Shallow plot

Question: My plot seems very shallow. It’s about a thirteen year old artist who gets sent away to an island for the summer by her parents. The reason is because both of her parents have vacations in separate places. Also, she lost an art contest in the beginning because she can’t paint animals. Can you please help me?

Answer: What you have is not a plot. It's a situation. Here's how to turn it into a plot...

1. Develop your main character a little. What does she want most in life? Or what does she have that she could not stand to lose? What personal problem does she need to resolve or overcome because it's holding her back?

2. What goes wrong? What new threat or opportunity will arise on the island that will challenge your main character and force her to grow? It could be an opportunity to get the thing she wants, a threat to something she has and values, or something that will force her to face her inner weakness and overcome it.

Every plot revolves around a basic problem, which combines...

a) A goal. Ask yourself what a good/happy ending would look like for the character and/or the story world. What outcome will she strive for? That's the goal.

b) A consequence: Ask yourself what a bad/tragic ending would look like for the character and/or the story world. What outcome is your character trying to avoid? That's the consequence.

Once you know basic story problem, you can build a plot that tells the story of how your character deals with the story problem. In a story with a happy ending, she will achieve the goal. In a tragedy,
she will fail and the consequence will occur instead.

In building the plot, you will need some other elements such as...

1. Requirements. What accomplishments along the way are necessary for the the main character to reach the goal? What signs will indicate she is making progress?

2. Forewarnings. What setbacks will occur along the way? What signs are there that she might fail?

3. Obstacles. What stands in the way of your character achieving the goal (people, rules, terrain, etc.)?

4. What will help her (e.g. allies, items, resources, etc.)?

You want to alternate all these elements as your plot builds to a crisis in which your character seizes control of the situation or makes the inner change necessary to achieve victory. Or (in the case of a tragedy) your character will make fatal error or fail to overcome her inner weakness at the crisis, which leads to the consequence.

For example, if your character's biggest challenge is her inability to paint animals, then you may want her to show her working to overcome that challenge. Then, at the crisis, her new skill may be the key to solving the story problem -- whatever opportunity or threat arises on the island.

Now, if you want to add greater emotional depth to the story, consider giving her an inner conflict as well. Is there something inside her that is preventing her from developing her skill at painting animals -- a fear, a way of thinking or reacting, etc.?

Could she meet someone on the island who is opposite to her who could show her a different approach or inspire her to grow? (Is that why she was sent to the island?)

Best of luck.

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