Plot is Exactly Like a Hail Storm

Yesterday’s plot weather stats.

  • 7:46 Temperature: 56 degrees, drizzly and windy.  Drop Littles off at school.
  • 11:25 Temperature: 71 degrees, sunny, mild breeze.  Watched boys play at recess in shorts and t-shirts.
  • 2:39 Temperature: 73 degrees, sunny and still.  Checked mail.
  • 2:57 Temperature: 66 degrees, thunder, gray.  Peeked out window after finishing a chapter.
  • 3:12 Temperature: 60 degrees, rain.  Got ready to pick up boys from school.
  • 3:17 Temperature: 54 degrees, hail.  Watched it accumulate.
  • 3:27 Temperature: 56 degrees, cloudy with a few sprinkles.  Picked up boys.
  • 3:45 Temperature:  67 degrees, sunny.  Watched boys play with hail in shorts and t-shirts.  And bare feet.

Great plot is exactly like this magical reprieve in the middle of an otherwise warm, fall day.

Don’t believe me?  Try this.  Your story is a single day.

Beginning.  Middle.  End.

Dawn kicks off our stories with an inciting incident.  It introduces us to our characters and provides the backdrop for which our story takes place.  It’s the drizzly morning that prepares us for the rest of the day.

Dusk brings our stories full circle.  Conflicts have been resolved and a certain satisfaction sets in as we crawl into bed.  We’ve accomplished much in the hours between rising and resting.  Every story must end, just as the sun dips below the horizon every day.  Guaranteed.

But the magic is in the middle.  Winds gust, temperatures fluctuate–sometimes wildly–and the skies darken and shine as our characters encounter and overcome conflicts.

With great plot, unexpected twists rain down on our characters.  These twists delight and excite readers.  They drive the action and change the course of the story.  They can also make or break a novel depending on how they are handled.

How do you increase tension in your writing?  Are you deliberate about it, or do an unexpected plot twist sneak up on as well as your MC?  Do you feel it’s important to foreshadow major turning points in  your manuscript?  If so, why and how do you do this?  If not, what is the value of blindsiding your readers?

Curious minds want to know.

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17 responses to “Plot is Exactly Like a Hail Storm

  1. Blindsiding so of makes the twists more surprising giving a little bit of an edge to the poem (I write poems mainly).

    • I think poetry is a completely different animal when it comes to writing. We have so few words to play with that each line must have a direct impact on the reader. Emotional surprises are so satsifying in poetry.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mine is always a little of both: I plan out some things, and then others pop up in the writing. It’s always fun to see what presents itself AFTER I’ve written my first draft . . .

    • Soooo, true. Second drafts are great for rounding out the points we merely touched on (or side-stepped) in our rough drafts. Great point in allowing the editing process to shape a manuscript. We don’t have to strictly adhere to the initial storyline, as we so often get better results when we tamper with what’s already there!

  3. Great post, Cate!

    I’m a pantser when I start out, so my characters tend to surprise me along the way. Even when I outline halfway through, something always pops out to either make me squeal in delight or tear my hair out (Why are you, my dear MC, not following the outline? Why, oh why?)

    Thank goodness we are not required to submit our first drafts to agents, right? The HORROR! 😉

    • So True! If I had to write to an outline I’d quit writing, as it would look nothing like the finished product and I’d gravely disappoint somebody, somewhere.

      Maybe that’s why so many highschool kids hate writing…

      I think the fluidity of pantsing it can make for more creative stories. At least that’s what I tell myself.

      Best luck pantsting your way through your next project!

  4. You are always the queen of the analogy! 🙂 Hope things are wonderful with you. I will try to catch up with you soon. ❤ to you.
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  5. Hmm…. since I’m a pantster I don’t really get to create the tension. It tends to create itself. That’s a major relief 🙂

    • And your tension and conflict do amazing jobs of creating themselves. You better watch out or they’ll skip you in the writing process altogether and go straight to your agent. Maybe they’ll still give you a percentage?

  6. I miss Minnesota hail, it was always so neat to see. You always come up with the most interesting analogies to writing!

    • It was very cool. They were peasized with clear and cloudy striations. When you stepped on them you could roll across the ground like the cartoon version of sliding on marbles. Pretty awesome and loads of fun for the kids when they got home.

      I’ll send you some the next time it hails!

  7. I love how you tie in everyday stuff with writing!
    I think I use a bit of both, I like to surprise with some ‘oh crap’ moments but I also build up and drop little hints for the major turning points. Stuff that you’ll remember reading when everything blows up but may not have noticed right away, ’cause to me that feels more legitimate. I’ve read too many stories where there’s this major turning point but it feels like the writer was trying too hard to shock and amaze, or worse, it was an afterthought that was thrown in ’cause it seemed like a good idea at the time.

    This may be a silly question, but what’s a ‘pantser’? All I’ve got is this image of someone running around pantsing people, but since it’s writing related (I’m assuming) I’m just picturing this cartoon Shakespeare or Poe or something just running through the streets pantsing everyone!

    • First–because it makes me giggle–a pantster is one who doesn’t plot or outline or interview characters or otherwise go into a novel knowing what will come out at the end. In other words, these writers are just as surprised with the story’s journey as readers will be. We are contrary to what all good English teachers want us to be, which is thoughtful and deliberate. I’m quite certain that my high school English teachers would cringe to know I totally wing my novels from start to finish.

      Second: I love this. “I like to surprise with some ‘oh crap’ moments but I also build up and drop little hints for the major turning points. Stuff that you’ll remember reading when everything blows up but may not have noticed right away, ’cause to me that feels more legitimate. I’ve read too many stories where there’s this major turning point but it feels like the writer was trying too hard to shock and amaze, or worse, it was an afterthought that was thrown in ’cause it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

      Nothing is worse than reading a pivotal scene and feeling like there is absolutely no basis for what just happened.

      May your day be filled with happiness and your belt hold your pants up!

      • Ohhh! I think I’m a bit of a pantser in that case. Generally when I start writing I don’t have a whole plot outlined, just the main idea. Then I go back and fix and edit and tweak and what not. It’s fun but the editing process on my adult fantasy is kicking my butt now!

      • Editing can be a bit troublesome at times. I’ve never written a full on fantasy before and it scares me just a bit. I greatly admire writers who can create such unbelievable new worlds and make them completely believable.

        Best luck with the editing process. It can be extremely rewarding when all the pieces finally fit together.

  8. Pingback: Mind Sieve 10/24/11 « Gloria Oliver

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