From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The 2 Levels of Plot: A Lesson from Up

Today I wanted to talk about a principle we've been discussing in the creative writing class. It actually really helps me understand better how to access a story, and make it relatable.

We've been looking at plot and story in two levels. The top level is the more overarching issue or problem, maybe the more abstract one, the larger one. The lower level is the day-to-day problem, the seemingly more mundane or less important one. It seems like approaching a story or character from the higher problem would be the best way to go, but actually its opposite. I'm sure there are a whole bunch of deep psychological reasons why, but as outsiders/readers we tend not to really care about the higher problem until we care about the character, and we care about the character through the day-to-day problem. Even if we do care about the larger issue, its just easier to get a specific hold on it when we've got a hold on the smaller issue.

To illustrate what I mean I'm gonna use one of the greatest characters ever created.

Russell's larger issue is that his family is somewhat absent. He's trying to do the best he can on his own, and doesn't get much attention. But this issue is only directly addressed a little bit, and only towards the end of the movie. We are introduced to and care more about Russell because of his day-to-day issue: he just wants his badge.

The two issues are related. He wants his badge, but is having a little trouble with it because he's not getting much help from his dad. The little kid wanting his badge is something we can all understand, appreciate and relate to. Not only that, but it helps us get a specific understanding of the larger absent family issues.

So when you're stuck, when you have a minor case of writers block, one of the best ways I've found to get unstuck is to bring things back to the day-to-day problem. It keeps the reader involved in the story, and moves it forward. Then its amazing how naturally the story itself leads to connections with higher, deeper problems. And you end up with an interesting, relatable and well-rounded story.

What do you think? Do you agree? What are some of the day-to-day problems in your story?

Sarah Allen


  1. I agree with this. Don't just show me the end of the world, show me that one guy trying to get back to his family before it hits.

  2. It's not a bad idea. This reminds me of the 'ordinary world' vs the 'extraordinary world'.

    In my story, the ordinary world (day to day issues) was a young man who's worst days were when the old lady kicked the produce cart and grumbled about prices. And having to take the teasing of two local girls because he worked and they didn't.

    The extraordinary world is one full of airships, magic, and time travel. Not the place one would normally find a "dirt farmer'.

  3. This was great! thank you! would love you ro follw and read mine!


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