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What’s It About?

My friend Ty Frank had a wonderful blog post that I read today entitled Giving Birth.  Something he said got me thinking about the difference between plot and meaning.  What happens versus what it’s about.

I realized that for years when I ran writer’s rooms in Hollywood, and even in my prose writing groups here in N.M. I would often turn to a writer and ask them “What is this script/story/book _about_?”  Then I would add, “And you have to tell me in one sentence.”

Because I didn’t want to hear a rehash of the plot, all the steps that led the hero to the final conflict and victory.  I wanted to know what does it mean?  What light are you shining on the human condition?  How will this story resonate with a reader.

Which then got me to analyzing my love of plot and why I’m so intent about each step making sense and having been thought out in advance.  Because I realized this morning that plot is the mechanism by which meaning is revealed.

Just as punctuation enabled the written word to be more than just word salad, and actually convey meaning, plot serves the same purpose for a story.  If all you have is plot then it starts to feel like beads on a string — and then this happens, and then this happens and then this happens — but they are just random events occurring sequentially and they are  not linking to that whole.  If you have both plot and meaning, (emotional truth if you will) then readers and viewers will be touched, affected and perhaps changed by experiencing this story you have brought to them.

2 Responses to What’s It About?

  • Each sentence, as the late Frank Conroy taught, needs meaning, sense and clarity. Those three notions need to be in the writers mind as he puts down each word.

    I think thinking about these notions regarding plot would serve the plot well.

  • Joe Iriarte says:

    This is why I have little patience for aspiring writers who say it is impossible for them to condense their novel into a single sentence or a single paragraph. If you can’t write a decent logline or pitch paragraph it (likely) means something is wrong with your story. Loglines and pitches aren’t that hard to write, and if you’re claiming to be a [u]writer[/u], then suck it up and do it. What kind of character are you writing about? What does she have to do? Or else what happens? What stands in her way?

    Good post.

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