Tag Archives: plot

What plot is – in a sentence

There are books written about plot – how to… what it is…. and a plethora of other elements. Yet I came across this today from Kate Mosse and it made me smile and go, yes….

Kate Mosse said you get to the end of a novel and say:

Of course! Because that’s what plot is – the hidden chain of cause and effect that takes a whole novel to explain.”


Grant Snider’s The Story Coaster


Back story and narrative structure and ‘the hero’s journey’ have become so ubiquitous even the failed contestants on  The X Factor speak fluently about ‘their journey so far…’

So in the midst of my jadedness about what has now become mainstream cliches, I came across this wonderful image by Grant Snider and wanted to share…

Do have a look at http://www.incidentalcomics.com/2013/07/the-story-coaster.html

With thanks to Grant Snider and Sunday New York Times Book Review, where this drawing first appeared on 14 July 2013.

All: enjoy!

Checklist when writing scenes…. 1.


I was giving some advice to a writer I’m mentoring on some essential elements to consider when revising a scene or planning to write – and thought it might be useful to share a few in a post. Further notes will follow:

IT HAPPENS IN THE PRESENT TENSE. Theatre is alive and happening before us in the moment. Even when recounting past events, the experiences are alive and impacting on the character NOW. Passivity in character, lack of dynamic and drive and exposition arises when events are being reported, or presented as mere information. Your characters should be engaged and active – but remember, even a thought can be action.

WHAT’S AT STAKE? The old chestnut…  What can each character lose or gain from the events and actions of the piece? In a character-driven script, there should be something important at risk, to make the events of the piece matter. If the stakes aren’t high enough, you’re not creating enough dramatic tension and an audience may think ‘so what?’

WHAT DO YOUR CHARACTERS WANT? Each character should be driven, the protagonist of their own lives (even if not the protagonist of the actual play). They should have very specific objectives, so ask what each wants. The answers should not be vague or abstract – ‘he wants love’, ‘she wants fulfilment’ – it should be precise and specific: ‘She wants to get her Mother’s letters back.’ These specific objectives in the moment will KEEP YOUR CHARACTER ACTIVE and the plot and action beating on. The charcater may also have a larger want, a super-objective, but be aware of what they want in each scene and moment – even if it is ‘to shut that bloody awful man up!’

This then impacts on TACTICS: WHAT DO YOUR CHARACTERS DO TO GET WHAT THEY WANT? If your character wants that bloody awful man to shut up, does she attack him, surprise him into silence with unexpected behaviour (a slap or a kiss?), drive him away with her own boredom, does she lie, charm, run away – what? Character is revealed through action and we can learn alot about the character through their interactions and the tactics they use to obtain what they want. This is also how a character grows and learns new skills. They try different approaches to obtain what they want, engaging the audience and also, depending on the challenge of the obstacles they have to overcome to get what they want, prove themselves as worthy protagonists/antagonists.

Through new behaviour and tactics, the character also CHANGES and change is essential in every moment of a script. Whether in dynamics, storyline, relationships, or characterisation, something must have CHANGED, so the end of each scene is different from how it began and we are aware of the MOVEMENT in the scene.

More notes on essential elements of scenes will follow…

How to write the ‘right’ ending, part two: consequential action.

I don’t like endings which are too tidy and ‘pat’. I distrust them. I feel like I’ve been processed – part of a well-oiled machine which has passed me along its predictable, dependable conveyer belt, depositing me unscathed, unchallenged and unsurprised at the end. I feel like the magical mystery tour I signed up to gave me an advance road map, with the route yellow highlighted in. I feel I have been part of a pedestrian equation, where A+B=AB.

It’s essential that there is structure and form to our writing (even – or especially – when the work is ‘experimental’), but here is a line between the well structured and the disappointingly predictable ‘I could see that coming for miles.’

But I’m not a fan of unpredictable, ‘magical’ endings either, where elements not previously existing in the world of the play fly in,  and ‘explain’ or solve everything. It doesn’t have to be as blatant as the god from the machine, deus ex machina. Think the chance meeting and deep conversation with the stranger with the meaningful past/anecdote to tell/piece of ancient wisdom to pass on which has surprising resonance with the protagonist’s dilemma and precipitates a sudden understanding and even swifter conclusion…  Or the surprise lottery win, the unexpected behest, the sudden death or illness, or the offer of a new job/house/country/lover/gender/whatever, which draws everything together in a premature ending leaving the viewer blinking and feeling cheated as the houselights come up.

The kind of endings I like are the ones where we are kept guessing until the last moment and then go ‘yes, of course it would end like that.’ We know that Hamlet will end up on a pyre of bodies, as when we think about it, this is the only possible ending, given his actions and interactions throughout the play. In this kind of writing, character equals plot, and plot equals character. They are indivisible, and there is logic – cause and effect: an action is made which brings a response, retaliation, or reward – consequential action – but not the simple binary of A + B of above, but a logarithm, a complex equation which, in both literary and mathematical senses of the word, is ‘beautiful’.

I’ve always believed that nothing should be extraneous in a play (or a story, or a novel, or a screenplay, or any kind of art or craft). Everything needs to earn its right to be there, and it all should contribute in some way to the ending. I can’t bear loose threads, or the sections included merely as a brain rest, so we can look at the attractive people, or hear a nice song, or be ‘entertained’ by something before returning to the true meat of the evening.

Of course some performances are not presenting a main or single narrative – there may not be a plot. Rather, they can be a montage working towards an overall effect at the close of the piece, rather than the resolution of a conflict, or a quest, or a psychological or emotional journey. Then I feel the power of the ending is cumulative, relying on everything that came before.

I love work which is up-close and personal, so involving and intricate it is as though I’m scrutinising individual stitches and threads, and it is only when it is drawing to a close, or complete, I can step back and see the tapestry, the full woven landscape whose minutiae I know and have followed.

That kind of experience brings great satisfaction and, for me, the most powerful ending, for everything has been created and spun out of what existed at the beginning: a fully realised world, a cast of well-developed characters whose actions and reactions create the stuff of the plot, a narrative full of twists and turns, which is unpredictable, but logical.

copyright Kaite O’Reilly 25 August 2012.