Character is plot and plot is character

How do I, as a writer, plot a story? How do I make the reader want to read on? How do I grip the reader and refuse to let go until I’m done (like some latter-day ancient mariner)? To answer this we need to look at structure and at some of the devices writers use to maintain the reader’s interest. Science fiction has a head start when it comes to plot, because the idea itself can provide a lot of the story, and as we have seen in the earlier part of the course, so can the setting, but we still need to know how to give the story momentum. We need to know how to shape that tale to its end.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: Character is plot and plot is character. This is always important to bear in mind. We may have a great plot idea, but it is how the character/s respond that creates the story. Stephen King had this to say about plotting in his book, On Writing:

‘I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible…I want to put a group of characters…in some sort of a predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety…but to watch what happens and then write it down.’

So on the one hand he’s saying he doesn’t really plot, and on the other hand he’s saying he follows what the characters do, then transcribes it. So what’s the point of discussing plot at all? To my mind, it’s valuable for many reasons. We don’t want to create a story-by-numbers, but to be aware of structure at some point, even when you are rewriting your first draft, makes an awareness of plot shapes essential. It’s about knowing what does and doesn’t work.

So, let’s start with the basics.