This post, from Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, originally appeared on the Writers on the Rise blog on 6/15/09.
Growing up, our family played a lot of backyard baseball. My mom was usually the pitcher. “Keep your eye on the ball,” she’d say before unleashing a pitch. When I followed her instruction, I usually hit a line drive or on a good day, a homerun (sending my sisters into a wild scramble in the outfield); when I didn’t, I either missed the ball completely or hit an embarrassingly lame foul tip.
Throughout the years, I’ve discovered that in this particular way, writing fiction is not so different from hitting a baseball. If I follow my mom’s instruction when writing-keep your eye on the ball-I am able to create a compelling plot in a story.
Take, for example, Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. In it, the plot (the ball on which you must keep your eye) is “time-traveling man falls in love and wants to stay put in the present with his woman.”
In the book, all action and events speak to this plot in some way. As the story moves forward, Niffenegger keeps her eye on the ball. If she didn’t, the story would wander, and readers would get frustrated, give up, and move on to another book.
As you can see, plot is not a list of events in a story. Plot is the purest description of a story.
Another good example is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Of Love and Other Demons. Here the plot (ball) is “rabid dog bites girl; girl may have rabies.”
And again, throughout the book, Marquez keeps his eye on the ball. Never do you, the reader, lose sight of “rabid dog bites girl; girl may have rabies.”