Lindsay: Hello, welcome to another exciting episode. Episode two of the audio drama writers, independent toolkit.
Lindsay: I am Lindsay.
Sarah: And hello,I’m Sarah.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome back: today, we are going to talk about plot.
Sarah: Yes. Now some people have talked about being a plotter versus a pantser, people who can fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to writing, or, plot intricately.
Lindsay: Yes, I, um, I have very strong feelings about being a plotter versus a pantser because I have been both at different times of my life. And maybe we can dedicate an episode to that in the future, because I think that debate makes some writers stay stuck.
Lindsay: Um, so we can talk about that another time. Today, we’re going to talk about plot and some strategies for making it yours. So, what do we think of when we hear the word plot? For me, literally, it sounds like plop. The first thing I think of is a funeral plot. Um, the other thing that I have that comes to mind is when Hamlet and his buddies swear on their swords, that they won’t tell anybody about the ghost.
There may be spoilers for Hamlet. I’m sorry if I ruined it for you.
Sarah: It’s a great show; you should invest time in that, it’s quite fun.
Lindsay: Yeah. So Sarah, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word plot
Sarah: Gunpowder! , uh, grave. It makes me think of the time that my, my great aunt’s cousin showed me the place that she’d be buried in and now, bless her, she is, may she rest in peace. And what I’m, from my writing, well, spiderwebs. Um, that are far too intricate and ridiculous. Um, as, as demonstrated what I’m just talking about and, and that’s a problem , I’m just working through, I have far too much. Plot and spider webbing going on sometimes. Um, it just is all too much.
Lindsay: It’s sort of interesting. You think about it as a spider web because it’s, are you seeing like different ways the plots can go?
Sarah: Yeah. It’s the signposting and the bits connecting and then there’s. Broken bits and bits that’s just- more intricate. And yeah, I feel that’s my writing it’s sprawling and, and can, can be added to with, with spiders mating gently in the corner. So yeah, it’s, uh, who’s going to catch the fly,
Lindsay: you know, I, I think that that’s actually, it’s, it’s a great analogy because … It’s a great analogy. And, but also I want to find a way to make it clearer for you because I can see why you, why you would think that
Lindsay: Yeah, we’re gonna, we’re gonna work on that and move forward.
Okay. So what are some other words for plot? Maybe scheme is a better word. Plot is simply, you know, we can think about things like plot, conspiracy, scheme, plan: plot is simply how you get where you’re going. Now the, the, your, your web analogy is interesting because often you have things coming in from different angles, as somebody is moving from point a to point B to point C.
So anyway, um, I’m going to cut to the chase and give everybody a basic exercise for understanding plot and how to use it. And once we start from there, We’re going to start with something that’s boring and then we’re going to make it more interesting from there.
Sarah: Exciting. So, grab a pen, grab an iPad, grab something to, to note down things in we’re going to make you work, now, we’ll make you sweat.
Lindsay: Plot is simply how you get from point a to point B to point C. So a basic exercise for understanding plot and how to use it. You’re going to write one sentence. And again, this is the part where we try to get everybody, uh, you know, get to actually doing the work. You’re going to write one sentence. It’s a long one. So hang in there. I got this from Doug Wright who wrote Quills and I Am My Own Wife, and the sentence is, hang in there. Trust me. Person must verb in order to achieve goal, they come up against an obstacle and end up condition.
Sarah: Okay. Hey, so you’re given this wonderful example of Rudyard Funn must get the body in the coffin in the ground on time in order to preserve his family funeral parlor, but he comes up against Eric Chapman and he ends up risking the loss of his business.
Lindsay: Exactly. So. As soon as you have that sentence, you can apply it to nearly any movie you’ve ever seen. Any TV show you’ve ever watched any most audio dramas you’ve ever heard
Sarah: groovy. So can you do that for your own current work? Uh, that’s the first task for you to do, do we do want to reiterate
Lindsay: your life easier?
Sarah: D’you want to reiterate the sentence one more time, Lindsay.
Lindsay: Yup. Okay. So it is person must verb in order to achieve goal, they come up against obstacle and end up condition. I’m sorry it sounds like math.
Sarah: But it’s structure! This is what we are trying to do is to create some kind of graspable structure to create drama and conflict and excitement.
Lindsay: the more of a structure that you have. The easier it is for you to play in the margins or not in the margins. As long as you have a strong foundation, then you can decorate
Sarah: Superb. So, yeah, it’s like having a, you know, a body to, if you got earlobes, , you can get earrings. Is that the,
Lindsay: yes. If you’ve got earlobes, then you can get earrings, but you also have to have ears, and a head first
Sarah: does help .Superb.,
Lindsay: you know, we’re really, we’re really thinking in a very limited fashion because there’s all kinds of things you can pierce.
Sarah: Wow. We weren’t go into -how many piercings you have?
Lindsay: Yes. Let’s… not. Okay. Wooden Overcoats is a great example. Because it’s so tightly
Sarah: it’s beautiful. It’s shiny. It’s, it’s a beacon, a beacon of beautiful structure. Yes,
Lindsay: it really is. And if you listen to it, every episode is everything comes back on itself, which we’re going to get into.
Um, I mean, that’s one of the things that makes a joke great, is that a joke pays off what is set up at the beginning. We’ll talk about struc- about setup and pay off later on, but the example that I wanted people to listen to in advance, if you haven’t listened to it, you can go ahead and listen to it now is an episode of The Truth podcast and it is called. Can You Help Me Find My Mom? It’s written by Diana McCorry and produced by Jonathan Mitchell. And it is. Um, if, if you weren’t listening to the first episode, we’re going to give you a little bit of a warning. It does, uh, have the sound of a child in distress, and it does have the sound, uh, sound of a child being restrained against her will.
So if those are things that are going to be too much, don’t listen to it. But, uh, anyway, Sarah, you recommended this one. What did you love most about this episode?
Sarah: I loved it because of the journey it took me on and trying to… Be the detective in it. I think it’s like working out,
Sarah: If this child, what is happening to them, why is this person following them?
What, why are people reacting to this child in this strange and cold way? You know, this child is in trouble. I don’t understand why there’s this connection. That’s not quite as I would expect, um, when she’s in trouble and goes into the shop and people are kind of ignoring her, she’s asking for help. And people are like, I haven’t got time for this now, you know, it’s like, what’s what, what is happening?
And just the beautiful way that it’s gently unfurling, and there’s clues in there as well when you know the,
Lindsay: but that’s another thing about that opening, is also that the kid is more articulate than we would expect a voice that young to be
Sarah: True. The language.
Lindsay: Kid starts speaking in Spanish!
Sarah: Yes. And beautifully.
Sarah: Yes, yes, yes.
Sarah: And that was a beautiful moment as well as like, Oh, is that how they’re speaking all the time? And we’ve just kind of got this connection between her and then the, um, the shop owner as well, speaks back to her and, and she understands everything. Yeah. So there was this really.
Fantastic moments of, of questioning, you know, who is this person? I can’t wait to find out what the drama is going to, to turn into, like, um, and it was all about the identity of, of especially this character. And then we’re introduced to someone coming to visit her and you’re thinking, okay, well, where are they visiting her? has she been, like incarcerated. Is she in.
Sarah: Some kind of trouble, you know, and, um, and then just how the manner in which that person then speaks to her, you start to think, okay, well, this is someone who obviously cares and knows about, uh, um, and yeah, I think then we hear about the, the different talent that this person already has.
Lindsay: Yeah. And it really goes from chaos to, it goes from chaos to, to peace. Yeah. Chaos through structure to peace. And also it goes from feeling terrified and scared and alone and attacked to nurtured and loved and feeling safe.
Lindsay: So in any case I think at this point, okay. A spoiler warning. I’m just going to get the plot out of the way for people who say, yeah, I don’t want to take the time to listen to this.
Just get to the exercise. Basically what happens is, as it opens, you hear the voice of a little girl on a busy street saying, can you help me find my mom? Can you help me find my mom, can you help me find my mom? Excuse me. I’m lost. Can you help me find my mom and everybody around her is just saying like, Oh yeah, no, sorry. Um. Don’t know who you are. Don’t want anything to do with you. And they’re just brushing her off in a way that is so confusing to the listener. Why would anybody talk to a little kid like that? She finally. Uh, and there’s also a guy in a van following her saying, Hey, get in the van, honey,
Sarah: just frightening.
Lindsay: Get in the van, honey, which is, you know, brings up all of our fears of child abduction and just makes you go, Oh God. And, uh, then she runs into a store. Everybody in the store is speaking Spanish. And suddenly she hops into fluent Spanish with them and says, I need you to help me find my mom. There’s a guy outside following me. I don’t know what to do. And she ends up getting grabbed and put in the van and taken away somewhere. And then she gets there and over the course of it, as the story unfolds. And Sarah, I like that you used the term unfolds because. We just get gradual bits of more and more gentle information as it continues that she, um, a woman visits her and says, I’m here to see you.
I hear you had a rough day, why don’t we go for a walk, takes her to a room with a piano and the child is suddenly able to play piano.
Sarah: Makes me cry. Just someone I’m filling up now, just thinking about it. Cause it’s such a beautiful tune as well. Yeah.
Lindsay: Yeah. The kid can play piano like a virt- like, the kid can play pret- not like virtuoso, but like somebody who’s been playing their-who- a long life, like 40 years of piano, 60 years of piano and the, and it turns out, of course the child’s voice is an adult woman who is suffering from dementia. And when she’s saying, can you help me find my mom? What she really means is can you help me find safety?
Lindsay: And the, the woman who’s visited her is her daughter. And it’s, it’s a lovely story told very beautifully
Sarah: and less than 10 minutes, I think isn’t it. It’s about 10 minutes story, something
Lindsay: Yeah. It’s very short. It’s very short and it’s, uh, I, in any case let’s get to as much as you and I love this story. I would love to get weepy about it and people should, because it’s a lovely experience. Let’s break it down. Okay. How is, “Can you help me find my mom” a good example of “person must verb in order to achieve goal, come up against obstacle.” How is it our plot sentence? How does that, and “Can you help me find my mom?”, How do those fit together? So basically what you have is you have a person who is lost and scared must try to find her mom in order to feel safe. She wants to find her mom in order to feel safe, but she comes up against people who don’t understand her.
She comes up against people who challenge her. She comes up against language barriers. She comes up against a guy in a van following her. She comes up against unfamiliarity and trusts this woman to take a video of her playing piano. So that she can find the emotional safety that we feel when we think of the word mom.
So the girl is scared and she has to learn to- and she also, she has to learn to own her fear and hold onto it, but also trust other people.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And just, just to bring in there. So that’s the summary of there’s the, the, the three act version, if you like the structure, but you’ve also written about a five act version.
Um, d’ya want to explain that in a little bit more detail with the same source material.
Lindsay: Sure. So a five act version is when a person has to, when a person has to do something in order to achieve a goal and they have to fail. And learn something and then come back and try again. I’m oversimplifying, but stick with me.
The three-act version of, can you help me find my mom would be that this girl wants to find her mother. So she’s running around, outside in the outside world. This girl wants to find comfort and safety. This girl wants to find her mom in order to achieve comfort and safety. So she goes running around in a busy street, running away from a guy in a van and running into a store and using her Spanish skills to ask them to call the police or something, to help her find her mom so that she can feel safe and comfortable.
And she fails. The guy in the van comes in and grabs her and says, you’re coming with me and puts her in the van and puts a seatbelt on her. And sedates her against her will. So she loses-
Lindsay: -that first battle. When she wakes up, she’s at a room, she doesn’t know where she is and there’s a woman there that she has to trust if anything is going to happen.
So that’s where you sort of have that dark night of the soul of a… that dark night of the soul of a five act drama is where your protagonist, your, your hero, your person who’s in charge here where the young girl has to say, what do I do? What resources do I have around me? What can I do next? I don’t know what to do next, but what can I learn from this moment of being trapped in a place I don’t trust?
Well, let’s look around, let’s ask questions. She says to the young woman who picks her up, what is this place? And the woman says to her, Oh, it’s a special place for special people. And we can hear a cafeteria or something in the background. And then she says to her, Hey, here’s a piano. Would you like to play it?
And as we hear the girl’s attitude change. As soon as she sees that piano, she’s like, of course I want to play that piano because a piano to her is comfort and safety.
Sarah: Yeah. And I’ve got to add that, that this, the song itself, it goes from sort of melancholy slow to quite uplifting and happy and paced as well. And I feel that sort of echoes the story as well, which I thought was quite interesting and
Lindsay: yeah. The child’s voice becomes a little sassy. She says, I’m going to, I’m going to make a movie of you. And she looks at her and says, that’s not a camera. Or something like that. And she starts to sound, I mean, it’s still the child’s voice, but she starts to sound a little bit like a sassy 80 year old lady, going, that’s not a camera and it really warms the listener up at this point.
And we can hear where it’s going and then the voice actor starts to change.
Lindsay: And I can’t remember where it’s very subtle, the change from the little girl to the older woman.
Lindsay: And it’s wonderful. I don’t even, I can’t even tell exactly where she changes, but once she does remember where she is, she’s talking to her daughter and she’s saying, Oh, I didn’t have any food for you. I’m so sorry.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and that whole section, as well as like, uh, look at this music video we just made and that’s our first touch out of looking at the video and realizing that, you know, and you hear that played back again. So you hear the guy going, Oh, you got five minutes or whatever, coming in the doorway and her old lady voice, I think that’s the first time you hear it is in the video.
Isn’t it; of they’re, they’re playing that back. And, uh, and, and you hear the confused moments of trying to work out herself, a like a, a, you know, about the, the, the woman she’s talking to has kids that they’re- “did I come to the wedding?” and she’s, she’s just trying to work out the puzzle bits to, to bring them together.
And yeah. Honestly makes me sob every time I,
Lindsay: yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, she hasn’t found literal mom, but what she has found is comfort and safety.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah,
Lindsay: and I don’t know. So anyway, so. Sarah, and I will go have a long cry about this later on, “did you hear the part where they did the thing?” But in any case, yes, that’s five act drama, basically the, you know, yeah. That’s five act drama in a nutshell,
Sarah: something to think about, isn’t it. I mean, as, as you know, I’m sure if you’re writing here that really all drama, all stories are the science of how a person got from point a to point Zed or Z depending where you’re from and what you learned along the way. Yes.
Lindsay: Yes. And it’s, it’s, it’s very much, um, it’s basically just a person- It’s all of drama is if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
Lindsay: which is why this is such bad advice, but I’m going to give it anyway. Watch fail videos,
Lindsay: Fail videos are, if you don’t know what a fail video is, Google it: fail videos are where are, as we say around here, hold my beer and watch this basically where it’s a video of somebody saying I’m going to try to do something and they end up failing.
Sarah: Yeah, I don’t like those bike accident ones. It just, yeah,
Lindsay: no, those are awful.
Sarah: Oh, watch out. .
Lindsay: Yeah. I have to admit, I, I, I. I don’t like to watch them, but when I see them.
I do get that visceral “oh, no” moment. And it’s a, yeah, fail, fail videos are basically where somebody somebody’s got a camera. Somebody tries to do something like they, you know, they, they, a big proud guy says, I’m going to jump off this roof, bounce off my kid’s trampoline and land in the swimming pool. And as he’s in mid-air, somebody walks through carrying a rake and he gets impaled.
Sarah: Aaaaowweenow! That though, you know, if you’re writing can have the same impact as those visuals and that wow. Yeah, scary, exciting.
Lindsay: Well, that’s because of a thing called mirror neurons, which is one of my favorite pieces of trivia, but we can talk about if people are interested in, in mirror neurons, we can talk about them at another time.
Um, but anyway, but yeah, fail videos are the essence of drama. You have somebody who says I’m going to do, I mean, three act drama. I’m going to do X. And then Y comes through and says, you want to bet. And they end up in a changed state. And this is why we love drama, because we want to see that Petri dish, that emotional and psychological Petri dish of human reaction.
We want to see people try to do something and either fail or succeed. And figure out why. So, um, one of the things that also is food for thought, just in general, um, if you watch videos of Rube Goldberg devices or Heath Robinson contraptions.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. They’re amazing.
Some of the intricacies, or even just simple, I just think, yeah, the Domino’s starting and creating crazy things.
It just also. Fascinating too, but yeah, there’s, you’ve got some great source material for folks to explore, which we’ll put links to in the show notes. So what would you recommend folks look for if they have no idea what those things are?
Lindsay: If you have no idea what I’m talking about, um, if you look up the band, OK Go. They’re , if you look them up on YouTube, the video for the song, “This Too Shall Pass” is a giant contraption. That’s all things like, you know, the bowling ball lands on the, you know, the bowling ball lands on the rubber ducky, the rubber ducky, squirts water, the water hits the, you know, the thing and the boat goes flying along and that’s all about action.
And action and reaction. And if you think about how, as you’re writing your stories, if you think about how pieces fall into place, that cause other things to happen, maybe that’s why you think about spiderwebs when it comes to plot. Um, But another, another thing to watch is, uh, Wallace. And Gromit, doesn’t he?
Lindsay: Do whole lot of those , like, just to eat breakfast and it’s like that
he’s got all of his contraptions
Sarah: and there’s that lovely bit from Chitty bang, bang, where he makes his breakfast. I do like this
Lindsay: and that’s, that’s in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure too. I think, I think there’s one in there. Yeah. Um, all- , he goes through this whole big thing, making waffles and bacon or something, and then pours Mr. T cereal on top of the whole thing. Eats one bite and leaves.
Sarah: And that’s the thing is the thing of like, what if that thing doesn’t touch that thing? Well, what if that feather doesn’t brush and make enough wind? So there is the drama and that excitement isn’t necessarily. Yeah. Watch those folks. You have permission to stop the podcast and go watch and come back.
Lindsay: Please. Yes. Um, another, this was the big breakthrough moment in my, in my, in my playwriting career. When I was getting my MFA, my, um, when I was getting my MFA. Yes, I am that person who worked so hard in graduate school that they’re like, that- now they will never let anybody else forget it. And I treat it like I’ve got a PhD in astrophysics from.
Sarah: I hope you know that I am bowing all the way through this podcast, I haven’t stood up. Have to fully no, no.
Lindsay: Don’t it’s totally not.
Sarah: Thank you, mum.
Lindsay: Yeah. Well in any case, okay, sorry. A big breakthrough moment. My advisor was constantly hammering away about the difference between action and activity. And action is what makes the plot move forward.
Activity is things you do. Like, for example, if you know, lady Snodgrass crosses to the bar and pours herself, another drink,
Lindsay: And then crosses back to the love seat and sits down. That’s an activity. If she’s just killing time waiting for, you know, Colonel Pepperfeather to come into the room.
Sarah: Oh, I say It just got exciting!
Lindsay: You like that?, but if, uh, but if Lady Snodgrass goes to pour herself a drink,
Lindsay: um, pours her gin and tonic crosses back to the love seat, sits down and then realizes as she was at the bar, pouring herself, another gin and tonic, she saw the gardener running away with her jewels,
Sarah: Ahh! No!
Lindsay: Walking to the bar to pour a drink is an action. As opposed to an act activity.
Sarah: Yes. Bring back my diamond necklace, you fiend;
Lindsay: bring back my diamond necklace. darling So in any case, but. It, what happened was when I was at Temple, all of the technical theater students were required to build these Rube Goldberg devices. Each of them had to build their own, and it was their own original one.
And they were all presented in a big show at the end of the year. And they were wonderful and they were all things like, you know, the marble falls on the ukulele a certain way and makes it play or whatever, and all of these wonderful things. And basically what it boils down to as you’re looking at a Rube Goldberg device, if the ball falls on the teeter-totter and makes it.
Go up and hit something else. Then it’s an action. But if the ball falls on the ukulele and just makes it go, , bong bong bong, . That little tune is an activity. It’s cute. It’s clever, but it’s not moving the plot forward. And unfortunately, a lot of times what writers tend to do is they tend to. Get really bogged down in clever banter or just sorta cute character stuff that takes up a lot of time, but it doesn’t move the plot forward.
Sarah: Yes. Yeah. This is one of my issues I do feel. I’m going to say it, . And I think we should end this episode here and do a second one on plot. Um, starting off with the Dan Harmon thing, because
Lindsay: I think you’re right
Sarah: We’re at 30 minutes and I know we’ve done a little bit of that, but I think that would be a useful place to stop.
So should we just do a.
Lindsay: I think that’s a very wise idea.
Sarah: Yeah. Okay.
Sarah: So, there’s so much in this episode for you to have an explore; so I hope you can get a chance to, to, for your own, uh, writing development in the moment, have a go at writing those three plot structures, those five act three act structures or five act structures, and have a look at those beautiful, a Rube Goldberg devices and Heath Robinson contraptions.
We’ll put links on our website and I do want to also. Um, tell you a joke, just, um, so we have a little bit of a rounding, which is why do we tell actors to break a leg?
Lindsay: I don’t know why
Sarah: because every play has a cast. So there we go. We’ll finish on that note today and continue to look at plot starting off the next episode with the Dan Harmon.
Lindsay: Yeah. We’re going to talk about
Lindsay: Dan Harmon. We’re going to talk about community. We’re going to talk about a bunch of stuff and thank you so much for listening. If you want, you can have a look at our website, which is add A D W I T . ORG and, uh, or you can reach out to us. And in the meantime, just sit around and write a whole bunch of plot sentences. It’ll feel good.
Sarah: Do it groovy. We’ll see you next time. Thank you. Bye-bye