Lon Prater (www.lonprater.com, http://lonfiction.livejournal.com) is an active duty Naval officer by day, writer of odd little tales by night. His short fiction has appeared in the Stoker-winning anthology Borderlands 5, Writers of the Future XXI, and the Origins Award finalist Frontier Cthulhu. His most recent publications include "A Road Like This, At Night" just out in latest issue of Talebones (#37) www.talebones.com and "Prelude to a Theme by Dougie Franz" in www.spacesuitsandsixguns.com.
I’ve met and hung out with (translation: consumed alcohol with) Lon at a few conventions and enjoyed his company tremendously, and we also haunt a few common forums. It was on one of these forums that a conversation developed on the subject of Plot, Character, and Structure, and I thought his post on the subject was one of the most articulately succinct musings on the topic that I had seen in a long time, so I asked his permission to reprint here in Side Show Freaks. If you are interested in understanding (and constructing) what makes for a good story, read on. -- Edmund
“Plot is tied to structure as muscle is connected to bone. In fiction that works really well for me, character is the nervous system telling those muscles where to take that skeleton. If any one of those is out of whack your story is out of whack, diseased, or disabled. Or at least achy with a head cold and acid reflux.
So IMHO it is most helpful to look at plot holistically in conjunction with the other two. A story is the intersection of plot, character, and structure. If you are better by far at one aspect than others, use that aspect to build and design and determine the other two. (I think all writers are better in one area at first and then grow stronger in the others as they develop.)
Character determines what a protagonist or any other agent within your story wants AND how they will try to get it.
Plot is what happens to the character to bring that need to the surface AND what happens when the protagonist takes those actions.
Structure is where the story starts, climaxes and ends; what order these and other bits of story information are presented to the reader; what happens to whom in each scene; whose POV we get that scene from; and the manner in which the story is told. (a.k.a. style)
Most writers come to a story inspired by one of these aspects. The idea is just there naturally, and it is this flash of inspiration that gets them interested in writing the story in the first place. The other two aspects must be either designed with significant work and forethought or fixed once the story is far enough along that they are discovered. (Or some mélange of both.)
If you are strong on plot, you need to go the extra mile to make sure that you have built characters who will be challenged in the most interesting and surprising ways by it.
If you are best at character, the trick is figuring out the sorts of things that need to happen to reveal and transform that character on the crucible of conflict. Knowing the character means knowing how to make them motivated to change their situation over and over until they finally realize they must change themselves to succeed.”