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The Definition of Plot Is Dry as Dirt

Have you ever heard the saying, “And so the plot thickens”?

More than likely, you have. It’s a literary cliché from who-knows-what original source that carries some automatic expectations.

Meant to be read in low, theatrical tones – perhaps with some mentally played organs sounding off some serious “dun dun dun duhhhhhns” in the background – it signifies a twist to the story line.

Some unexpected element has been introduced to taunt the protagonist and perhaps his plucky sidekick too.

Victory shall not be enjoyed so easily tonight!

It sounds dramatic when you talk about plot that way, I know. But truth be told, there’s nothing all that dramatic about the definition of plot by its little lonesome.

Plot is actually quite dry and dull when you get down to it. It’s a list of verbs with a pronoun or two attached like the ones below.

  • Beginning: She was bored with her life, which consisted of writing down historical accounts and going to parties and being ignored by her husband.

  • Middle: She began to meddle with the modern world in order to make the history books herself some day, accidentally overthrowing an emperor in the process.

  • End: A new emperor takes over everything, including her freedom.

Obviously, there’s a lot of details that go in between that bare-bones plot example. That’s just the short of it.

But the long of it isn’t really much better.

No, really. The long of “it” – the definition of plot – still isn’t all that long.

However, now that you’re properly warned, here we go anyway…


Life is a highway you can ride on all night long, but a story doesn’t have to be. It can be a back country road, a torturous trek, or some flight of fancy to a far-off land just as long as it’s a pathway with a beginning, middle ground and end.

A plot consists of the ups and downs, rights and lefts, straights and curves – and perhaps even pitstops and turnarounds – your character(s) has to take in order to reach (or fall short of) his or her goals. It’s the “what” of a story, which means that a story doesn’t start without it.

Naturally then, a story doesn’t end without it either.

It doesn’t exist without a plot. Period.

Even if it is dry as dirt.

If you’ve ever seen those mountainy plot diagrams, you’re no doubt wondering about what kind of a book-writing coach I can possibly be.

The definition of a plot can’t just be “a pathway with a beginning, middle ground and end.” What about the rising action, the climax and the falling action?

For those of you who might not know what I’m talking about, check out the diagram below.

For those of you who do know what I’m talking about – hence the criticism – don’t worry. I’m not going to neglect those elements... even if they all do fit nice and neatly inside the concept of a "middle ground."

Nonetheless, we will most definitely get to all of that after we’ve covered the most basic of basic elements, including the one that changes plot from “dry as dirt” to “heart-racing,” “laugh out loud” or “sweep you off your feet.”

That would be character, something we’re going to be talking a lot about starting in April.

Until then though, I guess we’re stuck with dirt. So let’s get out the watering can and see how fertile we can make it.

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