Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Novel Approach to the World - Plot

by guest novelist Siri Mitchell

This is the second installment of my look at life from a novelist’s point of view. I made the observation, last time, that many of the things that make a good novel also make a good life. I thought it would be interesting to look at the major elements of the novel and see how they apply to real life. Last time I analyzed character development and what it takes to be a ‘real’ character. This newsletter, I’d like to investigate plot.

If character development is one of my strengths, then I have to admit that plot is a definite weakness. Plot is all about where a story is going. It’s the structure upon which any story ought to framed. Every plot should include a definite beginning, a middle, and an end. A traditional plot structure is comprised of incidents of escalating significance that propel the characters toward a crisis. And crisis—or conflict—is what novels are all about.

If novelists have any secret, it’s this: growth and change come through crisis or conflict. And tension is created by the gap between who a character is and who he or she ought to be. Novels are generally tales of becoming; they chronicle a journey.

At some point in a novel, the main character faces a choice. She can choose to live life the way it’s always been lived (stay with status quo) or she can choose to step out, step forward, and make a change. The reader generally has a bird’s eye view of this internal conflict and in most books, they root for change. If the novelist has done her job, the reader knows that the only way the character will find fulfillment is to step out of the ordinary and into the unknown.

Unfortunately, the unknown usually comes with complications, doesn’t it?

Maybe that’s why I’m not so good at plotting. I don’t like complications. I like things they way they are. Once I’ve figured out how to get from Point A to Point B, why try to get there any other way? What’s the point?

The point is, of course, that nothing can be learned if nothing ever changes. We had a lesson about plotting at our house a few months ago. Things changed. Radically. Our idea of what the next year looked like was turned upside down and then bonked on its head. It wasn’t what any of us wanted, but we learned a few things. We affirmed those things that were important. Really, truly important. We moved toward each other. And most of all, we realized, that if this change was going to happen, in spite of the turmoil and the plans that would have to be re-thought, it was going to be okay. We came out of the crisis stronger, and more grounded, than we had been before.

So where are you going? And what is the plot of your life’s story? Is it starting to get complicated? If so, try to look at your life through the eyes of a novelist. A novelist knows that people with real character can withstand life’s twists and turns. The novelist knows that only adversity can bring triumph. And the novelist knows that the protagonist at the end of the story is much stronger than the protagonist who began the story.

And here’s another novelist’s secret: no one wants to read about Jane Smith who gets out of bed one morning and does the same things she’s always done. They want to read about Jane Smith who gets out of bed one morning and decides to make a change. They want to read about characters who make choices. Characters who take risks. So go on, step out, and be that character! Be the protagonist in your life’s story. When the unexpected happens—and chances are it will—step up, not back.

Are you the protagonist in your story? Have you been plotting your life? Are you willing to take risks? Share with us a little about your story today?


Siri Mitchell is the author of nearly a dozen novels, among them the critically acclaimed Christy Award finalists Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door, and the ACFW Carol Award finalists Kissing Adrien and Love’s Pursuit. A graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in business, she has worked in many different levels of government. As military spouse, she has lived in places as varied as Tokyo and Paris. Siri currently lives in the DC-metro area.


  1. Good morning, Siri. Your post makes me feel brave. ;)

    Plotting has always been my weakness too. It's the part of my writing that doesn't come. Naturally. By nature, I avoid conflictnso I really struggle to make sure I incorporate it in my stories.

    Thanks for sharing such interesting thoughts.

  2. The plot for my life took a beating last year. I still don't know if I'm on a detour or if that door will forever remain closed. The only way to find out is to continue the journey.

    When it comes to stories plot comes easy. It's giving depth to my characters that I struggle with. I'm learning slowly but surely.

  3. Plot has been the challenging part of writing for me too. Characters come easy. I love to study people and put characters in a scene to watch them react against each other. But plot is a bit contrived. In real life things don't always happen in such a neat linear progression. And they don't completely resolove.

    And I've also had a hard time putting my Christian characters in rough situations and really examining hard emotions due to my theological upbringing. I think I'm past that now.

    If anyone wants to take a more expansive look into the subject of plotting your life, read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Great book about writing, life, and spirituality. I learned a lot about taking charge of my life and not being afraid of conflict and change.

  4. Awesome post, Siri! Thank you! You know the dreaded "sagging middle" writers battle? I think that may be my problem! Now, to find a cure!

  5. Welcome back, Siri.

    I always thought I was a good plotter because people say I'm a good storyteller. But I need to work on the structure of the plots because I usually had one MC who went through every trial I could imagine and I balanced him/her out with another MC who was steadfast. I've been told on numerous occasions that steadfast is boring. So, I work at plotting.

    Great post, Siri.

    Anita Mae.

  6. Hi Siri!
    Have you ever seen the movie Notting Hill? There's this scene where Hugh Grant takes Julia Roberts to his sister's birthday party and when they realize it's THE Anna Scott they all start blithering?

    Okay, I'll just say it, "I love your work."
    (Can't wait to read your new one.)

  7. Thanks so much, everyone, for your kind words about my post and my writing. Here's to the plot-impaired!

  8., if I could only learn how to spell my name correctly!

  9. My name is Debra Marvin and I'm a plotter. I will plot until the cows come home and obviously I will use any cliche available to do it.

    Maybe we should all just pair up and be done with it. Plotter for Hire - but characterization and emotion is stinking hard work.

    I have Love's Pursuit in my TBR pile and She Walks in Beauty on my Kindle, which is its own TBR pile of jigawatts. From all the good stuff I hear about your writing, Siri, I have to believe you pulled the plot together quite well!

    As for my own life. Today was a mess. Curve ball. Who likes an easy, boring life? ha! I'd be happy for more boredom because no one is reading my story.

    But I know God is in control and will use this to His glory somewhere and I'll grow. So, it's worth it as long as I get to whine for at least a day.

  10. Thank you for provoking some thoughts about welcoming change and growth, Siri. I have to admit, while I start with plot in books and I don't mind torturing my characters, I'm pretty change-averse in my real life.

    (Of course, this could be a good thing. If I get stuck while I'm plotting, I usually take that as a sign it's time for another dead body. I guess some things should remain part of my fictional life.)

  11. Hi Siri. First, let me say, the cover of your book shown with your bio is stunning. I love it, and I sure would like a dress just like it. I also love the titles of your books. I'm looking forward to giving them a try.

    You are so right, no one wants to read about a character doing the same old boring thing. And so I wonder why most movies start out that way. The main character goes along in their same old routine and then something changes. I suppose that's there way of lulling the viewer into the norm before they zap us with change. But I like to start with the action or change right up front - especially in books. I get bored so easily, if things aren't happening, the characters aren't changing and growing, then I start tuning out and don't enjoy the book.


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