Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Plotting Along

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you that I have a weakness: understanding and implementing strong plot structures. As I look back, this has always been a weakness. I even wrote a bit about it in a post called “To Plot, Perchance to Scheme” over a year ago.

At the time of that entry I thought the problem was in the book. Not the author. The first two books I penned seemed to have vibrant plots that carried the characters along to a satisfying conclusion.

Ah…but the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know…or something like that.

I realize this is a piece of my writing education that needs some attention. I can’t wait for a conference. I can’t attend a class. There doesn’t seem to be one available to me for the summer session.

I have three options available to me at this point: On-line study (an internet search of my own or perhaps there is a course out there) read and study books written on the subject, or connect with other writers in my area to discuss the topic.

Money and time are resource issues. I’m watching for a webinar to pop up. Hopefully, a freebie. In the meantime, I did a quick internet search for “plot structure.” There are a number of short articles available on the topic. Many of them appear to be directly taken out of a high school English textbook. Linear elements such as exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution are defined. I may have left one out there.

However, I did find a particularly helpful post regarding Larry Brooks’s blog series about story structure. I remembered reading the original series on the Story Fix blog.

In essence, Brooks guides the writer to divide the events of the story into several sections. In the first quarter of the book, the set-up, the writer needs to introduce the characters and end with a pivotal point –that point in the story where we first see the story problem. The writer needs to craft a response to this crisis, which of course will be insufficient. He goes on to identify where the story should be about 3/8 of the way through, at the halfway point, what should happen 5/8 of the way in, and at the third quarter mark.

I suggest you check out for yourself, or to get a pretty good overview of this plot structure technique, go to Jordan McCollum’s article “Overview of Larry Brooks’s Story Structure.”

Author Julie Glover translated the plot structure Brooks outlined for one of her books in this flow chart. You may be interested in checking out her blog as well. She writes Young Adult fiction (YA). Oh to be a young adult once more….nah….been there…done that.
Credit: Julie Glover

After I searched out what I could on the internet, I decided to enhance my education at the local library.

I found a helpful little handbook of sorts published by Writer’s Digest Books. The book has the catchy title Plot and was written by Ansen Dibell.

These are the three takeaway items I gleaned on plot from this book:

 “Cause and Effect: That’s what’s known as PLOT.”
 Not all fiction is founded on the falling dominoes of cause and effect.”

The biggest takeaway? 
“Writing is as much a process of discovery as it is one of invention.”

So what does all this mean in my quest for strengthening my skill at story structure?

I need to have a path of where I think my story will go. I need to write action scenes to move my reader along that path. But if I come across another interesting route, I shouldn’t be afraid to change my travel plans for a bit and explore. The structure tool offered by Brooks doesn’t have to show up at the beginning of my writing. I can apply it in the revision process, weeding out the unneeded details bogging down my story and beefing up the elements that reveal those pivotal points to my reader.

What do you think? How do you, say, plot along…?

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