A Story’s Plot Takes a Premise and Runs With It


Today’s writing Definition of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, is “plot.”

If you’ve been following along with the Tuesday posts, you’ll remember that last week’s definition was “premise.” And there’s a reason why I put these writing terms in that order.

It’s because a plot is the natural result of a premise that’s strong enough to hold up.

For example, let’s say your story’s premise was irritation with the political climate, which turned into an almost overwhelming desire to lash out at politicians of all stripes and make them look as bad as possible to as many people as possible.

(Not that I would know anything about such sentiments.)

In that case, the resulting plot might turn out something like this…

A woman is enjoying a quiet evening to herself when a masked man barges into her apartment and forces her to come outside with him to a waiting vehicle. The woman is brought down to Washington, D.C., where she meets the man behind her kidnapping.

Since, as it turns out, she isn’t the actual person he wants, he tells his henchman to go back and get the real target. But it’s already too late for the main character, who is locked in the basement so she can’t go ratting him and the larger plot (oops. I mean crime) out.

The real target is then captured, brought down to D.C., and locked in the basement alongside the main character, where a ransom video is shot to coerce her father – a U.S. senator – into voting a certain way on an upcoming bill. Once he complies, the real target is set free but the main character is scheduled for execution.

If the description above sounds fairly emotionless and therefore not really that tempting of a read, that’s because it is. Believe it or not, it’s even supposed to be.

A plot isn’t the back-jacket description of a book. It’s not the online summary you find on Amazon.

All by itself, a plot doesn’t do much more than give facts, rather like the footage from a security camera that happened to catch a crime.

A happened. Then B. Then C. Then D. Then E. And so on and so forth.

That’s why plots need to be padded out with a whole lot of fluff, including well-rounded characters, rich settings and believable, engaging dialogue… the kind of creative details that don’t much matter in an interrogation room, where the cops are looking for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Of course, once you put a plot up on trial – once you publish it – those details might very well be all that matters.

Believe it or not, a courtroom really isn’t the place for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s the place to build rapport with the jury, present a compelling character out of either the accused or the accuser (depending on which client you serve), and submit enough carefully tailored evidence to sway the audience to your side of the story.

So yeah, all of that is very important. In the end.

At the same time, none of it can exist without a plot. It’s simply your job as the writer to cultivate plots into something that draws readers in page by page by page.

I know I’m mixing metaphors around willy-nilly here like I’m writing a pop song for Ariana Grande, but the word “cultivate” makes me thing of seeds. So here’s how you can break it down (or build it up):

  • The premise is the seed.

  • The plot is the plant.

  • And the details that make people want to stop and stare? Those are the flowers.

So who’s up for gardening?

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