In Texas Hold ‘em, players often blame losing games on being pot committed. If you’re not a card shark, the term “pot committed” deals with whether you should stay in a hand based on the odds. For instance, the odds of your hand winning compared to the percentage of money you’ve already committed to the pot determine how committed you should be to completing the hand. Ideally, poker experts argue that if the odds of you winning are higher than the percentage of money you’ve put into the pot, then you should commit to playing the game through, since you are likely to win.
Unfortunately, most people stress out and don’t know how to play the odds correctly. Many poker players feel like they are pot committed because they have put so much money into a game, which makes them feel compelled to continue the game no matter what cards they hold.
Feeling compelled to continue till the end, regardless of the costs, happens outside of poker as well. Just look at our commitment to all the stories we read in books or watch on screen. We can’t always explain it, but many of us fall prey to being PLOT committed.
You might be asking yourself the following question:
“What’s the difference between being plot committed and just really liking a story?”
Technically, you can simultaneously love a story and be plot committed. In other words, because the writing is so good, you are absolutely committed to whatever twists and turns happen in the plot. But being plot committed is not always a joyous experience.
There are many elements that attract each of us to a story. For some people, it’s all about character development, whereas other people like particular genres. In terms of movies or television shows, many people will watch anything that has particular actors involved. No matter which story element catches your fancy, any one of those elements can be the reason you get drawn in and plot committed.
As we all know, though, a good story is more than just the sum of its parts, but the parts still have to work together in some way or another. If only a few parts are good, they can’t necessarily make up for the bad parts. Unless, of course, the “good” parts are what attracted you to the story in the first place. That attraction to those initial elements will get you hooked on to the story, and the longer you let yourself be attracted to those elements, the more plot committed you become.
Some people might think that your attraction to some story elements can improve your opinion of the overall story. In fact, some critics even argue that plot commitment is a direct result of the reader/viewer learning to enjoy the story. While that view is optimistic and perhaps true for some people, that theory does not take into account one of the driving forces behind plot commitment: stubbornness.
If someone really likes a particular element of a story, they will continue to read or watch the story unfold out of pure stubbornness. That individual believes, whether consciously or unconsciously, that a particular element makes a story good. For instance, if someone enjoys strong characters, they may believe that any story with strong characters will turn out good in the end. That faith, that hope, makes individuals obstinate in their beliefs, which commits them to the plot until the story has come to its conclusion.
Plot commitment varies not only by each individual’s taste but also by the storytelling medium. For example, in today’s highly visual media, choosing to read a book instead of watching a show takes an initial level of commitment on the part of the reader. Upon making the choice to read, the story then has to attract readers quickly before they lose interest. Genre writers often hone in on certain key elements to draw-in the bulk of their audiences. Some writers may also rely on market research to see what types of things attract readers of various demographics. Similar research can probably be used for visual forms of media as well.
Beyond just particular elements that attract readers and viewers, time investment is another major factor involved in becoming plot committed. Let’s say you invest your TV viewing time into watching a particular show. Since the first two seasons blew your mind away, you decide to keep watching. The third season doesn’t turn out as good as the first two, but you tell yourself that there was a lot of background storyline going on, and that things will get better. Season four is definitely better than season three, but still not as good as those first two seasons. By now you have already dedicated four years to one show. At this point, you have spent too much time watching the show to turn away, even if the show continues to tank.
The time you spend reading a book also affects your level of plot commitment. Some people gauge the amount of time they spend reading a book based on page count. In other words, the closer you get toward the middle of the book, the more plot committed you become. After all, once you get to the halfway point of the story, you’re pretty much at the point of no return. You’ve put in too much time to turn back. Plus, even if the story is only mildly entertaining, that stubbornness will push you to go on to avoid a failed investment.
Serialized stories hook people in to the plot initially through the cliffhanger strategy. Whatever element attracted you to the story doesn’t get resolved at the end, and instead we as readers or viewers are left with too many unanswered questions. Due to our stubborn nature, that desire to know what happens next eats at us. In addition, we allow the amount of time invested in the first installment of the series to justify our stubbornness, allowing us to commit further to yet another story plot in the second installment.
Even if we don’t really like something, our commitment to the plot keeps us going. Instead of stopping and moving on to something we actually will enjoy, we use harmless lies to rationalize our actions:
- It’s our duty to keep going.
- We started something, and we have to finish.
- We at least have to find out what happens to so-and-so.
Therefore, we, the plot committed, for better or for worse stubbornly stick with our stories. In the end we can determine the merit of our commitment. For instance, you may have had a goal to read so many books in a year, and by letting yourself get plot committed, your stubbornness has helped you reach your goal. Or, perhaps you promised friends that you would watch a particular television series, so you let your stubbornness commit you to the plot of the series for the sake of your oath to your friends.
From a writer’s perspective, you can view your tendency toward plot commitment as a learning experience. If you can determine what committed you to the plot, you could, hypothetically, put those elements into your own story to commit people to your plots. Hopefully, though, people become plot committed to your stories out of a sense of joy and not just out of stubbornness.
What about you?
What have you read or watched recently that you felt committed to finish?
What factors drove you to continue on?
Leave your thoughts as a comment to this blog.
As for me, I am currently plot committed to The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. I started reading it because I wanted to become better acquainted with steampunk literature as well as hard science fiction. I was also interested in the novel’s structure, since the story is split up into several sections that reflect different characters’ perspectives at different points in time.
I think I started feeling negatively plot committed before I hit the halfway point of the book. I thought about stopping, but I really wanted to give the genre a chance. Plus, I wanted to see how the writers were planning on incorporating the different character perspectives into a cohesive whole.
I’m now about 100 or so pages from the end. To be honest, I’m not loving it, but nor am I hating it. Some of the connections the authors have made between the character perspectives have yet to live up to my expectations. I’m really hoping – stubbornly so – that the last hundred pages will connect the character perspectives in a way that makes sense. I also hope that the overarching plot revealed throughout the different perspectives will come to a reasonable close, although I already have my suspicions of what will and will not happen.
Lastly, I’m also trying to take this plot commitment moment as a learning experience concerning the genre. I don’t normally read hard science fiction, and there are certain elements that I enjoy, such as the descriptions of technology available during the time period. Nevertheless, I’m outside of my comfort zone by reading a story situated in the 1800s. If the story were in the medieval period or the Renaissance, I’d have a much better understanding of the era. I’d even be comfortable with a story from the early to mid-18th-century. But literature from the 1800s and the history of that era is not exactly in my wheelhouse. Knowing that, though, I’m trying to be extra patient with myself as I’m reading the story, especially since I know that steampunk likes to create alternative histories.
Overall, I will say that the character development and the juxtaposition of contrasting characters has kept my interest in the book, which has increased my plot commitment. The alternative history and the technology utilized within that alternative world has also proven generally fascinating, which, likewise, has contributed to my willingness to continue on to the story’s end.