Week one of Coursera’s ‘The Craft of Plot’ discussed the differences between story and plot, the structure of plot (exposition through to denouement) and then turned its attention to the Rising Action that is oh so important in preventing your character from getting what he or she wants.
Story/Plot was explained as:
The king died and then the queen died (Story).
The king died and then the queen died of grief (Plot).
Source: E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel.
The structure of a story included an explanation of:
And then, of course, there’s the [graded] assignment:
We were asked to create a character with three wants (physical items), three reasons why they want these items, and three weaknesses. We had to write 250 words with every second sentence being a moment of rising action, and to assist us in the task, there was a list of twelve words with instructions to include one of these words in every second sentence.
Easier than it sounds, I can tell you.
There was a little confusion over whether the wants and weaknesses were meant to appear in the story, or were merely a part of developing the character, and it wasn’t until I submitted that I realised that yes, they were meant to be in there (mine were really subtle as I’m not into ‘telling’).
So, I deleted that one and started again, with a much simpler, more ‘telling’ attempt, while pushing my sentence lengths to the limit to ensure every other sentence had rising action. I think I’ve done it right. I can see three wants and weaknesses and the rising action in every second sentence, but as it’s a pass/fail assignment I need to hope the writers grading my paper can.
Here’s my attempt at the assignment anyway (I’ve emboldened the words from the list we had to use):
Elaine popped a teabag in her mug, flicked the switch on the kettle to start it boiling, and then headed to the fridge. She opened the door of the battered appliance and reached inside—no milk. Slamming the door shut she licked her parched lips, she was dying for a cup of tea.
With the nearest shop being over five miles away she had no choice but to jump aboard one of the rickety, unreliable, country buses. Patience wasn’t her strong point, and when it finally bothered to show up—seven minutes late— she gave the driver a mouthful of abuse. Her husband, God rest his soul, had warned Elaine that her filthy, foul-mouthed language would get her into trouble one day and seven years after his sad passing, he was finally proved right— the driver told her to ‘get orf his bus’—forcing her to wait for the next one.
Elaine made it to the shop—eventually—picked up one of the wheelie baskets and wandered along the aisles, trying to recall what she had gone into town for. Her memory wasn’t what it used to be, but she was sure it had something to do with tea, so she picked up all the necessary ingredients; a packet of Tetley, some store-baked shortbread, and a pint of milk.
Back home, some three hours after she had first set out, she added hot water to her cup, added a splash of milk, stirred it, squeezed the tea bag out, and then reached for her sugar bowl—no sugar.