Daily Writing Tip 46 of 100, The Border of Actuality

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – The Border of Actuality

Source – Elements of Fiction Writing – Plot by Ansen Dibell

Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.

If you once thought about dying your hair pink but never acted on the thought, that tells something about your psychology, but it’s not a potential story plot. If you really went ahead and did it, that not only tells about your psychology but creates repercussions, like a stone tossed in a pond. That might become the basis for a story like Fizgerald’s “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.”

Thought or emotion crosses the line into plot when it becomes action and causes reactions. Until then, attitudes, however interesting in themselves, are just potential, just cloudy possibilities. They’re static. They’re not going anywhere. Nothing comes of them.

No thought, in and of itself, is plot. No action, however dramatic, is plot if the story would have been about the same if it hadn’t happened at all. Any action, however seemingly trivial, can be vital and memorable if it has significant consequences and changes the story’s outcome.

Plotting is a way of looking at things. It’s a way of deciding what’s important and then showing it to be important through the way you construct and connect the major events of your story. It’s the way you show things mattering.

That’s a nice distinction – about when thoughts become plot. I wish more writers would take her advice and cut out the stuff that doesn’t matter. Life is too short.

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