The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 1: PLOT

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.

Basic Plot

However, this is just a skeleton and we should add some layers to give it some flesh and bone.

What Plot Stands For:

People
Location
Objective
Tenacity

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.

Objective

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:

Plot With Objective

Tenacity

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.

This is what a true plot graph would look like with my full PLOT system in place:Plot With Tenacity

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.

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 2: Characters…

 

Mental Movies and the Method of Madness

Intentionally blank pages at the end of a book.

Intentionally blank pages at the end of a book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid, I used to staple stacks of blank paper into a book-like form, and write my own novels for my own entertainment. I would just spend countless of hours illustrating and writing among the pages after happily drawing a cover and slapping my name at the bottom.

Structuring the story according to how many more pages I had left, I knew that when I got to the 3 staples in the middle of these makeshift novels, it was the halfway point of the story and the stakes had to increase. These stories would usually follow a group of super heroes fighting the most dastardly villains, who eventually reformed to join the good side until there was no one left to fight.

I fondly remember writing these novels so vividly because little did I know back then, I was already living out my dream of being a writer. For as long as I could remember, I have had a fascination with playing mental movies in my head, and most of the time, I excluded my self from the action as a huge array of fictional characters would play out their roles in dire situations.

For years, this self entertainment would keep me up at night and it actually took a while to register for me that I should start jotting these mental movies down. Finally! I could have a place to contain all the insanity that went on in my head, and I would bleed it all out through ink onto a page, which would serve as a film if you will, to create a method for all the madness.

I always knew this fire of creativity erupting within me could never be stifled, for in elementary and in high school, every time we were assigned to write short stories for English class, teachers would be dismayed by how drastically I would disobey the 2-5 page limit. I could never, ever conceive the idea of being able to tell a whole story within such a short amount of pages.

I would end up writing a 20+ page story that would contain much more vivid descriptions and bits of dialogue than any of my classmates’ work. And I try to say that with the utmost humility, because of course to most of them–most of them, but not all of them–it was just another assignment to get done. For me on the other hand, I took as an opportunity to challenge myself and actually give my all to a school assignment, which was something of a rarity for me throughout my life because I never found school work to be all that rewarding to do.

Hello and welcome to Your Write to Live! I am Marlon Manalese, and I am an author and bookworm whose taste in literature has transformed drastically throughout the years. Where I once started with an interest in medieval fantasy, I have gravitated towards contemporary fiction (both adult and young adult novels) because I find it more pleasurable, valuable, and relatable to read about the modern life and everyday people–as opposed to the battle hardened badasses you would find in the Dungeons and Dragons and urban fantasy novels I used to read.

It is my belief that we are drawn to fiction because we see like to see ourselves in legendary protagonists who overcome insurmountable challenges in order to achieve their goals. No matter what genre or age range, usually the best novels are the ones people can relate to because they invoke empathy in not just the protagonist, but also the antagonist and supporting cast.

My intention with Your Write to Live is to provide practical writing tips that can also be applied to life. From my years of study in crafting a novel, I have gathered that authors do a ton of organizing in terms of character development and understanding the conflicts that challenge their goals and motivations. As someone who is heavily invested in self knowledge and personal development, the idea clicked: why can’t we use these tools to help improve our own lives?

Perhaps through this blog, like I did with the makeshift novels of my youth, I can help ally with the superheroes of your mind to reform the villains of your subconscious.