The Plot Thickens
8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
St. Martin's Press
July 5, 2002
Buy This Book
Barnes and Noble
"The biggest mistake writers make is feeling compelled to set down their character's physical appearance immediately . . ."
"Real multidimensionality is a powerful tool for layering a character and bringing him to life. But it must be done sparingly, deliberately."
"The great tragedy of human life is that we allow ourselves to be distracted by these surface journeys and believe them to be the profound journeys."
The word “plot” strikes fear and futility among many writers. The usual definitions imply that one must first have a “great idea.”
Noah Lukeman quickly shows us that “plot” is about much more than having a single great idea.
In his new book, THE PLOT THICKENS, 8 WAYS TO BRING FICTION TO LIFE (St. Martin’s Press, 2002), this experienced literary agent explains that “. . . a good plot is an amalgamation of many ideas or elements of writing, including characterization, journey, suspense, conflict, and context.”
THE PLOT THICKENS is one of the best-ever books about the craft of writing. Lukeman covers the elements of plot in a thoroughly fresh, accessible way.
His chapter on “Characterization: The Outer Life,” for example, reaches beyond the usual traits of speech, appearance, and superficial background profiles. Lukeman shows the writer how to draw an in-depth portrait through the eyes of people in the character’s life–employer, banker, teacher, matchmaker, and so on.
The next chapter, “Characterization: The Inner Life” turns to questions about detailed inner characteristics such as artistic impulse, ideology, relationship not only to family, but to authority, foods, charity, and more. Then Lukeman asks us to look at the discrepancies between the character’s inner and outer lives as a way to build more interesting, multidimensional story people.
In his discussion of “The Journey,” Lukeman says: “As you begin to tell your story, the first thing you’ll find is that story telling is not about giving away information, but about withholding it; the information itself is never as important as the path you take in disseminating it. . . . The destination, we find, is never as important as the journey itself.”
Here he describes two types of journeys—the “Profound Journey,” always about realization and actions based on realization; and the “Surface Journey,” a societally acceptable marker of growth, such as losing fifty pounds, or climbing within one’s company. He even explains why we as readers and viewers need a journey at all, why we crave and demand it of our characters.
He goes on to define suspense and conflict, then sheds new light on the little-talked-about element of “context.”
“There comes a time in writing when you must step back from the beauty of the individual word or line and make a judgment on its context. . . . within the work as a whole,” says Lukeman. “Writing is a symphony: Nothing stands on its own, and everything must eventually be judged inasmuch as it aids (or detracts from) everything else.”
In “Transcendency,” the final chapter before the Epilogue, the author teaches that the ideal work takes the audience through four stages—curiosity, interest, need, and action.
Books such as MOBY DICK, ROMEO AND JULIET, and films such as ON THE WATERFRONT prevail because “. . . they all tapped universal, timeless truths and facets of the human condition.
“Great writing leads us to look inside. It makes us feel not only educated, but also self-aware, enlightened,” says Lukeman.
“Stories are necessary . . . like food or water . . . . Stories in all forms . . .can change lives. They can motivate, inspire, offer an enhanced sense of life, an example of how to
live. . . .
“It all lies before you on the blank page,” Lukeman implores. “. . . Nothing is stopping you from changing the world.”
THE PLOT THICKENS is a book that can change the world of every writer who embraces his ideas. Noah Lukeman’s classroom on paper should be on every writer’s shelf to be read again and again. This book will push the writer to his or her limits and force them to explore every last aspect of the work. The book is a personal gift from a master agent who truly cares not only about the written word, but most of all, about the people who struggle to convey ideas upon the printed page.
Reviewer: Doris Booth