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How to Inform Your Plot

Advice Blog 1 Dec 21 by Lorenzo Samuel (me), author of speculative fiction writings. In the 1 Sep 21 issue of Author News Advice Blog, I discussed plot as it relates to protagonist characteristics. In this issue of our Advice Blog, we'll take up other ways to inform a plot. We'll delve into several of these to point out their action. You can play with the others to see how they might work out in your own writing.

In addition to protagonist characteristics, a plot can be informed by setting, by style, by theme and by voice. Let's take them one at a time. First: Setting. Setting is the time, place, environment and surroundings, in our case, of a story. As authors we can play with time. Setting the time of a story and its events can add emphasis to them or de-emphasize them.

For instance, a flashback (something relating to the time of the story but occurring before it) will either emphasize or de-emphasize an event in the story. Say we have two people meeting. The importance of that meeting may depend on what went on between those two people before (the flashback). Thus, if emphasized, plot development might depend on the earlier relationship or action, similarly with place, environment and surroundings.

Consider place: Our protagonist enters a house where she was raped years before this story. At the moment of entering, she gets a queasy feeling incapacitating her in some way. If she had not been raped before in a room of the house, she would not have the queasy feeling and would be stronger and more able to cope with her situation. So, the plot was informed by that place. I'll let you work out how the environment and the surrounding can inform a plot. Good luck.

The theme of a story is a recurring and unifying concept or idea. Perhaps our story has the theme, "grass is always greener on the other side of the street." A proper plot resolution is not allowed to contradict this theme. Thus, the plot is informed in its outcome, although an antagonist might push for another outcome.

How could a plot be informed by the author's style in presentation of the story? I'll give you one example and let you figure out how your favorite author's style works in her or his stories. Here's the example: Some authors speed up their readers by shortening their sentences to emphasize a plot climatic point. When the author is heavily involved in the story, as many authors are, he or she will naturally speed up as a climax or turning point approaches. This gets the reader speeding up, heightening the action and raising the emotional impact. Okay, over to you to lift another example from your own reading.

Lastly, we'll look at voice. Voice is the unique way an author uses words on a page. One author's voice might be light and airy; another's heavy and dark. The individual tone of an author while he or she is writing is a component. How each approaches an incident - or indeed the way an incident is portrayed - depends on voice. While books on developing your voice exist, the best method for finding your voice is to write as you feel. After 1000s of words, one's voice will develop naturally. Above all don't mimic another author, favorite or not. No one else has the same voice as you. Thus, you are your own best teacher for developing it, bar none.

In the next issue of our Advice Blog, I'll discuss the construction and use of red herrings to legitimately throw your reader off the track in your story.

Note: the book of short speculative fiction, "Eve of Valor: 25 Tales" is available on Amazon at click here.

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