James Bell Scott in his excellent book, “Plot & Structure” defines plot very simply: “The what happens is your plot”. What happens? In my editing of “The 12th Demon” I learned some powerful lessons about plot and today I wanted to talk about the three “C”s of plot.
Is you plot coherent? Is it believable? Does it make sense? In one scene in my upcoming book, I have a new character grab two men by the neck and use them like clubs to knock people out of his way. Now, that might work for the Hulk, but it is not a real life possibility. I had to change this part of my plot because it was not believable.
In “The 13th Demon” I originally had an angel appear and save the day. But, my editor suggested this was too much of a deus ex machina. What is this? Here is what our venerable Wikipedia has to say:
“god out of the machine” is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.
Such a device is not coherent, it does not make sense and is too far fetched to be believable. Make sure your plot stays believable in the context of your story. Plot movement should make sense based on what has happened just before. If I wanted to bring in an angel, I needed to hint early on that such an intervention was possible so the audience would then be anticipating such an event.
Does your plot hold together? Or, is it full of “plot holes”? In “The 12th Demon” I somehow had to get my main characters from Dallas, Texas to a foreign country. I couldn’t just drop them out of the air into the fray in, say, Transylvania. There had to be a reasonable string of actions leading to them arriving in the foreign country.
Also, there was an object/person very important to the final events in the book that I planted early on in the story. My editor heaped effusive praise on me for carefully planting this object early on so when it did appear it was not out of the blue but its journey through the story to the final events held together and made sense. That part of my story was cohesive.
For instance, Spock just happens to be on the very ice planet that Cadet Kirk is exiled to by the alternate time line Spock and there just happens to be a Federation Outpost with, wait for it, Lt. Montgomery Scott who just happens to have an old shuttle that just happens to have a transporter that can be configured to beam Kirk and Scott back onto . . . well you get it.
Continuity as it applies to characters. Because, characters can be used to advance the plot. In “The 12th Demon” I introduce an attorney whose function early on is to create a tension between Jonathan Steel and Josh Knight over the guardian issue. But, I also used this person in later plot developments. He became my “whipping boy”. Problem was, once I used him to advance plot I violated his basic character. In each subsequent scene he seemed to be a totally different person from the scene before. His character lacked continuity. I had to go back and recreate his character and make sure his use as a plot device showed continuity with his character.
So, there you have it. I learned these three “C”s in my editorial process. Make sure your plot is believable, that is COHERENT. Make sure your plot holds together without plot holes and is COHESIVE. And, finally, make sure your plot shows continuity particular with your characters.
Next, I’ll finish up with a discussion of those “characters”.