Alright, kittens. we’ve covered Setting (which is usually my favorite part of a book, because I’m weird) and Characters (the heart and soul of any novel). Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. It’s time to learn How To Talk About Books: Plot Edition.
You mean we finally get to talk about the actual story?
“It’s about friggin’ time,” you’re muttering.
I know. But baby steps, guys. A story doesn’t make sense until you get the building blocks. Setting and characters are the DNA of the story.
There are so many elements to a plot that it’s haaaard to make it kind of its own thing, but plot’s exactly what it is: the overall story points of the piece you’re reading. Plot is story, story is plot. Easy peasy.
Conflict = story. Conflict = story. Conflict = story. Conflict = story. Conflict = story. Conflict = story.
Did I say that Conflict = story?
In every single story ever, the protagonist wants something and the antagonist wants to keep him or her from getting it. Without that basic conflict, there is no story. And the absolute best stories in the world put the protagonist through an unbelievable amount of strife and hardship before the protagonist can get what he or she wants.
That’s why Harry Potter is seven books. Torturing children = major literary payoff.
Man vs. […]
You’ve heard all of these before, but it bears repeating. All conflicts fall in to one of these scenarios:
Man vs Fate
Really big for the Greeks and Romans, think Oedipus and The Odyssey. Nowadays, it comes off as Lost levels of soul-searching bullshit, but that’s ok.
Man vs Man
… Like 90% of all stories. Think Sherlock Holmes vs. Moriarty-type conflict. Fisticuffs!
Man vs Self
When someone struggles against their own personal demons and hang-ups. Think The Catcher in the Rye. Or someone devolving into psychotic madness. Potato, pohtahtoh.
Man vs Society
Basically every WWII Narrative ever where someone has to overcome the Nazis. Or, one of my favorites, Frankenstein, but the part of the book where the monster wants to overcome his otherness and society wants to just kill him with pitchforks and fire because society is the worst.
Man vs the Supernatural
On the flip side, almost every other classic horror tale is Man vs. the Supernatural. Dracula, for example.
Man vs Nature
Moby Dick. That kind of thing. Meh.
Man vs Technology
Basically anything written by Isaac Asimov, really. Sinister computers from hellllllllllll!
This is the setup. This is all the details, all the love and anguish and heartache and terror that goes into a book. This is the heart and soul of something you read, the building blocks of the little microcosm of the lives of your characters.
Clearly, the rising action is the epicenter of the story. Without the next point, though, it serves no purpose…
Also called the climax of the story, the denouement is one of the most misunderstood part of a book. It’s not where the book ends. The climax of a story is when one force overcomes another force.
Obviously, one of the best examples of this is, at the end of The Battle of Hogwarts, Harry Potter destroys Voldemort and all the Death Eaters are like, “Whoops, kthxbai” and disappear.
But this also exists in novels where there may not be an obvious antagonist. In most mystery novels, the protagonist is just going up against The Unknown, and when the sleuth figures out the whodunit… that’s the climax. In adventure novels, it’s when the goal is reached, or the treasure is secured. In YA books, it’s when the geeky kid has his or her comeuppance and succeeds over the popular jerk.
This is everything that comes after the climax. Generally, lose ends are tied up, relationships are destroyed or re-affirmed, and we get a nice little summary on how life is now for our protagonists. These are, by and large, fairly short parts of most books, but they give us a sense of completion.
A lot has been said, lately, about the feeling of too much completion– namely, in the guise of epilogues for some of our favorite series. I hated the Huger Games epilogue, where Katniss and Peeta go on living their lives, and most people I know hated the epilogue of the Harry Potter series. There can actually be too much falling action.
Important Questions to Discuss For A Book’s Plot
- What is the chief conflict of this book?
- What are the sub, or lesser, conflicts for this book?
- How will the lesser conflicts make the chief conflict more difficult to resolve?
- How will the setting affect the conflict? How could the conflict be changed if the setting were different?
- When did the protagonist notice the conflict?
- When did the antagonist start creating the conflict? What was the first “roadblock” in the protagonist’s journey to solving the conflict?
- Were there any “false” climaxes? If so, how did we know that the conflict wasn’t resolved?