ABC’s of Fiction Writing: X is for X Marks the Plot

Posted by on Mar 25, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Maria_AuthorBioWhile most kids had play-dates after school, I had a standing appointment every day, from 2 pm until 4 pm with my yiayia. The only thing that would ever interrupt it was an important, late-breaking message from the President of the United States. No exaggeration.

My appointment with my grandmother was to watch her two favorite soap operas, One Life to Live and General Hospital, and translate them from English into Greek for her.

The challenge was this: English was her second language. Greek was mine. And sometimes I just didn’t have the words in Greek – or a complete understanding of the complex, adult relationships on the show – to tell her what was actually happening on screen.

So at age ten, ever the budding fiction writer, I would just make stuff up. But my yiayia always seemed to know. She would look at me, and then nod. Just once. It was a nod that said: I know that you know that I know that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

As a fiction writer, that is the very thing you never, ever, ever want your readers to think about your writing. Whether you’re writing a soap opera, a dystopian YA novel, a multi-generational family saga or a series of interconnected short stories, as the storyteller, it is your job to assure the reader that they are in capable hands. That you know where your story is going.

Even when you don’t.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to know exactly where your story is going to end up. You don’t even have to know all the events that will lead up to the ending. (You know, that ending that you still may not be sure about? That one.)

And that’s OK. All you have to know is your plot.

Plot is what the story is about. Plot is what your character wants, dreams, hopes and desires. It’s what the struggle is. The quest, whether literal or figurative, external or internal. Plot is not Action. It is not ‘The Stuff That Happens.”

It’s easy to feel stalled when you can’t envision all the things, events and moments in your piece. But you don’t have to.

Say it again, with feeling this time: All you have to know is your plot.

Your plot is X. Your plot is:

Romeo and Juliet, two teens from rival families, meet and fall in love, with deadly consequences.

Harry Potter is an orphan who grows up thinking he is an ordinary boy, but discovers that his magical powers may be the only thing to stop the evil wizard who murdered his parents.

In Puritan Massachusetts, Hester Prynne has an affair that results in the birth of her daughter, Pearl, but Hester refuses to name her lover, despite his guilt over her public shame and his private torment.

Sure, more stuff is going to – and does – happen. But your plot is why you’re telling the story and what hooks your reader to find out more.

I know, we’re writers and we don’t like math, but it’s that simple. Your job is to solve for X.

You don’t have to “plot” out every little part of the story like coordinates on a map. Just think of your fiction writing as a treasure map. If X is your plot, then X is where the gold is. X is the brilliant tale you want to share with the world – and that’s the real treasure of writing fiction.

Maria Marmanides is a writer who lives in Los Angeles and Connecticut. When she’s not racking up air miles traveling coast-to-coast, she writes creative nonfiction essays and is at work on her first fictional novel. Maria received her MFA at Fairfield University and works as a marketing copywriter, where she makes up nonsense words and writes puns all day.

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