The Little Plotline that Could

You sure can, little guy.Last week, after months of being pestered by different friends, I finally checked out the pilot to the A&E show Breaking Bad. If you haven’t seen it, Breaking Bad stars Bryan Cranston (known mostly as Hal, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle) as Walter White, a down-and-out high school chemistry teacher who, after being diagnosed with stage-three terminal cancer and realizing he has no way to leave an inheritance for his wife and family, decides to try his hand at making crystal meth.

The show probably isn’t for everyone, but I was completely sucked in by the first episode. And do you want to know why? Because it’s got a plot concept that drives the action like a souped-up Formula 1 racecar.

This blog will feature many more discussions of plot, so I won’t go too overboard in this post. I will say, however, that a setup for a story such as that of Breaking Bad is the perfect example of both the high concept plot and a premise that can really drive forward the action. When telling people what the show was about, I could see instant reactions. Some said, “That sounds awesome.” Some said, “That sounds too depressing.” But everyone agreed the show sounded unique, fascinating, and worth checking out.

And in beginning with such a rich setup, the action that follows can almost write itself. The mind quickly wanders to what could happen next. There’s instant sympathy for the main character and the tough decisions the audience knows he’s going to have to face.

Not every story will have a plot as instantly engaging as that of Breaking Bad. Not every story will have the roaring engine, either. But whether you write about a man desperate enough to put his life on the line or something as simple as a coming-of-age story of friendship, you should still have an engine in your story that will drive the tale forward and make people want to keep reading.

Can you do it? I, for one, think you can, I think you can, I think you can…

  1. Great post, Chris. It’s so true. I’m writing the second in a series of mysteries, and I loved the first one so much I keep thinking the sophomore effort can’t stack up. The plot doesn’t seem to be as wonderful. It’s kind of like looking at your firstborn and thinking any subsequent children will never compare. Of course, they do (thank goodness!), but while you’re pregnant, you have your doubts.

    I keep thinking, is the plot for this one as good as the last? I suppose that’s the woe of the first draft. It’s a rough sketch. You don’t see the full painting in all its beauty until after revisions have been made. If you feel you’ve got the kernel of a good plot, you probably do. Trust yourself and go with the flow. Think you can!!!


  2. Great post, Chris! I love it when you just…you FEEL the opening scene! I find that the books that wake me up in the middle of the night with a BAM opener are the ones that flow and work the best.

    Debra, I’ve noticed something similar with my books as well. I always, always, always compare them to book 1. Of my paranormal thriller, the plot of book 2 isn’t quite as exciting. It’s still going to be fun, but it’s not going to be quite as INTENSE! I’m still just as excited about it, but there’s going to be no possessions or exorcisms in this one. *evil laugh* Other things, but not those.

    With my YA series, the plot keeps getting more and more intense! I stay up, getting excited as scenes and dialogue segments run through my head. I feel like the dark puppeteer, rubbing my hands together and thinking, “Muahahaha! What can I do to these lovely, little creatures this time! Muahahaha!”


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  4. Great post! Yes, plot can be such a slippery slope for writers, and getting over that moment of extreme fear and self-consciousness and just going for it is quite the fun ride!


  5. Great post. Plot is one of the hardest things to get a handle on. It seems that lately I’ve read stories with great plots but little character development or vice versa. I love plot driven novels, but sometimes you really want to get to know the characters…


  6. Oh, I look forward to the plot posts.


    Plotting is not my greatest strength.

    I love starting off–it’s finishing strong that is tough.


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