An Unstoppable Force Meets an Immovable Object: The Basis of the Character-driven Plot.
In my humble (or not so humble) opinion, plot is frequently overthought. I hear authors who stress because they feel like they don’t have a plot (particularly pantsers or first time authors). They have characters and ideas for scenes, but they lack the structure of a plot--you know, the required beginning, middle, and end.
If this is you, take a step back. Breathe deeply. Do some yoga or take a nap--whatever makes you feel zen. You’re going to be fine. My left-brained creative self (try figuring that one out) has figured out a formula to explain the basis of figuring out plot, whether you’re struggling with a current plotline or trying to come up with a new one.
It looks like this:
An unstoppable force meets an immovable object = your plot
[your character’s desires] + [your character’s fear]
Essentially, plot is when you take what your character wants the most and put something that they fear in front of it. That’s the conflict. So ask yourself: What does my character want the most? And what can I *cue evil laugh* do to stop them from getting it? (Also if you’re struggling with answering what your character wants the most, it might be time to figure out their Enneagram -- see this post).
Let’s look at a few examples in order to understand this.
In the Hunger Game, Katniss desires for her and her family to survive. That’s an unstoppable force. She fears losing the people she loves so, boom, her sister’s name gets drawn for the Hunger Games. That is an external conflict based on her desires and fears. More internal conflict comes when she finds herself drawing closer to Peeta and has to choose between her survival and getting back to the family who need her, and helping Peeta survive as well (that’s internal conflict).
Let’s take an example that is a more internal conflict based. Let’s take the plot of a chick flick Never Been Kissed starring Drew Barrymore. Hopefully, I’m still with you guys and I’m not making myself seem very old. Here’s a quick explanation if you’ve never seen this movie. Josie is a reporter trying to make it to the top, so she decides to pose as a high school student in order to research teenage culture and find a scandalous story.
Josie is a classic Enneagram Three the Achiever (yes, yes, I’m going back to that), which, same, girl. Josie desires to feel valuable and worthwhile, and believes (like Threes do) that this can only come from what they do. But then she starts to feel a sense of worth from the relationship she develops. This causes an eternal conflict; does she keep pursuing success in her career or does she have faith that maybe love could make her feel worth and value? When her desires force her to face her fear, plot happens.
Okay, I hope you understand it now. Let’s try taking this from scratch. I’m going to take a random character and come up with a plot solely based on their fears and desires. I’m going to use an Enneagram Type Seven to explain (because the Enneagram already gives you desires and fears). So this character -- let’s call her Ruby. Her greatest desire is to be satisfied and content -- to have her needs met. Let’s say what she needs is love and belonging. What she fears the most is being deprived and in pain; in fact, she generally runs from painful situations. Let’s say that her husband, who gives her love and belonging, goes missing after a plane crash. She refuses to accept he is dead, but finding him will make her face a fierce jungle and dangers and things that will ultimately hurt. See. Plot, both external (a plane crashes and her husband goes missing) and internal (she has to face her own desire to run from pain and deprivation).
The immovable object can be external or internal (or both, as most books should have), whether outside forces or their own inner self is keeping them from fulfilling their desire. It can also be something that pits two desires against one another. Such as with Katniss: she wants to survive for her family but she wants Peeta to survive too. But ultimately, the basis of plot is knowing those two things: what does my character want the most and what do they have to overcome to achieve it?
I hope you found this explanation helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on any of my social media. And until then: Keep writing fearlessly, darlings.
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