Plots and plot twists

Tonight, I’m thinking about plots.

Nominally, a plot is absolutely required. You can’t tell a good story without one. Stephen King had one with the Dark Tower books. David Weber has several with the Honor Harrington books, the Safehold novels, and the Empire from the Ashes books. These are but two of the many authors that I’ve read. The thing about the ones that I enjoyed?

They all had a compelling plot. Or, plots and sub-plots.

Tom Clancy, may he rest in peace, was a master at gripping plots. I only hope that I will be able to match his plotting ability. David Weber, who is a great guy (and his wife Sharon is just sweet,) has a gift of his own. I will gladly read anything by either.

But “plot” is the topic tonight.

Let’s go back to Jack from a couple of nights ago. He’s our maybe-not-the-best guy. He’s found himself trapped in our world and he can’t help but get kicked four times too many.

Let’s say that he is set in the Renaissance era, a clerk to a lawyer. He has a stuffy office, really tiny, and to add insult to injury, he has to share the office. He’s getting bumped a lot while he’s trying to write. Ink is spilling on his clothes, and he doesn’t make much to replace them. He sees people that aren’t much better off than he is. Jack doesn’t eat a lot, since he doesn’t make a lot.

See what I’m doing? I’m defining a background. With this background, a plot might just suggest itself.

On one hand, Jack could spend his nights at the pub, getting drunk and bemoaning his lot in life.

On the other hand, he could decide to become a criminal. Hey, he works in a lawyer’s office. I’m pretty sure he could see things to do or not do.

On the gripping hand, he could be in the right place to contribute when the hero needs help with the Big Bad – or become the hero himself.

If he becomes the hero of the story, then the backstory (a war, or savage rulers, or famine, or something) could be the cause of the situation that Jack finds himself in and that he has no choice but to do something about. Create drama – put him in the position that the alternative is death or a fate worse than death.

If he is a supporting character, then the plot is established before he is brought in. It’s up to you.

So, here’s a plot. The kingdom is peaceful, but that peace only comes at the cost of several hard-fought wars. This means that the royal treasury is low, there are a lot of veterans with conditions that they didn’t have when they went off in the service of the King, and to top it all off, winter is coming. There hasn’t been a lot of the men around to plant the crops, much less harvest them, and the King and his advisers are just a little bit stuck. They have to figure out what to do to get through the winter, and do it quick.

So, they decide to levy heavy taxes. It’s either that, or go back to war.

Jack hears about that, sitting in the lawyer’s office scribbling away, and shakes his head. He’s never going to do that, not go into the King’s service and maybe get sent off to war. Nope, old Jack’s staying right where he is.

About that time, a neighboring sovereign, with a little more resources and a lot more meanness decides the time is right to go hunting. He starts to attack the kingdom that Jack is a subject of, and it’s ugly. It seems that this aggressor king has a general that very competent, very strong, and very vicious. This uber-general sacks the outlying towns, and starts the rape, pillage, and burn routine.

The subjects are outraged. The King is outraged, and worried. Jack is outraged, worried, and upset.

Why “-and upset?” Well, you tell me. What could fit in the plot to do that?

So, to advance the plot, Jack gets told “you’re in the Army now, son,” and hilarity ensues (so to speak.) He has to make it through Army life, in alternating chapters, while the Hero or his stunt double rides bravely forth.

Probably with half his face painted blue, but that’s another story.

I won’t lay out the rest of the plot for you. You know, I might want to write this one out one day and submit to somebody, but this brings me to the other part of tonight’s post. For now, old Jack is resigned to KP, drilling, and trying to remember the parts in his Springfield M3 shoulder fired weapon. Okay, I’m kidding about the M3 rifle. I’m thinking about something useful.

Plot twists.

Plot twists are just that – something to set you on your ear and make you yell out, “Oh no, he did’ENT!”

And I can think of one. Several, really.

It’d be too easy to say that the opposing general would turn out to be the Hero’s long lost brother during the climatic battle that finds them fighting to the death, one about to strike the deadly blow that will end the war.

What about the other general being Jack’s son, or former partner in the law firm, or even better…

How about the general being female, and she’s the woman he loved and lost?

So – here’s another subject that I’ll save for another post. Conflict.

You know old Jack is going to be torn. At this point in the story, the plot has to go somewhere, but it could go anywhere. You know how you want the story to end – the kingdom back at peace and recovering, Jack’s in better shape, and maybe there’s a setup for another book. But before you get to the end, there has to be a beginning and a middle. In other words, a plot.

So, sit down and make a plot, then write to the plot. As you get more accomplished in plotting (ahem) then plot upon plot will unroll in the infinite spaces of your mind even as you write scene after scene.

Happy writing!

-JB Steele

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