Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Plot Structure and Satisfaction

Why are we so dissatisfied when a plot does not reward virtue and penalize vice? Or when the ending has no resolution of issues but leaves the reader wondering what and who was reliable in the novel?


In college I read Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, which raised the expectations of my mystery-loving heart with its numerous clues and apparent trajectory toward a revealing. Instead, with all of its selfish postmodern heart, it refused to relinquish any surety, any certainty.


While novels written from the Christian worldview don’t and many times shouldn’t tie a denouement up with a pretty bow, they must 1) set up a scenario that has tension and promise and characters that evoke, at the very least, curiosity 2) a challenge or obstacle that puts something important in peril and 3) a concluding state that owes its nature to subsequencies or reactions to the peril.


(Hmm, Latayne says to herself: That’s the phases of faith, as exemplified by the life of Abraham and Sarah and all the heroes of faith.)


When Jesus told stories, He told them in this three-part structure, too. Most exemplary of this is the parable of the sower. There’s all the potential of a seed. And all the obstacles of the soils. And all the satisfaction – and inevitability – of the results.


Here’s an exercise to stimulate some plot creativity (and give you practice with a one-to-two-sentence “hook” that agents and editors expect you to craft.)


Choose a parable of Jesus. Write it as a three-part structure as described above, but using a modern scenario. Do it in one or two sentences at the most.

16 comments:

Susie M Finkbeiner said...

Ack...you have me thinking. I'll try. But I can't promise it will be any good.

Spoiled boy leaves with half the cash, blowing it as he goes along. Returns home empty handed to a forgiving father.

Is that what you were thinking of?

Latayne C Scott said...

Yeh. That's what I had in mind, but let's rev it up a bit and get creative with it.

How about: Spoiled boy, while his father is away, fakes the man's death and takes half of his money which he invests in a social media site for farm animals and their owners. Broke, he hitches rides cross country to face a father who is very much alive and twice as rich as before because of investments in Masai warrior jewelry.

Susie M Finkbeiner said...

Okay. Here's another.

Shampoo girl at salon cashes rather puny paycheck, gets ripped off by the bank teller but doesn't realize it until she gets home. Goes on rampage, stalking the bank teller until she gets her money back. (it could be a great revenge pic)

Latayne C. Scott said...

Wow, Susie, wow!

Now which parable was that?

Susie M Finkbeiner said...

The lost coin. I kind of kept with the lost theme. Huh?

Latayne C Scott said...

Yeah!

Megan Sayer said...

Since she was five years old Maggie Simpkins has had a recurring dream of a house she's never seen in reality, and each time the dream leaves her with a sense of longing, wonder, fulfillment and the home she never had. Now in her 30s and starting a career in real estate, she stumbles upon this very house for sale, and, against the express wishes of her friends and family, liquidates all her hard-earned assets, sells all her furniture and buys it.

How's that?

Susie M Finkbeiner said...

Makes me want to know more about Maggie and her house! :)

Latayne C Scott said...

Great job, Megan! The pearl of great price, right?

Latayne C Scott said...

Megan,, just thinking -- would that story need a resolution or third phase? I mean, Jesus said the pearl of great price was like the kingdom of heaven, which implies a resolution. Could you add something to make the resolution more than implicit? Like, perhaps, Maggie's satisfaction with the house? Just thinking.

Megan Sayer said...

You're right on both counts Latayne, yes, the pearl of great price.
And yes, it needs a third bit...

...except you only wanted two sentences, and I couldn't get past the idea of a hook - surely you're not allowed to give away the ending in a query?

However, I imagined the ending with her holding her latest bank statement and laughing with joy on the floor of her new, completely unfurnished home.

This has been fun, thanks!

Megan Sayer said...

Susie thanks! So glad you liked it :)

Latayne C Scott said...

Megan, absolutely you can give away the ending in a query. In fact, an editor or agent will want to know that this story has an ending that will satisfy the reader! Later in a query you could characterize it as a mystery, but the editor or agent will want to know there's a third-phase resolution and what it is.

Bonnie Grove said...

That's the thing about a great challenge--it's irresistible!

A missionary in Papua New Guinea is devastated when his wife and children are kidnapped by the tribe he is trying to reach. He embarks on a dangerous search, risking his life and sanity, until he finds his family again--only to discover his madness is irreversible.

(any guesses as to which parable?)

Anonymous said...

Bonnie, would that be the parable about the landowner whose tenants killed his servants and then his son?

Bonnie Grove said...

Good guess! It was modeled on the parable of the unforgiving servant.