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Monday, November 15, 2010

Plot Points and Vanishing Points

Courtesy of onefatman

In order to create a sense of distance in art, artists use something called the vanishing point. This is the point that everything else in the composition is anchored to.

If you look in this picture, all the horizontal lines are oriented to the small circular point just up and off to the side of the third trunk back. This is the vanishing point--where all the lines vanish into the distance.

But what does this have to do with writing, let alone your plot?

Most people pick up a book to get somewhere. And most stories are about that journey, whether the book is plot or character driven, something is happening. (I'm sticking with commercial and genre fiction as I'm not as familiar with literary fiction. Hands out the salt.)

Imagine the specific things that are happening in the story. These are the plot points. Plot points can be either external or internal to the character. Or even better--both. Those points would be the trees spaced out in the picture. These are the major events in the story. This is where the characters discover the body, where the character finds out he or she is the one who will save the world (or universe), where the characters stumble upon the Item of Extreme Importance, where they learn and grow and Things Happen. The vanishing point in literature is The End. And all points lead to it, eventually.

You see the fence post? This is where your parallel and/or subplots go. Do you see how the fence also reaches for the vanishing point? How it flows in tandem with the trees? The only thing that would make this reflect a little more accurately the picture of the story's structure in my head is if the fence intertwined and overlapped with the trees at certain points. Because somewhere, somehow, those points are going to come together, even if just for a brief moment to preserve the cohesive element that lets the reader know that yes, this is all one (or two or three) part(s) of a bigger whole.

Those shrubs down there next to the fence? Those are all the major transition points. Places where the plot ebbs and flows to create a smooth story line. Transition points, in my opinion, are incredibly important and often overlooked, at least overtly. The transition points help move the story along and keep it from going static, or just as bad, jerking hither and thither and giving the reader whiplash. The shrubs, down below the ground where the eye doesn't really see them, have hundreds and hundreds of tiny roots and tendrils curling out in the darkness. Those are the minor transition points. In the story, they fine tune the flow even further until the story glides into a smooth experience. These minor transition points are usually only a sentence or two long, but they can make all the difference in terms of how well a story flows.

The leaves on the ground are all the things happening to the characters--both internal and external--that keeps the story rolling. This is the place where things occur and characters make decisions that will lead them to the next tree over. These are the words that get us from point A to point B. The leaves still clinging to the branches of the trees (our plot points) are things/events/ideas/feelings that are ripening as the story goes along, but aren't quite ready to fall into concrete-absolute-this-just-happened yet. 

And the path is where the reader journeys as they read your story. The words that give the reader a sure footing in your world, let them sense and taste it. See it. Experience it. But without all the other parts--the trees, and shrubs, and fence, and leaves, the path would be a barren place left to moulder on the shelf or tucked back in your subconscious somewhere.

Because the story isn't a collection of words printed on a page. It's a living, breathing thing that burgeons into your reader's life and snatches them away. The words and the paper (or screen) are simply the vehicle to get them there.

And you are the artist.

Danyelle collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers in her spare time. She is currently getting ready to query SLIPPERS OF PEARL, a YA fantasy. She also enjoys making new friends, and can be found at http://myth-takes.blogspot.com.


Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

What a beautiful explanation of the writing journey!

Heidi Willis said...

What a fantastic analogy.

Stina said...

Brilliant post, Danyelle. Loved the analogy. :D

charrette said...

I am an artist, also struggling with a rewrite of my first novel. Thank you for putting this in terms (and a visual) that make perfect sense to me.