Friday, March 5, 2010

What Makes a Plot Contrived?

A conversation came up on one of my boards about plots, and how to know if a plot is contrived or not, and if it is, what does that mean?  So let's talk about that today.

According to the dictionary, "contrived" means something that is so unexpected, unrealistic and/or unconvincing that it affects the suspension of disbelief.  It is something that is implausible, and doesn't come naturally to your characters or to the basic plot of the story.  It is something that you ordinarily would not even think about putting into your story, until you write yourself ( your characters) into a situation that you don't know how to get them out of.  What to do?  You come up with a solution that temporarily creates drama or tension of some sort that, in turn, resolves that particular situation.  You have contrived a solution that is totally unrealistic in terms of your characters' behaviors and actions.

Let's take an example:  Your main characters are a boy and girl, 12-13 years old.  They want to have horses but their parents say no, they are too irresponsible to have a horse.  The story revolves around their adventures in trying to prove to the parents that they can be responsible and learn how to take care of a horse.  They end up accidentally getting into a corral with a wild horse who doesn't trust people and is called a "rogue horse."  No one is around to hear their calls for help, so they decide to "tame" the horse and ride him out of the corral. The scene calls for them to teach him to trust them, and ends with them getting on his back and riding him away.  Totally unbelievable, totally unrealistic.  A contrived ending...which your readers are going to see through immediately. Sure, the kids themselves have solved their problem, but it is a completely implausible solution.

A contrived plot usually takes place because you the writer do not know your characters well enough to know what they are going to do when, where, why and how.  You are writing a plot driven story, rather than a character driven story.

Now, don't misunderstand me.  Many stories and novels are plot driven.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But that's where a lot of new writers get into trouble.  When the plot suddenly takes a turn you weren't expecting, and you don't know what to do next, you come up with some kind of plot twist.  It may be dramatic, tension-building, humorous, or whatever, but if it is implausible for your characters to  engage in that particular activity, event, dialogue or what have you, then  the twist becomes, in and of itself, unrealistic.  It becomes contrived.

Anything that you build into your story that doesn't keep the natural flow of the rest of the story going, becomes a contrivance of some kind. Now, sometimes, you can come up with a plausible reason for it, or for your characters to do whatever they have to do at that point.  But most of the time you can't, so why allow some kind of plot twist to happen in the first place?

One of the best ways to keep this from happening is to KNOW your characters. Know who they are, what they want, how they will go about getting what they want, how they will deal with conflict and rejection, and how they will resolve the problems they encounter.  If you plan your story around your characters, instead of around the plot, "contrivance" probably won't be a problem.  Make the plot fit the characters, instead of the characters fitting the plot.  That way, they will be unique, interesting and original, and they will carry the story, not the other way around.

Think about it.  Let me know.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tuesday's Thoughts

Another grey day.  Rain, rain and more rain.  I shouldn't complain about it because our part of the country really needs it.  But after weeks and weeks of rain every few days, it becomes boring and predictable.

At first, I welcomed it because it was easy to sit and write.  I like listening to the sound of rain on the roof and even against the windows.  It was almost like the rain was providing a symphony for me to write against.  A good feeling.

Now, I'm finding it not so harmonious !  I don't think I have that 'seasonal affective disorder' that some people have during this time of the year.  I really do like the wintery weather, and wearing sweaters and sweat shirts.  Still, it would be nice to have a cold day with the sun shining.

What is your favorite time of the year?  Does it affect your writing, in that you writer better during some seasons than others?  I've never really thought about it until today, when 'rain on the roof' awakened me once again.

Maybe it's because I'm writing about a funeral scene.  Although...wouldn't a cold, rainy day be a better setting for funerals, with their grieving mourners, than a bright, sunny day that sparks energy and a desire to be somewhere else, anywhere else, than in a cemetary?

I'm wondering if there really is any kind of symbiotic relationship between the weather and what we write, how we write, and when we write.

Think about it.  Let me know.