Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning this great goddess? —Ludwig van Beethoven
When I first starting teaching workshops on plot structure, I realized that I usually had two kinds of writers in the class. The first group loved plot structure, and they were thirsty to learn and experiment with different frameworks in their writing. These were the Plot Writers. The second, much larger group, didn’t trust plots and felt that they were mostly getting in the way. They often had trouble understanding my diagrams and were quick to insist that they hated outlines. These were the Character Writers.
The Plot writers always got what I was talking about, but I quickly realized that they didn't need me. I decided that I had to find a way to explain plots to Character writers.
Exploring Plot Structure
When I was earning my MFA, I doubled down on my investigations of plot structure. As I was studying Aristotle’s foundational Poetics, I realized that the concept of plot was really no different from fate.
In Ancient Greek drama, when a character wanted to know their future, they went to consult the Oracle at Delphi. The priestess would reveal their future and that future would inevitably come to pass. (Although never in the way the person thought it would.) Along the way, the character would be forced to confront the truth about themselves and their lives.
I encouraged people to think of the plot as a silent character...one who is throwing events at a character in order to help them fulfill their fate. This is the Plot Goddess.
Plot is a silent character
The Temple of the Oracle at Delphi reportedly had the words Know Thyself inscribed over the entrance. This is the ultimate aim of the Plot Goddess. Plot, then, has intent. It wants characters to face the truth about themselves. The events of our stories are designed to reveal that truth—for better or for worse.
If you’re struggling with your plot, turn back to your characters, and consider their fates. What will they need to confront about themselves? Once you know that, it becomes easier to see how events might reveal the truth.