When you think about the three elements needed to braid your story together, you probably think of plot and character first.
That makes sense. If you had to write a book using just those two items, you could do a pretty good job of keeping it interesting and entertaining.
Sure, readers might be even happier if they get to see your voice. And the way you describe the setting. And the kind of dialogue your characters use. And the humor, the drama, the tension, the emotion, the — well, all those other colorful things.
So why aren’t those other things as big on the Must-Have list of items to consider when writing your book?
Maybe because we’re all writing such different types of stories.
It’s not just the plot which makes ’em different, although that certainly contributes.
Nor is it just the characters which make ’em different, although they certainly contribute as well.
But what really sets one book apart from another is how that plot and those characters come together.
Let’s call that the situation.
Think about it. If your story is about the heroine facing ninja assassins, it’s in a completely different league than your story about that same heroine facing her prom date falling for her best friend
And that’s completely different from a story about James Bond facing ninja assassins, or Bond discovering that his prom date (hmm, his casino date?) is falling for HIS best friend. (Hmm, who would that be?)
Anyway, you get the idea. The plots, whether they involve ninjas or a prom date, take an enormous shift when you envision them involving Cinderella or Bond.
Just as the characters, whether Cindy or James, vary tremendously depending on whether they’re facing assassins or a love tangle.
Or — just imagine it — both.
Those are basic scenarios, sure. And basic characters whose personalities we already have a pretty good idea about…but you see what a difference the situation makes?
That’s the third strand of your braid.
Maybe your heroine is a wanna-be Cinderella at the office party.
Or maybe she’s a ninja assassin.
Maybe she’s an elderly widow who bakes cookies for the neighborhood children.
Maybe she’s forced by a wizard to put arsenic in the cookies.
Maybe she’s a cop looking for the poisoner.
Maybe she’s a nurse looking for the antidote.
Maybe she’s a terrified mother looking for poisoned Emily’s favorite doll.
Maybe she’s Emily, all grown up and looking for a BDSM costume party.
Notice how all these situations move your story into a whole different category?
Each one of them contains a character and a plot idea you could transfer into some other book…but just think how that story would change.
This is where the magic comes in. The situation — or even, to use a broader term, the genre — influences your plot and characters to such an extent that it might be considered the most important element of your story braid.
What happens once you’ve got your strands?
That depends on when you get ’em.
Some people start by planning each one, knowing their situation and plot and characters before they ever start writing. (“Yes, this’ll be about the cop looking for the poison-cookie baker but falling in love with the evil wizard’s innocent niece.”)
Some people start with a situation (“Okay, this’ll be about a BDSM costume party”) and shape the plot and characters to fit it.
Some people start with a character (“I want to write about a nurse who dreams of making a difference”) and build a plot around that person, while others start with a plot (“What would happen if a wizard made people carry out his dastardly schemes but got overthrown from within?”)
All those ways of building a story work just fine. But sometimes the elements don’t quite line up as smoothly as we’d like.
Prize-drawing question: What do you do?
When parts of your book don’t line up as neatly as you want them to, what’s the first thing you try? Or the second / third / 26th / whatever?
It’s fine to mention techniques that HAVE worked for you, and also things that HAVEN’T. Because you know how we all operate differently? Something that didn’t quite do the job for you might be the perfect “fix” for a writer who reads your comment!
So if you have any tips you’d like to share, please pass them along. (And if you’d rather I didn’t quote you in next month’s class on Your Plot-Character-Story Braid, just mention that in your comment.)
Laurie, who is always intrigued at seeing how other people do it
Laurie Schnebly Campbell always loves teaching a brand-new class, so when a writer asked about “braiding” she was delighted at the chance to explore an untouched subject starting September 1 at WriterUniv.com’s http://bit.ly/BraidClass.
Although she enjoyed braiding her own books, including one that beat out Nora Roberts for “Best Special Edition of the Year,” she enjoys teaching even more. That’s why she now has 15 novels on her bookshelf with acknowledgments from authors inspired by her classes!