Module Four: The Plot – Basic Theme
Inspiration and where to find it.
Lesson three explored the subject of character. It has been said that, when a character is created, a plot is automatically produced. Although this is rather simplistic, it contains a great deal of truth. There must be a strong relationship between the main character(s) and the plot. In fact, they are the ones who determine the plot. However, the main character is not the only source of inspiration when planning the plot. There are other places where we can receive the seed of an idea which later turns into a well-developed plot.
Sources of inspiration could be obtained from:
- The news – the media report hundreds of potential plots every day. Some of the most promising stories are based on fact.
- Old stories, myths and legends – the parables of Jesus or stories in the Bible would also be a great source of inspiration.
- The experiences of others – if you write about what has happened to someone else, the facts need to be correct and you need to obtain their permission if you quote them by name. However, if their story is just inspiration for you and their name and certain facts are changed, you may find that it’s polite to ask them anyway. The facts which are used are important to ensure that the novel is credible. Research should be thorough but not obtrusive. This is often difficult to attain and is referred to in a later lesson. The reader must never be under the impression that the writer is more interested in facts than in the development of the story and the fate of the characters. In a work of fiction, characters are of paramount importance. Their individual and collective fortunes matter more than anything else.
- Personal experiences are useful if seen objectively. There is a need for both detachment and involvement. The writer should critically assess the behaviour of the character to ensure it is credible. At the same time, he/she must become the person described. The writer must feel the emotions and understand the aspirations, otherwise the response of the characters may not be credible.
Q.1) Consider to what extent an objective and a subjective attitude is essential in the development of a character.
To answer this question, you could write a list of points, stating what to look for when being objective. Write a paragraph explaining each point. Then write a list of ways in which the writer would be moved by or identify with the character and the circumstances he/she is in. Write a paragraph for each point.
The importance of emotion.
Successful fiction/biography stimulates sympathy for the main character(s). If the writer does not attain this in the first section of the book (preferably, the first chapter), the reader will lose interest. The fate of the characters must matter to the reader.
a) Although the character may (or may not) display emotion, the reader certainly must be moved in some way. Many are reluctant to display emotion but it is therapeutic for every human being to feel and display emotion at some time or another. Therefore, the novelist who becomes popular is the one who exploits emotion. The reader, without risking a display of their own feelings, sublimates their need to express them through the characters in a novel.
b) Predominant emotion?
- There must be a predominant emotion in a short story. Usually, there is a predominant emotion in a novel. However, this is not always necessary or even desirable. In a complex work of fiction there will be a multitude of contending and interrelating emotions, springing from a variety of plots. The skilled writer knows how to weave these together satisfactorily.
- To illustrate how contending emotions can be used, consider the war-time novel. This should be written so that the reader will identify with one side or another. The writer will stimulate patriotic feeling which may complement or conflict with sympathies which are roused by sub-plots. These will complement or conflict, depending on the circumstances. For example, if the main character falls in love with one of the enemy, a different emotion will be stimulated than if the main character fell in love with someone on their own side. Conversely, if two characters hated each other, the emotions stirred up in the reader would depend on whether the characters were allies or enemies.
c) How to stimulate emotion
- It is impossible to move the reader to emotion if they have not been able to identify with the characters. This is why the characters must be real and credible. The circumstances are also important. The reader must have some appreciation of the joys, horrors, thrills etc. of the situation being described. For example, if the main characters are in danger of losing their lives, the reader must be able to appreciate the fear this will generate.
- Emotion is best stimulated through action. Do not used a multitude of emotional words or phrases, as they will sound unprofessional. If, for example, you wish the reader to feel angry with a certain character, describe a scene where the evil one hurts the sympathetic character. It is through behaviour and circumstance that you will move your reader.
- Allow your characters to express emotion. Let them weep when sad, shout when angry, embrace when in love.
d) The importance of the writer’s emotion
Some believe that when the writer is moved to tears, a work of art is being created. This may or may not be true – works of art are more than mere emotion. However, the suggestion emphasises the importance of the writer’s involvement with his story. It is not uncommon for the writer to begin to think like his character or to suspect that his character exits in real life. It is true to say that the writer who has learned to accept and express his/her emotions is one who will be most avidly read.
Q.2) A great deal of what is written in a novel is autobiographical.
In about 300 words, relate one of your experiences as if written as an episode in a novel. If possible, use an event you wish to include in your book.
Q.3) In about 300 words, described the emotions you have felt most strongly. What incidents prompted these emotions? Write one episode as it would occur in a novel. Use emotive words without overt emotional descriptions.
If this is too embarrassing or too painful to express, remember that what moves you will move your reader. Also, remember that writing, although a solitary occupation, is a public one. Your words may reach more people than you could ever hope to meet. You must learn how to open yourself without becoming vulnerable. Perhaps this is one of the writer’s most difficult tasks.