The Plot Problem Exercise
And when you're thinking about the plot problem, what is that gonna be? What is it that has to power to grow, escalate, and complicate from the beginning and to force your protagonist to deal and confront the ramifications of that misbelief from beginning to end? If you have more than one idea, run it through and see which one is the best. If you only have one idea, be sure it actually has the potential and possibility to grow, escalate, and complicate in this way that we're talking about. And if not, dive down and see what might. Because here's the thing, when you came up with this what if before, you had this vague idea of what was gonna happen in the plot. You know way more at this point. So at this point, what sounded like a good idea then, might not sound so good now. But you might have something even better because of the depths that you've dug to just within these few hours. Or, few days for you guys out there who've had much more time to do this. So that's the question now and ...
that is the exercise. And we will workshop this exercise afterwards. So just what do you think the best, most potent plot problem is gonna be? And you have three minutes. Ready, begin. Great, so how did that feel? Did you find that whatever you started with was where you still were with what the plot problem might be? Did it change at all or are you just totally lost? (audience laughs) Which is always a possibility and that's okay. 'Cause often throwing out something that wouldn't have worked is the most important step of all. Because the last thing you wanna do is fall down a path, where from the first step, it's not gonna work. And then you get all the way to the end and go, wow, wait a minute, that had something that was not real, it was kinda wonky. Once I fixed that, now everything else has to go. So throwing out things is as valuable as coming up with something that actually does work. So let's workshop. So was it hard? Yeah. And just a show of hands, did any of you, like whatever it was you were thinking in the beginning with the what if, did it change it all? Is it kind of a different thing now? So yeah, so it has changed. And did it change because you had to dive more deeply into the how it's gonna change your protagonist internally, is that, it came away from just being a plot? And that's the problem. Writing is taught as if it's just about the plot. That's why, and I know it's hard to say, but that's why neither pantsing or plotting tends to work because both of them focus on the plot, as if that's what the story's about and everything else is incidental. But if you get a plot, then you've got a story. It doesn't work that way. So let's workshop two of them. Michelle?
Okay, so the plot problem is that my character's step-father, who had abused her as a child, moved close by and she feels scared that he has secrets about her that will be revealed and will make her family reject her.
Wow, and (laughs)--
It will complicate him as well.
And that's really something. I mean, you can see again, and you can see, remember, stories begin in medias res. Everything that you just said. Her father had abused her, step-father had abused her. And now shows up out of the blue and now she's afraid that that's gonna come out and that somehow she's gonna be tainted by it, and her whole family's gonna reject her. And you can see everything that's gonna happen is based on everything that happened in the past. And you can see what's at stake. And we can guess because obviously at this point, we don't have three hours to go into it unfortunately, but that there's some place where she's holding some guilt in that probably is totally and completely undeserved, but there's a place in there where she's gonna learn, wait a minute, why would she believe that? If she was abused by him, which she was, then what could she possibly think would happen? How does she see the world that she could think that if her family found out, they would then reject her? That means that there's some unfinished business in there that she's taken with her from being a child up until this moment and probably kept it in thinking, okay, the danger isn't there. Now suddenly the danger's there, and she's got to dive into it and go, okay, what exactly is going on? I mean, yeah, and that's a perfect example of a plot problem that is about solving a problem, both internal and external, which just in the way that you even said that, which is she's afraid that this is gonna really make her family not value her anymore. It really lets us know, well, wait a minute. She's got that internal conflict. We can feel that. So that's really, really a great place to start. Really good. Okay, Anna?
So I was trying to go back to the pages that I had before, but essentially the character misses the guidance from her mother because of something that happened when she was younger. And she looks to, without the guidance, she looks to her peers for acceptance and running with the cool crowd. So--
But let me ask you a question.
What's at stake? Like she's missing, 'cause you've got a lot of great elements there. You've got the elements of because she doesn't have her mom she, because she doesn't have her mom, she is looking for guidance. She doesn't have it. She's trying to get it on the outside, but guidance for what? Like what is that ticking clock? What is that gonna go toward?
Making a decision.
What decision? I know you (laughs) but see, this is the kind of type, but that's perfect,
And that's great, but that is the question.
She, well, there is a part in the story that there's a climax and she pretends that she goes along with him when she doesn't.
And it's a secret that she keeps to herself.
Right, but you still would wanna go. And you're telling me bits and pieces of it, which is fine 'cause you probably have way more, almost always writers have way more than we have time to dive into and that you've come in with. But the question would be for a plot problem. And that's a great beginning, but it would be, okay, what is that thing? Where is that going toward? The notion that she lied about something, or did something for a reason that she isn't admitting to herself or admitting, is still where is this going? What is this gonna culminate in? And so X is gonna happen. Now, in the very beginning when you're first thinking of it, obviously you don't have all of those pieces yet. But some of them are usually there in sort of a inchoate form and it allows you to create them as you go forward. But it sounds like you've got a lot. I mean, it sounds like, is there that one thing that it goes toward at the end?
Yeah, I kinda don't wanna say it, but yeah.
And so you totally don't have to, but so you know what it is, and that's the point for everybody. As long as there is that thing at the end that's gonna happen, and that you know that you're building toward it in this internal struggle, which it sounds like you've got a really good internal struggle. And the great thing about it is it allows you to ask the questions so that you can really probe into both what is that, how is it manifesting with these kids and what is that costing her internally to do that?
But really good. Really good, okay.