As I’ve babbled about here and here and likely many other places on the web: don’t plot.
As far as writing advice goes, I’d rank this at the top or near the top. You see, in the deepest recesses of my shriveled heart, I believe Storytelling comes from a place of pure creativity. Sprung from the desire to tell a tale, explore a human condition or delve into a “what if?” – a story needs no added ingredients to grow.
Let it grow from your heart and mind.
I believe (and I’m sure people will one day call me “crazy” for it) that a story loses itself once the “teller” begins to plan the course of events, character and change. Some amount of planning is necessary, of course, or you wouldn’t have a story. However, this ”structure” should be as thin as possible – I suggest one sentence worth. Like:
The devil sells coveted items at an antique shop.
Caveman gets captured by evolved race of lizards.
Lowly bishop attempts to change the face of Christianity by conjuring an illusion of a long dead church enemy.
And that’s it!!!!
Don’t outline. Don’t plan characters, events and change. This is the essence of “plot” and I loathe its overuse. What the frak am I talking about? Let’s take my last example of the bishop and Christianity. Stop reading here if you ever plan to read/watch Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown.
I shall admit right off the bat: I haven’t read the book. I have only watched the movie. While this may be loathsome, I’m not giving a book review here so keep yer skirt on. I feel I can adequately make my point about plot without subjecting myself to the same material in a different medium.
Gawd, you are a persnickety one.
Anyway, I liked the basic concept as I put forth in my one-sentence teaser. Sounds like fun, right? I think it would have been, if the work wasn’t an over plotted mess. Let’s dive in!
Our hero is a cryptologist called “Pardu”… Oh, you haven’t watched Mazes & Monsters yet? Go do that, I’ll wait here.
Okay, back to Angels & Demons. The movie starts with the death of the pope and the theft of some mini-black hole bomb. (which was just discovered, and contained, moments prior)
So, Pardu is called in by Obi Wan Kenobi to decipher some symbols – evil symbols from the ancient Illuminati. The signs seem to predict a string of murders of high-ranking Catholic dudes (cause god forbid a woman have any power).
Then, they find out (dun dun dun) that the Illuminati stole a bomb and plan to blow the Vatican to high heaven!
As my wife and I watched the movie, we kept dreading the end. We knew Obi Wan was the bad guy, but it just didn’t make sense. She even said : “If it’s him, I’m gonna be pissed.”
And she was right to be angered!
I’m going to break down the villain’s “grand plan” and let you be the judge. Obi Wan’s motive was to become pope so he could reform his faith. And his plan was to:
- Steal a theoretical, unstable substance moments after its discovery to use as a bomb.
- Murder his good friend, the pope (eventho he was basically the pope’s 2nd in command, with the pope’s ear and some measure of power to affect change from within)
- Hire a professional killer to murder a half dozen fellow men of the cloth because they were too “soft”.
- Call in Pardu (you might know him as Tom Hanks) to claim the fake symbology is Illuminati to spread fear amongst the Vatican.
- Trust that Pardu will figure out the clues at the precise minute the crazy bomb (in which no one on the planet is an expert) is about to explode.
- Hop into a nearby helicopter with the bomb (now at critical mass, as new/theoretical bombs always play by the rules) and fly into the air.
- Helicopter explodes and Obi-Wan parachutes to safety – hailed as the savior of Vatican City.
I’ll give you a moment to take all of that in. Yes, it’s a metric ton.
By executing this multi-step plan, all while relying on a bomb technology not 1 day old, Obi Wan hoped to be spontaneously elected pope, eventho he wasn’t eligible.
This was his “plan A”, I guess.
And there we have Plot, brought to the nth degree by over-planning and too much darn thought. I can imagine the writer sitting as his desk, scheming about plot twists & turns that will keep his readers guessing. Problem is, that approach leads to a terrible story. Believability goes right out the window, as does a naturally flowing story. And you end with a mess (in my opinion).
My advice to those writers now taking advice from me (so sorry): Don’t frakkin plot! Start with your idea, jot a few notes, write, jot a few more notes, and then write some more. I typically wait until my “idea” has incubated in my brain to a point where it needs release. Then, the writing comes easy. And you know what else comes easy? The story. It will flow free of the constraints of an outline or some “graphed” line from plot point A to B to C and so on.
There is a difference between a writer and a storyteller. Go be a storyteller.
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