Developing a #Plot without Flat Lining

Developing the plot for a novel should be like replicating a heart monitor. You want to see ups and downs on the screen, but you don’t want to see it flat lining. There’s nothing more likely to bore the pants off your readers than creating a story without any variation. Think of it in terms of real life’s ups and downs, except in fiction things need to be larger than life, however small they might be.

Huh?

Your story doesn’t need to be an action packed thrill ride; even small events can be brought to life by great prose.

Young European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)....

Young European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). Français : Jeune Hérisson européen (Erinaceus europaeus). (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Plots can avoid flatlining with even the simplest of creatures at their heart.

I came across this news item, that frankly made me laugh, but I could see its potential in relation to the ups and downs of a plot. (FYI for US readers, crisp packet  = potato chip bag. In England they ‘re usually in a single serving size, not a US jumbo pack.)

Hedgehog Trapped in Crisp Packet in Weston-Super-Mare’

A baby hedgehog which found itself stuck in a crisp packet has been released after a three-and-a-half hour rescue involving six people.

The animal became trapped after it crawled into the empty wrapper in a railed off area near steps in Weston-super-Mare.

A shopkeeper heard rustling and saw the hedgehog – now named Crispian – stick his nose out.

Workers had to cut through the railings and help rescuers reach the hedgehog.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-20151566

What struck me was that they cut through railings to rescue it, and six people had been involved! Clearly this tiny animal had created an event, which produced substantial effort on the rescuers part. It went from being a simple rustle in the wind to a conflict that needed resolution.

If you were writing this scene how might you develop it?

The conflict begins when the shopkeeper hears the rustling, which poses a question i.e. what to do? Imagine the thoughts of the shopkeeper (inner dialogue) or perhaps she discusses it with a passerby (spoken dialogue), and they both go and look at the hedgehog. (Action) As a reader, I’d want to have some description of the railings, the railed off area and the hedgehog poking his nose out. Where do the steps lead? Was this the scene of a kidnapping a couple of years earlier, or had there been a fire, and the house subsequently torn down?

The middle of the scene then develops after the authorities are contacted. (Action) No doubt there are now two or three people waiting and watching until help arrives. Don’t forget there are six people involved in this incident! What was their interchange? (Dialogue or reported speech) Were there concerns about their ability to get through the railings? (Tension) Did they encounter any snags, like the saw blade breaking? (Building suspense) Would the hedgehog survive, even if they managed to cut through the railing? (More tension)

The climax of the scene is the hedgehog being rescued. (More description, dialogue/ reported speech) Is the animal going to live or does it stop moving? Is this the complete end of the story, or do two of the people find a connection and become involved in each other’s lives? Perhaps this is where a murderer first meets his next victim?

On its own, this is obviously a very simple scene. It could be made engaging in a myriad of ways from comedy to fable, the beginnings of a thriller to rich descriptive prose. Regardless of stylistic approach, there’s dramatic action, however small, which sends a character in a new direction. In this prickly tale (!), the shopkeeper was going about her business until she was on a mission to save a helpless little creature. To be successful, it needs to have ups and downs. The pitfalls encountered are dependent on the writer’s interpretation.

Simple story does not mean boring plot. Complicated plot does not mean interesting story. Getting the right balance is something an author needs to look at for each scene. And not all scenes have the same cadence or intensity. Some might give you some respite after one with high tension. Or perhaps towards the end of the novel, you might ratchet things up by piling on one crisis after another.

Balancing the tempo of each scene is a good start. Putting them together is like cooking a favorite dish: you combine the ingredients to suit your particular taste. But one shake too many of the saltcellar and the whole dish is ruined.

How does the plot progress in the novel you are reading or writing? Is it a slow build, or does it pack a punch from the beginning. Which to you prefer?

 

English: Close-up photograph of a Western Euro...

English: Close-up photograph of a Western European wild hedgehog in a semi-urban environment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Run, Crispin, run!…………………..

Comments

  1. I love this. How true that is. The simplest of stories can be fun and interesting to read. For me I guess if the writing is interesting, whether it is a slow build or with a punch, it must engage me in some way. It should pull me in and keep my attention, encouraging me to read on. What I’m trying to say (not very well, I might add) is “It’s all in the telling of the tale”. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted..Journey To My First eBook: StoryMy Profile

  2. Hey Susan! Thanks so much for the comment. It is really all in telling the tale, whether simple or straightforward. I’m always in awe of authors who can make an ordinary situation be incredibly absorbing and suspenseful. Good to see you:-)

  3. That is totally nuts…. but you make a very good point that there can be drama in the smallest incident; the key is in using it to highlight what it is you want to say about the human condition(!)

    • I assume you mean the rescue of the hedgehog is nuts , rather than the post!! I think you’re right, depending on what you want to say about the human condition, you can using almost any scenario. Thanks for the comment Rowena 🙂

  4. I agree with both you and Susan. It’s all in the telling of the tale. A good writer can hold your attention no matter the subject and how it unfolds. I loved this post! This very subject has been on my mind that last 2 days. Thanks for helping me clarify. 🙂
    Geek Girl recently posted..My First Kindle Book Is Coming Soon!My Profile

    • Thanks Cheryl. It’s funny how when something is on your mind, something just pops up when you need it. Glad I could be of help. So glad you liked the post!

  5. Hmmmm.. slow build up or packing a punch at the start, well it would depend on the story. For a story about Crispin – which is one that pulls at heart strings I would prefer a slow build up. For a corporate thriller a punch to start with. It will depend on the story.
    Lubna recently posted..The BanksterMy Profile

  6. Wow. What a great description of building the plot. Personally I can go for either a slow build (those are often the most exciting) or the punch at the beginning. My take aways is to keep the heart monitor, the ups and downs, in the story regardless of how you start.

    Thanks AK.
    Patricia Weber recently posted..Top Five Reality Checks For The Introvert Using Online Social NetworkingMy Profile

  7. I think generally speaking a slow build is better. That said, I do like a variety of work so a dead body on page two is OK too! Thanks for your comment Patricia:-)
    A.K.Andrew recently posted..Developing a Plot without Flat LiningMy Profile

  8. Great post and comments. Not sure I can add much to what Cheryl, Susan, Lubna, Pat and others have already said.

    Personally love books for different reasons like you say. The main thing is that it’s an excellent writer that draws you into the story. If not, it doesn’t matter what plot it is. It’s all about great writing.
    Catarina recently posted..Do you agree with Harvard that global people are more creative?My Profile

    • Thanks for the comment Catarina. Always good to see you here. It is all about the writing, and what’s great about books is one can enjoy so many different styles. It certainly gives me, as a writer, some latitude, though for whatever style the writing has to win the day.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Developing a Plot without Flat LiningMy Profile

  9. I’m afraid with the recent hurricane there are too many stories to tell. And many of them are as yet unresolved. I wish I could tell the stories well so they get even more attention than the hedgehog.
    Leora recently posted..Hurricane Sandy: Tree Before, No Tree AfterMy Profile

    • Thanks so much taking the time to comment Leora, when you have so much going on. I’d be interested to hear which of the stories you’d like to tell. I think you sell yourself short on your abilities. Certainly your post is a great record of part of what happened. It’s the small moments captured, such as your daughters comment about the pencil sharpener that reach us as individuals, and give the story heart. Take care.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Developing a Plot without Flat LiningMy Profile

  10. I very much prefer a slow burn when it comes to plot. Yet, there are days when I like something action-packed and fast, but not very often. I’m of the camp that life’s small moments provide more “story” than larger-than-life plots. Go figure, since the plot of my WIP is taken some pretty improbable twists and turns.

    • Go figure eh Jeri? I think as writers, although to a certain extent we might try and emulate what we enjoy reading, the characters created have minds of their own, and can’t be tamed. No doubt one’s subconscious plays a million tricks while we are writing, surprising us and leaving us with questions as to what we actually do enjoy. Hope your WIP is going well. Thanks for the comment 🙂
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Developing a Plot without Flat LiningMy Profile

  11. I think I like the slow build, however I agree with everyone else that it is all in the writing and how it draws you in. If you don’t capture my attention, I won’t bother to keep reading.
    Becc recently posted..Christmas GratitudeMy Profile

    • It’s so true Becc. I can give a book up to fifty pages before I cast it aside, but truth be told, if it doesn’t grab you in the first ten, slow build or not, then it’s all downhill from there. No pressure on writers then to get the first Chapter perfect! Thanks so much for stopping by. I enjoyed your comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Developing a Plot without Flat LiningMy Profile

  12. All I ever needed to know about plot – in a nutshell! Thanks!

  13. very true! A complex story doesn’t mean it has an interesting plot and neither does a simple story mean it has an uninteresting plot! But catching my attention and keeping it till the very end is key for me.
    Tope Olofin recently posted..Tales of Love: I’m quitting because his mummy doesn’t like me!My Profile

    • Thanks for your comment Tope and good to see you here. You can usually tell within 10 pages if a novel is capturing your attention. It’s the only issue really.

  14. Hi AK — I came across your blog in among all the scribbling I accumulate, This is a cool story about the hedgehog. Then we start talking about slow burns and I’m thinking how my thinking on the subject flip flops. My thriller starts out a little on the slow side, and with the early reviews I got, I could see that it didn’t work for some, so much so that they either put the book aside or thought about doing it. Now, that’s a definite criticism that you need to pay attention to. But, recent reviews have either not mentioned the slow start, or mentioned that they like it!
    Larry Crane recently posted..The Allure of Unpredictable Love and “Fatal Attraction”My Profile

    • Thanks so much for the comment Larry. It’s a tough call with thrillers whether to go fast or slow. Even within the genre there’s so many ways of going about it. If recent reviews are not mentioning it as being a problem and sales are remaining steady, then I would think you have the balance right. Keep me posted! Good to see you here.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Developing a Plot without Flat LiningMy Profile

  15. I love that you said “complicated does not equal interesting.” I write film reviews, and I see so many that are complicated but not well done, so the ideas fall flat. It’s all about having the right amount of ups and downs. Great article!
    Adrienne recently posted..Happy Friday! Rest Is A Good ThingMy Profile

  16. Great post! Who doesn’t love a story about a hedgehog?
    “Simple story does not mean boring plot. Complicated plot does not mean interesting story. Getting the right balance is something an author needs to look at for each scene.” Words for every writer. Thanks for this!
    Patricia Sands recently posted..CBBH PHOTO CHALLENGE: BLUEMy Profile