TC's Tutorials: Plots Vs. Storylines
Now, in my last tutorial on basic character creation (Issue 194), I mentioned
that - at least in my mind - plots and storylines can be viewed as two entirely
different aspects of writing and in a sense that's true…and false.
Though both words mean the same thing (check it out in a Thesaurus if you don't
believe me), it is generally easier to separate the two, at least if it's only
for the start of your writing practises.
Anyone can write a story with a storyline, it's as easy as that. However,
it takes a talented or a patient, hard-working and well-practised writer to
come up with an original plot. So, for now, consider storylines to be
the foundations of a tale. The plot then builds upon these foundations, strengthening
it and bringing it closer to becoming a full story.
Now, before I lose you all in more comparative nonsense, let me give you an
example of the differences between storylines and plots. For this I'll use my
first Pint-Sized Pirates story (yes, I know it's going back a bit, but bear
Here's the basic storyline as I originally wrote it before going onto making
"A pirate Captain is left shipwrecked and is turned into a baby. He decides
to get a new crew and set sail once again."
I can almost hear the yawns of boredom. Yes, though this could easily be considered
as a plot, let's just agree for now that it's the simplest of storyline ideas
- the summary, if you will.
Now, to build upon that storyline, I needed to devise a plot. Here's what I
• The Captain is shipwrecked.
• How does he become a baby? Boochi.
• The Captain decides to set sail again…
• But he needs a crew!
• And a pirate costume that fits.
• Oh, and let's not forget a new ship.
• How does he get all these? Costume: From the Usuki Shop (there's an item
called a "Shiver Me Timbers Usuki" which comes with a pirate costume). Crew:
A sign on the notice boards. Ship: He's a pirate, he has his ways.
• Who would answer a notice from a baby pirate asking for a crew? More babies.
• The new crew sets sail.
• The End.
So, you see, making a plot consists of taking the storyline and ripping it
apart to discover and realise the problems that would appear and how your character(s)
would deal with it.
In short: Plots = In-depth Analysis of Storyline.
So, now you've got the basic idea of what separates a storyline from a plot.
With the new-found knowledge you've (hopefully) gained so far, you should be
able to come up with a decent plot. Want to give it a try? No? Too bad, because
EXERCISE TIME! (Sure, you can skip this, but remember, it's your loss).
I'm going to give you a basic skeleton of a storyline, and you (yes, you) are
going to come-up with a more sophisticated plot from what I've given you. Don't
worry if you don't get the plot points exactly identical to mine, hardly anyone
ever has the selfsame ideas when it comes to plots. As long as it's close enough
and you get the general idea, consider the exercise passed.
Ready? Okay, here's your storyline:
"A young pet finds a magic lamp, which holds a genie that grants him three
wishes, which the pet mucks up."
There, now from that I'm hoping you can create at least six bullet points
worth of plot, one for each individual idea that will join together to make
the complete plot.
Okay, was your plot anything like this?
• Where'd the pet find the lamp? Attic/Basement/Garage Sale.
• Where'd it come from? Lost Desert/Haunted Woods/Mystery Island.
• What does the pet wish for first? Neopoints/Rare Items/Paint Brushes
• What EFFECT does this wish have on his life/Neopia in general? Bank robbed/Fyora's
Hidden Tower robbed/Rainbow Pool dries up.
• Repeat last two points for the other two wishes.
• What happens to the genie after he's completed all the wishes? It's free/Goes
back into the lamp.
• What does the pet learn from their experience? Be careful of weird floating
creatures in funny-looking hats.
Okay, so that last one should have been "Be careful what you wish for,"
but hopefully you got at least half of the ten points (remembering the repetitions)
right, or close enough.
Now, I could just leave it there and sign-off this article, but I can't bring
myself to leave without mentioning the matter of plots in a series.
Whereas the information you've learned so far should help greatly improve your
plot-creating skills for short stories and the like, you need a little something
extra for a series' plot: Complications.
Complications are exactly what they say they are: they're there to complicate
the story's plot from running smoothly - after all, who wants to read a story
where nothing goes wrong? Whether it's a new character with totally contrasting
objectives or an event that hinders your character(s) from completing the task,
complications are a must for a series if you want it to keep your readers hooked.
They can also be anything you want, so be creative! They can prevent your characters
from going in a certain direction, forcing them to take a much more dangerous
route, they can present a minor side-task that must be completed before the
main one can be continued with, or even give them a second reason to do what
they have to do.
Here are some examples of classic complications:
1. Your characters must hunt for treasure on a faraway island. The complication
is that the island is underwater/in ruins.
2. Your character must solve a mystery. The complication is obviously
introducing numerous suspects.
3. Your characters must complete a Dark Faerie quest within twenty-four hours.
The complication is that the Faerie has one of their friends prisoner,
and if they fail or time runs out, then the prisoner becomes one of the Dark
EXERCISE TIME! No, don't gripe and moan, I promise it's a quick and
easy one to wrap things up.
Once again, I'm going to present you with another basic storyline, and this
time you have to create a complication for it. Ready?
• A secret spy decides to retire and publish his autobiography in the Neopian
Times. The complication is…
• Answer: The complication is that no one believes him!
So, basically, all complications are for you to look at your plot and think
"How can I best make things harder for my characters, and more entertaining
for my readers?"
Complications make your stories more fun to read, giving it more depth and
insight. But don't go overboard and give yourself an impossible complication
(you can't complicate example 3 by having the Dark Faerie turn time forward
twenty-four hours or make the required item vanish from existence).
There! Hopefully this article has helped give you a better knowledge of plots,
storylines, complications and the steps needed to create all these. Just keep
practising the examples and you'll soon be writing wonderfully complex epics
in no time.
Until next time, happy writing!
Author's Note: Coming Soon! Setting, Advanced Character Creation and Dialogue.
Suggestions for other Tutorials? Mail me!