Category Archives: Plotting the Plotted Plot

Reversal of Fortune Can Be a Good Thing

When it can’t get any worse for your Main Character, it does.

Cynthia Whitecomb

If the story itself is the “why” of your Main Character’s super objective in any given story, then the plot is the “how”; the events and actions the Main Character takes to pursue that objective.  Simple enough.

In the last session of Plotting the Plotted Plot we discussed how the Main Character causes these events, or is changed by them (or a combination of both).  Everything that happens in a story is predicated by what motivates the Main Character; what they want, need, and/or desire in pursuit of their objective.

As we’ve discussed, the reader or audience are looking for a “representation of life” when they pick up a book, or attend a movie or play.  They expect to identify with or relate to the Main Character.  This is the emotional connection between the audience and the story.

Now, take a look at your own life a moment.  I suspect that your life has not be a continual and steady movement toward your own needs/wants/desires.  There have been times when it has not worked out the way you wanted on your journey toward your own goals.  Why should it be any different for the Main Character in your story?  These times of challenge, conflict, or reversals of fortune represent times of growth.  It is the same for your Main Character.  A plot progression with no conflict, no opportunity for change, or no reversal is a story offering very little in the way of any kind of emotional connection with the reader/audience.  In the alternative, a life, or a story that is nothing but a constant reversal of fortunes can be pretty depressing.  It could be a legitimate endeavor to create a story in this vein, but I believe the writer would need to make answering the question of “why” a central part of the telling.

The Reversal in a story can be defined as: “A change in something, so that it becomes the opposite of what it was.”

So, how and when is it a good idea to use this concept of the Plot Reversal?

Typically, the initiating action or inciting event of a story is a standard, and common place for a Reversal.  In the mythic hero structure, the “Call” is a kind of Reversal.  The Hero is living his/her life and suddenly the gods present the “Call” and nothing will ever be the same; and, the Journey begins.  In the middle of a story; at the beginning of the Second Act, is another common place to utilize the idea of the Reversal.  The Hero/Main Character has worked out what he needs to get to his/her goal, and…wham, a new problem arises and the story goes in a different direction.  And, finally toward the end of the story, just as we are reaching the climax is another place one commonly finds use of the Reversal.  The Hero/Main Character is just about to lower the boom on the villain and…nope, one more problem to work out.  Now, these examples of the use of the Reversal are rather common to certain kinds of genre stories; and, on their face, are not particularly original.  Nevertheless, the basic idea of the Reversal is extremely helpful in sussing out the cause and effect through-line of a plot, in even the most subtle of novel forms.


Beating the Clock When Beating Out Plot

Essentially and most simply put, plot is what the characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is a logical sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters.

Elizabeth George

The use of a “clock” or “time lock” in your story can be very helpful when trying to work out plot issues.

The time lock is great help in focusing the actions of the Main Character, and can be as obvious as a meteor threatening to wipe out all life on earth in 48 hours, or the story taking place in the time it takes to make a pot of tea (3 minutes).  The time lock forces your Main Character toward the point of climax; the Revelation.  Otherwise, your story might go on forever.   The Main character needs to make a decision or arrive at the place they have been moving toward before the clock runs out.  You are giving the Main Character a limited amount of time to solve their problem, reach their heart’s desire, get what they want…win.  By limiting their time you also force yourself to choose.

The alternative to the time-lock (clock) element of a story/plot is the “option lock”.   By using an option lock your Main Character runs out of options in their pursuit of their goal, heart’s desire, need, etc.  When your Main Character runs out of options, they must choose.  Make their choice dramatic.  Make it interesting: the difference between the worst of two evils; difference between two moral choices. or anything that drives the Main Character, even in this final moment to confront something they didn’t want to confront from the beginning.

These two ideas are not mutually exclusive.  You can have elements of both the time-lock and the option-lock in a story.  However, one or  the other will take precedence.

Both these techniques focus your story on the final climax and give you a path way forward to follow in your story.

If you’re stuck in trying to figure out an ending…give the “time-lock” a try, and then continue to turn the Character in on their inner conflict as they approach the end.



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4 Week Craft Workshop at the Lighthouse Writers Workshops – Plotting the plotted Plot!