, this is just a skeleton and we should add some layers to give it some flesh and bone.
What Plot Stands For:
Just like The Four Pillars of Fiction, these are The Four Pillars of Plot that uphold the structure. You need people in a location with an objective to tell a story, along with some tenacity to make that story worth telling.
Fundamentally, you need characters to exist in a physical space in which to act out their drama, and drama only unfolds because these characters have conflicting goals and motivations that prevent each other from getting what they want.
They may either deliberately want to prevent each other from achieving their goals–as is the case with the simple black and white, good guy vs bad guy stories–or they may even be of the same alliance with differing opinions and preferences that get in the way of them finding unity.
When it comes to your plot’s objective, what kind of message do you want to convey about the world? Is there an aspect of reality you want to capture and illustrate? Is there an ideal version of the world and human behaviour you want to propose? What is it that you want to say about our state as a species?
That is your Objective.
Creators of art, whether they’re conscious of it or not, will always end up injecting their personal philosophy into their work and use it as a tool to convey the different angles in which they perceive people and the world at lage.
There’s no way around it, characters will always have an objective, whether miniscule or grand, they want to accomplish something. Even a story about a guy who just lies around his apartment all day has the objective of…wanting to do nothing and there are some deep rooted reasons beyond “because he just wants to.”
Maybe he’s depressed and doesn’t want to go out, or he’s been out too much and he needs time to himself? Objective in stories are inescapable.
So to add that layer to our basic plot graph skeleton, it should look like this:
But that’s still not enough. A story needs Tenacity. Some high (or sometimes low) stakes to keep you at the edge of your seat, biting your nails, waiting to see what happens next.
The rule in life applies to fiction as well: no risk, no reward. The characters need to be at risk of losing something or we won’t be interested in them striving for anything. Surely, there are stories that are risk and conflict free, but with risk comes curiousity. Without risk and conflict, there really is nothing to be gained from it.
We want to be wondering how characters will survive dire situations because we consume fiction to not only root for these portrayals of the human ideal, but also to live vicariously through them. It’s through stories where we can safely experience what it’s like for someone to commit to their Objective and have the Tenacity to achieve it.
Compare these two stories:
“I went to work, did my job because I wanted to make money, and then I came home.”
vs. “I went to work hungover, it was very busy, I could have called in sick, but I need to make rent so I can lie around my apartment all day.”
What’s the fundamental difference between these stories? They both have goals and motivations, but the second one has conflict that requires some overcoming. That’s what we relate to when we experience stories.
I’ll let the graph speak for itself, for there’s much much more to cover in the next three entries.
Let me know if you would like for me to elaborate on any of the additions made in this chart, and I’ll gladly save the exploration of them in a future post.