April 7th, 2013 – Your story must have a plot. Most books have more than one. This plot is usually apparent within the first few pages. Consider Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library, which is probably one of the most intriguing and darkly humored openings in classic tea-cozy mysteries. It’s early morning in Gossington Hall, the maids are brewing tea and opening the drapes room by room. Mr. and Mrs. Bantry are just barely waking up. A maid cheerfully, dutifully enters the library, pulls open the drapes, turns around and nearly trips over the body of a young fair-haired girl. The maid screams, bolts out of the room. It’s one of the most simple, but informative and direct way to present the plot. Readers and movie-goers know, without a single line of dialogue and hardly any set up, know precisely what the plot is.The plot is the storyline. It’s what happens to the characters and why. In some cases, such as character-driven stories, the storyline may not be the bulk of your story, but will serve as a conduit for your reader, moving from one place to the next. Your story is the embodiment of the plot, dramatized of your idea. The subject is action and character. Action is the physical movements and “blocking” and character is who your story is about. So action is a person, in a place, doing something. Characters and their dialogue may hold the plot, the plot must be able to stand on it’s own.In creative writing, the primary principle is knowing exactly who your characters are and what your story is about. Characters like the evil stepmother, a distant friend, a silent hero and a love interest are elements that steal the hearts of audiences and keep them wanting more. Consider in the book/film The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen is pressured into a relationship with Peeta by their alcoholic mentor who knows that the audience watching the 75th Annual Hunger Games are suckers for some good drama. And as the writer, you should know too.Characters may sometimes be cliché. This is okay for starters. When The Simpsons first aired, each character was a cliché. A bumbling father, a modest mother, a brainiac sister, a trouble making brother, and an infant. These are characters audiences have seen in hundreds, if not thousands of books and movies. They may have started as clichés, with silly catchphrases, but through plot, these characters developed and audiences got to see the sensitive and heartbroken side of Bart, the trendy popular side of Lisa, and the difficulties Marge and Homer faced in marriage. Those specific little details turned a cliché family into the world’s most famous characters. They went from one-dimensional, to multi-dimensional because the writers gave them plot.With plot and characters comes your story’s setting and tone. A man smoking a cigarette clad in a fedora and trench coat flicks his ashes into the gutter. Rain pours from the brim of his hat and hard shadows are cast by the flickering of an old Diner’s fluorescent lights. The tone is dark and grungy like a mystery noir. A city full of crime, or a hot august beach town are settings and can influence a character’s behavior.For ideas, many people resort to looking in newspapers for interesting people who may be rendered into memorable characters, or an emotional article can trigger an idea for you to situate your characters in. The Travel Channel, History Channel, Biography and National Geographic also feature exotic or historical locations that could give your story an interesting dynamic. But don’t let the setting overshadow your characters or plot.Researching your setting, your characters and their personality, will give you the confidence and creativity you need to develop a catching hook, keep the middle of your novel from sagging, and weave a satisfying ending for your audience. Without proper knowledge of your content, your story may only last for a few pages before you feel it falling apart. You may sit back, procrastinate and stress about where your plot is going.Text research at libraries, jump online and read interesting news articles or unusual stories like on Crack’d.com. Learn dates, political views-especially those that differ from your own (because if you feel conflict, it will show in your story) and it will give your characters a well-rounded perspective. Read biographies, look up historical documents and be aware of local, city, state, country and international issues that may impact your characters.Live research will offer you a chance to actually experience the scene for yourself. This could help you with writing scene descriptions. Think of yourself as an actor, and you are trying to prepare for a role. If your role is a convenient store worker, you might spend some extra time in a convenient store, asking questions about stocking, products the difficulties that come with the job, the interesting, drunk or high people that come in at strange hours. Or if you are writing a book that takes place in a certain town, set yourself up on a road trip to a town that could be considered very similar. Be aware of everything from the local dialects, their attitudes, the fashion trends, foods, seasons, and everything right down to the children who play in the park, the architecture and even the sounds of crickets (or other animals) that may echo through the air. The more you know, the more you can communicate. Research is essential.