Hello, and welcome back to The Gearbox, my weekly discussion on writing theory! Be warned, everyone: I am not an expert. I’m a guy who likes to write. Because of my very nature as an untrained amateur, nothing I say should be taken too seriously, okay? If you disagree, please weigh in at the comments section!
Disclaimer #2: For the purposes of this essay, let us put aside existentialist writings, or any stories where the characters are too impotent to affect their surroundings. Those stories will always have a place in my heart.
What is the difference between inorganic and organic plot generation? Why should writers care? Well, I’ll tell you.
Let’s start with a comparison of organic and preserved cookies. Organic cookies are made naturally. They come from a series of unpreserved, un-bug-sprayed ingredients, and they spoil really quickly. They taste good, but they’re gone so soon, and certain bad tastes cannot be masked. Preserved cookies have things added to them to make them predictable, to add life and lastly, to add value to the retail overlords that sell them. They are unchanging, with each one as mediocre as the next.
Now let’s move on to the point, since I’ve made such a loaded analogy.
Inorganic plot generation- sometimes I call it a static plot- is a method wherein you as a writer say, “This is what will happen. I will make this so.” You have a plot twist so cool, a backstory so unbelievably great or some other motivation so compelling that you bend the events of the story to your will. These sorts of plots make for high-concept books when executed well, but more often than not, they turn into disaster movies or twist-ending flicks… or stalker movies. These books and movies are easy to turn into 90 minute movies or 90,000 word novels. Inorganic plots are the tripe of Hollywood and the bread and butter of executives and accountants alike.
Organic plot generation occurs when you start with a very loose timeline, and you let the characters do whatever it is they want to do. No one is un-killable. No plot point is set in stone. Sometimes, what would have been a novel is a short story. Sometimes, what would have been a short story becomes a trilogy. You literally have no clue with what you are dealing until the story is done. You, as the novelist, set the parameters, run the program and wait on the other side to see what comes out.
Well, I have painted a very flattering picture of organic plot generation, haven’t I? It would almost seem like organic plot generation has no flaws, from what I’ve said.
The flaw is gigantic. There is no built-in “zing” to a scene. There is no predictably unpredictable outcome! Where is the action? Where are the twists? What if the hero would rather go home and microwave a burrito, when all you want is for a huge gunfight? I’ve never been in a gunfight, but my bet is that a microwave burrito is better than getting shot… depending on the brand. When the hero wants to leave, how do you make him stay? How do you make him stand up for himself?
The way I see it, you have two choices at this point:
1) The hero goes home. You are making a Coen Brothers movie. It will probably win an award for best screenplay, but you will be left alone with your unspent bullets and a raging need to see something get shot. This is an example of organic plot generation in action.
2) You introduce a new element and run the program again. Give the hero a gun. Give him an opening. Make it more exciting/honor-binding/profitable for him to stay and shoot than to go home. This may literally mean hundreds of rewrites, but you have to keep going until that hero pulls the trigger willingly.
Here’s what you DON’T do: Don’t EVER use inorganic plot generation. There is no good reason.