Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

Digging Up a Plot

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro 

October 2014

Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink

“A lot of violent plot points can happen in a fairy tale.”

As kids, we began reading stories that ended “they lived happily ever after.” Think about it. Even if Red Riding Hood and her grandma were eaten by the Big Bad Wolf, (that’s in the French version) a woodsman cuts the wolf open and out spring Red Riding Hood and her mother, not even goopy with the wolf’s digestive juices. A lot of violent plot points can happen in a fairy tale. Rapunzel’s prince climbs her enviable hair to her tower window to free her, but when he gets to her window, he’s horrified to find the wicked witch and Rapunzel’s lopped off hair, with his love nowhere in sight. In despair, he drops to the ground, thorns scratching his eyes, and ends up blind, wandering for months. Then, lo and behold, Rapunzel finds him and cries over him, her tears restoring his sight. He takes her to his kingdom where they live happily ever after. (In some versions, she’s birthed twins when they reunite, making it an even happier ending.)

You need to complicate the relationship to get a stronger plot. Maybe Red Riding Hood’s parents are so freaked out that they don’t trust that she’s learned her lesson and they put so many constraints on her, that all she can think of is taking up with a wolf. When she gets old enough, that’s just what she does, until she falls in love with a guy who is doing tree work at her house, and then has to decide who to extricate herself from. Or Rapunzel is living happily ever after with her prince until he loses sight of his love for her, and takes up with a Lady in Waiting.

The story is how you get to the happy ending. Or how it turns tragic.

For there to be a story, something has to happen. Conflict is what propels story.

  1. There can be a conflict between the characters. (Rapunzel is furious about Prince Charming’s affair.)
  2. The character can have an internal conflict. internal conflict (Big Red Riding Hood develops a drinking problem from her wolf trauma.)
  3. The conflict can be between characters and an impersonal force (fire, flood, storm, disease, or Godzilla.)
“Don’t let your characters become happily ever after too soon!”

“Nothing happens until something moves,” Einstein said. Don’t let your characters become happily ever after too soon!

  1. Decide what your character wants and do everything to prevent him getting it until you’re ready for the denouement, the wind-down after the big crisis. Think of his obstacles, and keep upping the ante.
  2. Force your character to bust out of his character, something that he never in a zillion years would do, that he is uncomfortable with, or doesn’t feel capable of.

How to set up your plot:

  1. You can let the reader get to know your characters and fully understand the conflict.
  2. The reader gets to know your characters and to understand the conflict.
  3. You build the conflict to a crisis where things cannot go on as they were. Something has to change, which is the climax. The character has two choices and has to decide which one to take.
  4. In the end, you need to show or hint at point what the other road would lead to. For example, in a book I read recently and recommend highly, You Were Meant For Me by Yona Zeldis McDonnough (NAl Accent), one of the protagonists moves away and we’re given hints about his new life there.
“. . . we all need to have some kind of roadmap, something to follow.”

And oh, do I wish it was this easy. Each story seems to demand its own route and the characters will honk like crazy to get your attention. But we all need to have some kind of roadmap, something to follow as we find our own way.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s first novel, Miriam The Medium (Simon & Schuster), was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Her novel, Kaylee’s Ghost (Amazon and Nook), is an Indie Finalist. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives), and Newsweek and in many anthologies. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in The Coe Review, Compass Rose, The Griffin, Inkwell Magazine, The Iowa Review, Los Angeles Review, The MacGuffin, Memoir And, Moment, Negative Capability, Pennsylvania English, The Carolina Review, and more. She won the Brandon Memorial Literary Award from Negative Capability. Shapiro is a professional psychic who currently teaches writing at UCLA Extension.