Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Pertinent Points of “Plotting” (Annotation G2-12/Goddard)

Aristotle described plot with three main parts, a beginning, middle and end. John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction chapter on plotting expands on Aristotle’s model. Three pertinent points of plotting are: the three ways a writer works to develop a story, patterns of exposition and the Fichtean Curve for the episodic rhythm of the novel.
According to Gardner:
The writer works in one of three ways, sometimes two or more at once: he borrows some traditional story or action drawn form life; he works backwards from his climax; or he works forward from an initial situation, (Gardner 165).
It must be nearly impossible to use a single one of these methods, as the each is flat by itself. A linear story from the first situation to the last or the last to the first would appear to have no contour, like driving across Nevada in the night. Using this analogy, the road is relatively flat, and the night is dark. Although there are road signs to look at, as well as lines in the road, the story is simply, it was a dark, dark night, and the miles from one edge of Nevada to the next number over 400. Likewise, developing a story with a traditional or life forming experience, the drive across Nevada takes a different turn. While in Nevada, a general stop at The Griddle in Elko is well worth the time off the road, there are always interesting folks there and the breakfasts are the breakfasts road trips are made for.
Working with more than one of these, the same drive across Nevada starting at the initial situation (or with end in mind) and drawing from experiences, the story is more than the rather monotonous landscapes, wide expanses of road and includes more than the just the travel quips of good breakfasts. Ascertaining the initial situation or the climatic end augmented by the traditional story or life forming events makes the story less predictable, more believable, and more readable.
In the development of the story and the plot itself the use of exposition wisely keeps the flow going.
If the plot is to elegant, not sloppy and inefficient, then for the ensuing action the reader must know the full set of causes and (essentially) nothing else; that is, no important information in the exposition should be irrevelant to the action that ensues, (Gardner 186).
Back in Nevada, exposition of the character driving from west to east (or east to west) has to have a reason for the drive, or the stop in Elko, and all background information given by the writer is for the development of the plot or current action and nothing else is needed.
Lastly, the Fichtean Curve, the wow moment, reveals the climax quickly and efficiently. Knowing where to start in the drive across Nevada is just as important as the place to end the drive, after that wow moment. Perhaps with the example, the entire drive across Nevada need only be the few miles before Elko until a few miles on the other side, rather than the 410 miles across along I-80. The Fichtean Curve, however, doesn’t have to be one single incident. There can be as many of these such wow moments in smaller versions in each chapter, or in each situation; hence, making a rhythm of episodes into the grander scheme of the larger story.
Knowing the rules of story construction and methods of plotting makes the story, or novel a more engaging read rather than a simple beginning, middle, and end.

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.


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