Plot as Process: A Storyteller's Guide

Process, Interplay - logo for Plot as Process AdobeStock_35142172.jpeg
Process, Interplay - logo for Plot as Process AdobeStock_35142172.jpeg

Plot as Process: A Storyteller's Guide


An online course to be held in the fall of 2018.

In all my decades as a performing storyteller, coach, and trainer, I’ve never been able to make much use of the conventional approaches to plot. In hundreds of books and articles, plot is treated like a list of parts:

·      A series of scenes (e.g., the episodes of the hero’s journey) or

·      A series of steps (e.g., desire/conflict/resolution) or

·      A series of stages (e.g., Freytag’s pyramid [1863]: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement).

In other words, the conventional wisdom treats plot as a thing that’s made of other things.

What’s the alternative? Well, think of the difference between a corpse (which is a thing) and a human: life. And what does it mean to be alive? Life is distinguished by the many processes that go on simultaneously, such as: respiration, circulation, the central nervous system, the endless cycles of ingestion and elimination, and so on.

Plot is much the same. It's not a series of parts to assemble. Like a living being, plot is also a series of ongoing, interlocking processes.

This “process” approach to plot opens new possibilities. It makes originality easier. It allows you to solve problems that can only be “covered over” with steps, stages, and lists of scenes.

When you learn to create your own applications of the essential processes, you will also be able to create your own effective plots. You’ll be able to adjust your story to the needs of your listeners, in light of your goals and your listeners’ expectations.

Does This Course Give All the Answers?

Nope. But I think it gives a very productive set of new questions. Instead of asking, “What are the parts of an already finished story?” it asks, “How are great stories created? 

Instead of asking “What is the best way to create a plot?” it asks, “What processes does plot use to solve problems, and how can I use those processes in a way that works for me?”

What Will You Learn?

You will learn invaluable skills and information, including:

The Basics: 

·      Three meanings (levels) of “plot:” Chronology/Causality/Cicerone (“siss-ur-OH-nee"; a tour guide). Unless we are clear what we mean by “plot,” we are subject to all kinds of confusion;

·      The variety of stimuli that get us to pay attention;

·      The three non-negotiable functions of plot.

Managing listener expectations:

·      Capturing and holding listener attention, by creating, shifting, and defying listener expectations.

·      Genres: what they are and how they influence plots.

o   The expectations within different genres, and how that restricts and creates possibilities for innovation.

o   How and why genres evolve—and how to be part of the process.

Emotions and Plot

·      Emotion: the wellspring of interest—and also its offspring.

·      Our intrinsic desire to heal emotional hurts—and how it affects our reactions to stories.

The evolutionary basis of plots

·      The biological expense of intelligence and attention, and how it influences what we pay attention to—in our environment and in stories.

·      Six evolutionary foundations that humans are predisposed to pay attention to (based on the work of Jonathan Haidt):

o   A helpless person in danger

o   Cheating or deception

o   Traitors, loyalty, group pride

o   Authority and subversion

o   Taboo ideas, taboo people; purity, piety, or sanctity

o   Bullies or tyrants.

Conflict and Its Alternatives in a Process World

·      Conflict, connection, fulfillment, survival.

·      Maslow’s pyramid: plot processes that speak to human needs.  

Plot and Its Companions

·      How plot interacts with other story elements: characterization, setting, description and more.

None of the above information has been available before in this form. This is a truly revolutionary course!

How Is This Course Organized?

You’ll alternate lessons (where I present ideas and techniques) with “coaching/question-and-answer” calls, where I help you apply what you’ve learned to sample stories and to stories of your own choice.

As the one who “wrote the book” on coaching storytellers, I am uniquely qualified to help you overcome any obstacles between you and your successful application of this liberating approach to plot.

Altogether there will be 10 online “meetings”: five lesson meetings alternating with the five coaching meetings. Each meeting will last 90 minutes and will be recorded and posted on the course website. 

How Will This Course Be Presented? 

For the ten online meetings, we’ll use, a simple-to-use software that lets you see your other classmates as well as the graphics I’ll use to emphasize concepts and processes.

You can join via computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can even join via computer audio or telephone alone.

On the course website, you will be able to access recordings of past meetings. (No need to worry if you need to miss a meeting; just attend a different section or view the recording later!) You will also be able to post your own stories and comments on the assignments I’ll suggest. You’ll even be able to get the feedback of others on your own postings.

Best of all, you’ll have unlimited access to the course website, long after the last course call. Review the lessons, comment on others’ contributions, ask questions—as desired, for years to come.

When Will This Course Meet?

We’ll have multiple sections, scheduled so that at least one section will be during waking hours in every time zone in the world. No matter where you live, there will be one or more choices for joining in.

The meetings (calls) will happen on weekdays (Eastern Daylight time [UTC-4] in October; Eastern Standard Time [UTC-5] beginning in November), either during the day or in the evening, depending on our mutual availability.

Once I have accepted the course members and surveyed you on your schedule needs, I’ll send you a survey of your available times, then create a precise schedule of the conference call times that work for everyone who has registered.

After I’ve sent you the schedule, you’ll have a chance to get a quick refund of everything you’ve paid, in case the final schedule doesn’t work for you.

What Does All This Cost?

The course includes the ten 90-minute meetings, the recordings, your posted assignments that I and other course members will respond to, the interactive course website (with lifetime access)—not to mention the cutting-edge approach to plot, which has never been offered before. This is a bargain, I believe, at $595. (Under $60 per meeting, not even counting the value of the course website!)

If you care about how to create, structure, or tell stories, this course will advance your knowledge and your skills in new ways.

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