I used to read all kinds of writing about plot. When I started I just wrote whatever was interesting and carried on from where I left off the day before. I ended up with huge amounts of text only loosely connected to each other. There was no organisation. I thought it was because there was no plot, but it wasn’t. I knew how things tied together. It’s just that I hadn’t organised it so someone else could see that.
Thinking in terms of plot meant looking at the writing in a different, more conscious way, as a collage of events. The events of the plot could put laid end to end on a timeline, but how they related was more interesting than that and required that they move around a bit. This process turns plot points into interesting narratives.
If you aren’t able to think up a story by yourself for some reason, these days you can use a plot generator to come up with a sequence of events that follow the basic shape of a story. This is an algorithm which combines suggested words (you do have to put something into it) and situations according to basic rules. These generators are fairly rough and feeble copies of the engine every reading and TV-watching human already has in their minds. Years of observation has ingrained it into your brain.
If you are a well-educated human in the Western tradition then you will have already absorbed the fundamental story structures of this culture and can, at a second’s notice, punt out story fragments until you collapse from exhaustion. They might not be terrific or cohesive in the raw, but the system is there. Great! Or not. Probably, as soon as you get stuck into making your own work the first thing you will want to do with this is break it. When you come back from the fun mines and want to be published however, you’ll have to put it back together again somewhat.
Plot and story structure can be analysed in great detail but they are essentially fractal. A fractal is a shape or figure, every part of which shares the same characteristics as the whole. The story fractal is Beginning Middle End. Or Condition Upset Resolution. Or Open Explore Conclude. It’s a temporal structure, no matter how much you mess with the narrative timeline in the way the tale gets told. Something-Expansion-Contraction.
I think that it also contains a Golden Ratio feature. (From Wikipedia, “The Golden ratio is a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part.”) Critical events of any story fractal need to reach their maximum crisis somewhere near the Golden Ratio for maximum satisfaction. I have no proof of this, it’s just my observation from reading and writing. I feel an inner sense of timing in operation as I write in the same way that I feel I want to naturally put the objects of interest near or along the Golden Section in a picture or photograph.
The plot is raw events on a cause and effect timescale. The narrative is where you put it together into something fancy. Where you put things in a story has a huge impact on how they are received – not just the big things, but everything that contributes to the whole picture. We all have endless plot and a machine to structure it as standard. Getting better with handling plot and making it into great narrative requires a lot of playing around practicing. You don’t have to be Nerd Analyst to do that, I just happen to enjoy thinking this way about it.