Let’s talk about plot

I woke up this morning and realized that at 7am tomorrow I will be on a plane to Pittsburgh to be the first of four instructors at the Alpha workshop for young F&SF writers (the others are Tamora Pierce, Ellen Kushner, and Scott A. Johnson). I know that I can do this, but I’m still kind of freaked out. It seems like so much responsibility.

I will be giving four lectures, of about an hour each (1:15 in the morning, 0:50 in the afternoon). I have decided I’m going to speak on the following topics:

  • How to develop an idea into a story
  • What is plot?
  • Using sets and props to develop character
  • Using all the senses (there are more than 5)

For the first one I’m going to use the method Pat Murphy gave us at Clarion West, and I’m pretty solid on the last two. But plot is important, and I don’t feel that I have as firm a handle on it as I’d like.

One way of looking at plot is Algys Budrys’s basic seven-part outline: a person, in a situation, with a problem, who tries, and repeatedly fails, but eventually succeeds, and is rewarded. Another is the three-act structure used in Hollywood: setup (inciting incident and first turning point), confrontation (second turning point), and resolution (climax). One definition of plot is “a series of events that happen for a reason.” I can’t talk about plot without talking about how plot, character, and setting are thoroughly intertwined.

What are some of the most useful things you’ve been told about plot?

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