Let’s talk about plot and structure. We all have to deal with them sooner or later. They’re the engine to our story, the way we put our ideas into motion and thread them all together. It’s different for every writer. Just like music you have the melody and lyrics, writers have plot and dialogue. Some go dialogue first, some go plot.
Also, remember that a lot of this advice comes from Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.
“Begin every story in the middle. The reader doesn’t care how it begins, he wants to get on with it.”
The plot creates the pace of the novel by building to external turning points, inner turning points and high moments. A good novel plot is multi-layered, meanings lots and lots of the external and internal turning points. External turning points are things that change within the story, internal turning points are things that changes inside your character or characters. Within these turning points there needs to be conflict that they connect and build to the plot and the characters. The conflict needs to be
- Large scale
- Not easy to resolve
- Must happen to people for who we (the readers) feel sympathy
If you want and feel it make the central conflict as deep and as bad as it can possibly be.
Look through your story and at the end of each chapter identify the external and internal turning points and connect them to the main structure of the plot. Then either draw it out, write it out with bullet points, or color code the events and how they are connected. By doing this you will be able to identify and mark your plot in a simple skeleton sketch of the story.
See if your plot is similar to any of the story types or plot structure types.
Four Story Types
Four Plot Structures
Another way to look at a plot structure is:
The Balance. The Unbalance.
Quest for Resolution.
The Climax. The New Balance.
Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories (Watch This!)
So when you’re having trouble with the plot, where to go, what to do or just where to start when you find yourself at a dead end try these tricks to freshen up the writing process while also developing the plot more. They’re from Ben Winters, author of The Last Policeman. We talked about them here, too.
- What are the conflicts of my book?
- Are there any unexpected consequences?
- Complicate the needs and wants of your characters.
- Create consequences that branch of their needs and wants.
- Switch Point of View at the high points.
- Stretch the tension.
- Flashback into your characters background.
- Skip time forward.
- Boomerang the plot. Return to things that you threw out earlier.
- Tell the story of the story to your bestfriend.
- Work on parts of the story that seem exciting and interesting to you at the moment.
Also, don’t be scared to make these particular things happen within your plot. They are cheesy and you see them everywhere but when reading a story these are some things that make the novel real and help connect the reader to the plot and story.
Cheesy High Moments!
- Forgive someone!
- Sacrifice something!
- Sacrifice herself/himself!
- Change direction in life!
- Face moral choice!
And like I said above connect the readers to the characters and make them want to read more.
- Deny to the characters- Food, Shelter, sex, protection of loved ones.
- Keep the outcome in doubt by making failure seem likely.
- Plot often feels like plodding. This then this then this happens. So when the weaving the plot feels old don’t be scared to throw something new and to freshen up the plot and you’re mind.
What I Learned/Figured Out This Week
1. Get into your plot or the action of the story early. Readers do care about what happens before the action starts but they care more about the plot and action of right now more.
2. Give your story as many external and internal turning points as you want. Build and stretch the tension. It doesn’t hurt to complicate the journey through the novel. Keep the reader on their toes with external turning points.
3. If you need to write or draw out the plot and all the turning points within your story to help visualize what’s going on and keep it clean, tidy and concise so not even the writer gets confused.
Let’s just begin by putting this out there: I love outlining. I work as a tutor and some of the first things that I tell people who need study tips are MAKE OUTLINES! OUTLINE YOUR NOTES! OUTLINE YOUR LIFE! OUTLINES FOR EVERYONE!!
So now that that’s out in the open, I guess it’s safe to say that when it comes to writing, I’m totally a plotter. I can sit on an idea for weeks (if we’re being conservative) just planning out who the characters are, certain scenes, etc. I can’t even begin writing until I have at least a few scenes in my head. I like having some kind of outline of events for my novel.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I plan and plot in a nice, neat order. Take a look at the image to the right. Most of the time, this is how I do my outlining. I’ll get an idea for about three-fourths of the way through and have that scene totally worked out. And then I’ll come up with a beginning. And then the ending. And then something right around the middle. And when I’ve come up with several scenes that are spread randomly throughout the novel, I finally begin to write.
When I plot and write like this, I realize that I have a tiny bit of pantser in me. Looking back at the image above, when I get to the inevitable Point of Question Marks between Idea Number 2 and Idea Number 4, I try to just wing it. So the lead just got transported back in time, but she hasn’t reached the scene where she is tried for witchcraft? Well maybe she could meet a bushy-bearded man named James Garfield?
Because of my plotting nature, this point, the Point of Question Marks, can become the Moment Where I Experience
Writer’s Block that thing where I can’t come up with any more ideas.
|This is just one of the little notebooks I do my plotting in|
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
This isn’t always the case; sometimes I come up with the best ideas off the top of my head. That’s why I don’t see myself as a strict plotter. I don’t plot out the whole novel; I come up with various scenes throughout the novel and then fill in as I go. Yeah, sometimes I get stuck because I’m not as good at pantsing as I am plotting. But I’d rather have a little bit of mystery waiting for me when I begin writing, rather than have the whole novel ready in my head before I even write a word. As James Scott Bell explains in his book Plot and Structure, plotters run the risk of lacking spontaneity, which the pantsers have in abundance. I don’t want my writing to become boring. So while I may be an outlining freak, I still have some pants. My pants are just more like booty shorts.