Nothing beats a good story. Around a dinner table, at a party, a café or any place friends and family gather.
Once a storyteller grabs hold of willing listeners there’s no letting go until he or she delivers the payoff.
We smile, maybe clap a little and we are happy. Good story, we say. But…
What happens when after awhile the story doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere?
Storytellers and writers can have the same issue. What their stories lack may be something the writer John Gardner called profluence.
John Gardner coined the word in The Art of Fiction. Here’s what it means:
“By definition – and of aesthetic necessity – a story contains profluence, a requirement best satisfied by a sequence of causally related events, a sequence that can end in only one of two ways: in resolution … or in logical exhaustion” (53).
A story takes time, the passage of time, to develop. Profluence in writing is the feeling that events are taking place and bringing us to a logical ending.
Things are happening for a reason. They are moving us forward in the story.
“ Page 1, even if it is a page of description, raises questions, suspicions, and expectations; the mind casts forward to later pages, wondering what will come about and how. It is this casting forward that draws us from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter. At least in conventional fiction, the moment we stop caring where the story will go next, the writer has failed, and we stop reading” (55).
When a story has too much exposition: things happen, and more things happen and there doesn’t seem to be anything connecting the events themselves or to the people involved in them there’s no causality.
How many times have you stopped reading a book because you lose your way? The story stops making sense and the characters alone aren’t strong enough to pull you along.
Profluence is about pulling the reader along.
How do writers use profluence in their writing to achieve the outcome Gardner suggests is required or readers will quit reading?
I think of building plots like building houses. Houses can be built to look like anything you want but they always start with a foundation. Stories do best with a foundation as well.
Stories that don’t know where they’re going aren’t heading toward resolution. They will be hard pressed to have the kind of writing that shows profluence because the element of time-sequence will be missing.
Causality is directly related to future knowledge, which only the writer holds over the character. This advantage is the key to writing fresh, mysterious and edgy scenes for the character to enact.
Plots create drama. Plots build suspense and draw us along a winding road full of twists and turns. Plots are written to trap and rescue us, to lose and redeem us. Plots create the cause and effect a writer needs to connect the dots and deliver a satisfying end to a story.
Writing a good story is a craft. Think of the big picture: story is arc. It’s taking a character from not knowing to knowing. No amount of events can make a story interesting unless somebody learns something and changes because of that knowledge.
And that takes time. You can’t read a novel in a minute. It’s meant to take a while so the reader and the character can go on a journey together.
As for the final words on plot, I’ll leave you with the words of Mark Waid, comic book writer:
“Does Batman ever NOT have a plan…?”
Keep writing, to “The End.”
Christina for PenPaperWrite
Want to learn more about Plot, Outer Journey and Inner Journey, the Four Part Structure of the Novel, Storyboarding and how to Develop a Scene?
Go now to www.60scenes.com and register for the next 60 Scenes® Writing Method 1-Day Workshop in Atlanta, GA January 20th, 2018
“If you can write 60 scenes® you can write a novel.”
Class size limited to 10 Register here www.60scenes.com