Last week, we talked about the different subplots and layers that you need for a novel. This week, we talk about the overall, overarching structure of novels, and how to make things happen along the way.
Week 5: Plot and Structure
· Week 4 Blog Post Due: Rebecca Brill
Scribe for this week is David Connors
· Quiz 4: Baggott, Pure (pp. 1-121)
W 9/18 Rex Pickett virtual visit: Screening of Sideways, LB 125, 5-7:30 PM (optional); Video Conference with Rex Pickett, LB 125, 8 PM (required)
· Weekly Words #4, due by Sunday 9/22 at 5 PM. Focus: identify potential turning points, inner turning points, and high moments for your character/s. What are your character’s “doorways of no return”? What are you building towards? Have you made the problem as bad as it can possibly be? Write about this and don’t worry if it sounds cheesy.
There’s almost too much you can read about plot and structure, much of it pertaining to screenplays, but it’s quite translatable to writing novels.
- Julianna Baggott’s Pure
- Michelle Hoover, Plotting the Novel, Part IV: Consequence
- Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, esp. Part II on Plot Development
- John Truby, Seven Key Steps of Story Structure
- Four Story Structures that Dominate Novels
- Four Common Plot Structures
- Plot and Character Cheat Sheet
- Classical Screenplay Structure
Focus: identify potential turning points, inner turning points, and high moments for your character/s. What are your character’s “doorways of no return”? What are you building towards? Have you made the problem as bad as it can possibly be? Write about this and don’t worry if it sounds cheesy. Use whatever “formula” included above that works for you. Try a few different ones.
I Want To Know
- How is the writing going? How far into your novel are you?
- Do you have a sense yet of what type of novel you’re writing? Not just what genre it is, but what structure you might use?
- What is the “clock” of your novel? How much time will transpire from the first page to the last? A few days? A few months? A few years? A few decades?
- Does plotting sometimes feel like plodding? If so, here’s some great advice I got from the writer Ben Winters at the Gathering of Writers in Indianapolis, IN last year.
From Ben Winters, author of The Last Policeman and Countdown City
Try this when you’re stuck:
Switch POV. Just as you reach a high point, the point just before something’s going to happen to a character, switch to another pov character. The reader will read on because they are dying to know what will happen next.
Give yourself prompts. Let the structural needs of the novel determine the topics of the “assignments” you give yourself. For example. You’ve ended Chapter 7 on a high point of the A Story. Switch to Chapter 8 and work on the B Story for a chapter, holding out the suspense of the A Story.
Flashbacks. When you feel stuck, like you’re plodding, delve into your character’s backstory. You don’t need a doodly doo transition, such as “The flight home had a layover in Phoenix. I looked in the bathroom mirror and saw my bra strap was showing. Suddenly, I felt transported to my grandma’s house when I was six years old, the day I tried on my aunt’s lacy red bra over my t-shirt and showed it to my family.” No. Just hit return. “When I was six, I found my aunt’s red lacy red push up bra in her drawer and tried it on.”
Skip time. Start a chapter “And so years passed…” or “Fifteen years passed in this manner.” This will give the reader (and you) a shock of voltage.
Boomerang. Return to things you threw out earlier. Loop back.
Tell the story of the story. Rather than use bullet points to map out plot points, or “really writing” the story, try telling the story in the same voice you’d use sitting at a bar, telling the story to a good friend in your own natural voice. “Okay, here’s what happens…” And when you get to a point where you don’t know what happens, you can say “Okay, so maybe…” You might even try writing the friend’s part in this skit and have them prompt you for information. The point is to unshackle yourself, take all pressure off yourself.
Tell the story of a character. Similarly, to help you figure out a character, start with the phrase, “There’s this guy…” or “There’s this woman…” and tell the entire arc of a particular character through the book. Not a main character, but a secondary one. Walk through the book with that character. It will force you to see what you’re writing in an entirely new way.
Do research. Make phone calls. Don’t Google, b/c reading on the internet flattens out the details. Call people up and ask them questions. Tell they you’re a writer working on a novel about [blank] and you’ll find that people love to talk about themselves and what they do. They’ll give you voices and details you’d never get otherwise.
Work on the parts that seem exciting or interesting to you. When the writing stops being fun, figure out a way to make it fun and interesting again.