Plotting Tips, the Scott Meredith and South Park Way

In a recent post, I linked to Peter V. Brett’s blog where he discussed some of his writing tips. He recommended people read and follow the advice found in WRITING TO SELL by Scott Meredith. As Brett mentioned (and I echo), there are times when the book appears very outdated (typewriters, submissive housewives, etc.). But there is also a lot of good advice in this book, particularly when it comes to plotting.

Meredith describes the basic plot of any story as:

A sympathetic lead character finds himself in trouble of some kind and makes active efforts to get himself out of it. Each effort, however, merely gets him deeper into his trouble, and each new obstacle in his path is larger than the last. Finally, when things look blackest and it seems certain that the lead character is finished, he manages to get out of his trouble through his own efforts, intelligence, or ingenuity.

To Meredith, what makes a novel is the fact that the plot follows a straight line: the problem leads directly to bigger problems which leads directly to the solution. Without that cause and effect relationship, Meredith says your story is nothing more than an incident: “a description of an event or series of events, and nothing more.”

Similar to what Meredith states, the creators of South Park, Matt Parker and Trey Stone, believe that proper plotting requires scenes to be joined by a “therefore” or “but.” If the only thing connecting the scenes in your story is a “and then” link, you’ve got trouble, because you’re not writing a story, you’re writing an incident.

These two pieces of information have really stuck in my brain as I’ve been reworking the plotting of my novel. You see, I’ve noticed a that portions of my story had no tension. The momentum was lost. But now I know why. These are “and then” scenes. These are incident moments. So now I’m looking over my outline, checking for the cause-and-effect plotting chain. I think the result will be a stronger story.

I hope you find these tips useful. I’d love to hear how you fix your plot problems too. Leave a comment below.