If you’ve read much about the art of writing, you know that your action has to change your main characters in some way if you want to engage and satisfy your readers. You can avoid pitfalls and take advantage of opportunities by thinking of this change as a separate, inner plot woven through your outer plot.
When your characters see something that transforms how they view the world, that’s an inner plot twist. When they’re facing some conflict that’s tearing them apart, that’s inner tension. This inner plot can and should interact with the outer plot, but it has its own pace and logic.
Of course, a lot of good, well-written and fun novels don’t pay much attention to the inner plot. Adventure novels, from Dumas’ Musketeer stories to Dan Brown’s international puzzle quests, are almost purely edge-of-your-seat action – all about the outer plot. And a lot of literary fiction – Virginia Wolfe, for instance – explores the development of the characters’ inner lives, with what little action there is forming more of a background.
But even if a story leans heavily one way or another, it will be more memorable when it works on both levels. I’ve already written a bit about the need for some external action, even in the most inner-driven novels. The reverse is true, as well. The Da Vinci Code is a romp, but by the end, Robert Langdon has come in contact with a religious faith that leaves his world a little larger. [Read more…]