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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Plot, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 222
1. I Hate Nice

I know what you’re probably thinking, “But, Mary, I’m nice and you’re nice and nice is so…nice! Why do you hate it, especially now that you live in the state of ‘Minnesota nice’?” Don’t worry, I think you’re perfectly nice, and this isn’t a veiled complaint about moving to Minnesota. As for me being nice, sure, I have my moments. Thanks for falling for my Internet persona. :)

What I really hate, though, is when a manuscript has a lot of nice in it. The character is succeeding. Things are going their way. We end a chapter on a cozy moment when they curl into their reading nook and all is right with the world.

How nice. How abysmally nice for them.

The problem with “nice,” though, is that it doesn’t keep our attention. You know how people sometimes say, when they’re being dismissive of something, “Oh, that’s nice, dear”? Nice doesn’t really force us to sit up and take notice, and nice certainly doesn’t create tension within us, pulling us to the edge of our seats.

Sure, we don’t want a character to be dragged through the wringer. Nice things do have to happen on occasion. But last week I was preparing for a workshop that I gave on Saturday at the Loft, and I was going over a story theory that I cover extensively in my book, which I call the Emotional Plot.

emotional plot

The gist is a little hard to explain in one blog post (thought I try to do it here, in a 2009 blog post that contains the seeds of what I would extrapolate on in the 2012 book). Basically, what we’re looking at above is the standard three-act structure but instead of tracking how the plot rises and then falls, we are tracking how the character feels during each step of the process.

And if you’re seeing this graph, you’ll notice that the “Fall” is a HUGE part of it. And it ends in something called the “Rock Bottom.” That doesn’t exactly sound too nice, now does it. Basically, for the majority of your story, your job is to put your character through internally or externally uncomfortable or dangerous situations to get the most possible tension out of your work.

The “Fall” shouldn’t be a complete slide into misery. Like a good snow tubing hill (Am I from Minnesota now or what?!), it should have a few bumps to keep things exciting before plunging again. Allow your character small victories and moments of contentment, then yank the rug out from under them again.

If your plot seems thick, or your story is lacking momentum, or you feel like wandering away for a nap when reading your revision for the Xth time, think, “Am I being too nice? Are too many nice things happening to this character?” Take an especially close look at your chapter endings. Do they mostly end at the resolution of a scene or problem? If so, there’s too much “nice” and not enough tension to carry the reader across the vast expanse of the white at the end of the page and past the mountain of your next chapter heading.

Not everything can be life-or-death in your story, that’s not sustainable, and your reader will learn to ignore that level of tension like the body ignores a dull pain. But if you find that you’re running into a lot of “more tension, please!” comments, think of the nicest, coziest moments in your story, and really focus on a way to either cut them down or insert an especially shocking twist after then that turns “nice” on its ear.

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2. Body Language: Gestures

Gestures are not random. They have purpose. They illustrate. They convey the words we do not speak. They confirm, deny, or emphasize what we say. People "talk with their hands."


Gestures vary from person to person and culture to culture. People can have nervous ticks. They can have "tells" that indicate they are lying, anxious, or unhappy. Use gestures wisely.

If a gesture begins before the words, it is a sign of honesty.

If a gesture lags after the words, it's considered a sign of dishonesty.

A gesture can be involuntary but squelched by the character. This is especially true if he is angry with someone he cares about or fears.

Gestures include: 

air kisses 

averted gaze 

bared teeth 

biting cuticles, hair, lips, or nails 

blowing raspberries 

bowing 

chewing inside of lips or cheek 

crossing ankles 

crossing/uncrossing arms 

crossing/uncrossing legs 

curtsey 

cuticle picking 

elbow bump 

eye rolling (or eye-ball rotating) 

eyebrows lift 

eyebrows wrinkle 

finger curling 

finger pointing 

fist shaking 

fist swinging 

flapping hands 

flicking fingernails 

fingernail tapping 

genuflecting 

grasping elbows 

gripping hands 

hands behind back 

hands over face 

hands over heart 

hands together 

hands wide 

hat tip 

index finger raised 

kowtow 

lip curls or purses 

looking down 

looking up 

looking to the side 

lowering arms 

lowering hands 

middle finger raised 

mooning 

mouth purses 

mouth tightens 

nodding 

nose thumbing 

nose wrinkles 

pointing 

pouting 

raising arms in the air 

rubbing earlobe 

rubbing fingers 

rubbing hands 

scratching 

scratching chin, ear, nose, or throat 

shaking head 

shrugging 

sneering 

sticking out tongue 

swinging legs 

slash throat with hand 

smoothing hair 

tapping fingers or toes 

tucking legs under 

thumbs up 

thumbs down 

thumb to the side 

tightening fist 

tugging clothes 

tugging an ear 

tugging hair 

saluting 

sweeping hands 

waving 

Keep this list handy and add to it. 

When revising, cut repetition and make sure the gesture is used for a good reason at the right time.

Next week, we'll discuss eye contact.

All of the information on body language can be found in Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers.

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision/dp/1475011369

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision-ebook/dp/B007SPPL68

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3. Idea to Book: Outline + Character


READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER: Now Available

The Girl, the Gypsy & the Gargoyle by Darcy Pattison.

How do you take an idea to a book? I am just starting the process again and every time, it overwhelms me. I know the process works, but it seems so daunting at this first stage. So, I only look forward to the next task, knowing that taking the first step will lead me onward.

For this story, I’ll approach it on several levels at once:

Outlining. This is the fourth book in an easy-reader series, so I know the general pattern that the book will follow over its ten chapters. Chapter one will introduce the story problem and chapter ten will wrap it up. That leaves eight chapters and each has a specific function in this short format. Chapter 2 introduces the subplot, chapter 4 intensifies it and chapter 6 resolves it. That leaves chapters 1, 3, 5, 7-10 for the wrap-up. Chapters 9 and 10 are the climax scene, split into two, with a cliff hanger at the end of chapter 9. In other words, I can slot actions into the functions of each chapter and make it work. Knowing each chapter’s function makes it easier–but not automatic. I’ll still need to shift things around and make allowances for this individual story.

Character Problem. Making my characters hurt is the second challenge. Squeezing them, making them uncomfortable, making them cry, dishing out grief and mayhem–it’s all part of the author’s job. I tend to be a peace-maker and find this to be quite difficult. But if I can manage to bring my character’s emotions to a breaking point by chapter 8, I’ll be able to move the reader. I’ll be searching for the pressure points for the character as the outline progresses. Hopefully, the emotional resolution in chapter 9-10 will be a twist, something unexpected by the reader.

Back and Forth Between Outline and Characters. The nice thing about focusing on just this much at first is that it is interactive. I’ll go back and forth between plot, character and the structure demanded by this series until the story starts to gel. Will it be easy and automatic? Oh, no. I’ll be pulling out my hair (metaphorically) for a couple days. But by the end of the week (I hope) there will be progress.

How do you start your story? Do you free-write, create a character background, or outline? Which parts interact as you create the basis for a new story?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk/12392396893/

What Character Are You? Click to Enlarge. Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk/12392396893/



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4. 13 Blast it Out of the Park Posts of 2013


Yes, Darcy! I want to share the story
of the Oldest Wild Bird in the World
with a special child(ren).

"On Dec. 10, 1956, early in my first visit to Midway, I banded 99 incubating Laysan Albatrosses in the downtown area of Sand Island, Midway. Wisdom (band number 587-51945) is still alive, healthy, and incubating again in December 2011 (and in 2012 and in 2013). While I have grown old and gray and get around only with the use of a cane, Wisdom still looks and acts just the same as on the day I banded her. . .remarkable true story. . . beautifully illustrated in color." -- Chandler S. Robbins, Sc.D., Senior Scientist (Retired), USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.
CLICK BELOW to view
the story of the 63-year-old bird
in your favorite store.


It’s a time to look backward. What are the 13 most popular posts on Fiction Notes in 2013? Here’s the countdown!

Posts Written in 2013

13. 63 Character Emotions to Explore When your character gets stuck at sad, even sadder and truly sad, explore these options for more variety.

12. 5 Quotes to Plot Your Novel By. We always like to know what other authors think about writing and how they work. These quotes are a tiny insight into the writing process.

11. 5 More Ways to Add Humor. Ever popular, but hard to get right, I always need help being funny.

10. Nonfiction Picture Books: 7 Choices. What types of nonfiction picture books are popular now, especially with the Common Core State Standards.

9. Why Authors Should Believe in Their Websites. This was a response to a posting on Jane Friedman‘s website that challenged why authors need a website at all.

8. Help Me Write a Book. A list of suggested resources that will help you write a book.

7. 7 Reasons Your Manuscript Might Be Rejected. A discussion of the rejection cycle and how to defeat it.

c.2013 Dwight Pattison. All rights reserved. My favorite picture that my husband took this year. Pelicans along the Arkansas River

c. Dwight Pattison. My favorite picture that my husband took this year. Pelicans along the Arkansas River


Classic Posts


6. 9 Traits of Sympathetic Characters. How to make that protagonists a nice-guy or nice-girl.

5. 29 Plot Templates. Lost on where to start plotting? Consider one of these options.

4. 30 Days to a Stronger Novel. This series continues to be popular. It’s 30 days of tips for making your novel into the story of your dreams.

3. 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book. Likewise, 30 days of tips for writing a picture book is hugely popular.

2. Picture Book Standards: 32 Pages. The most frequent question people ask about picture books is how long should they be. Here’s the standard answer, with explanations for why 32 pages is the standard.

1. 12 Ways to Start a Novel. 100 classic opening lines are categorized into twelve ways of opening a novel.

This list reflects the range of topics that consume me and that I want to write about. But it’s not just about me. Please leave a comment with one topic you’d like to see discussed this year.

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5. The Weekend Writer: Revision Means Getting Rid Of What You Don't Need

I'm in the midst of a big revision right now, and I'm doing things a little differently. I had two influences.

The Plot Whisperer


In The Plot Whisperer Martha Alderson writes about making sure that scenes include dramatic action, character development, and thematic significance. I'm working with a chart to keep track of those three elements in each chapter. What about material that doesn't relate to any of those things?

Some Disappointing Reading


For several years, one of my sons and I have been slowly making our way through a beloved fantasy series. I gave him the next volume last year for Christmas. He passed it on to me earlier this year with the comment, "It's not very good."

I finally started reading it a few weeks ago, and I have to agree with my offspring's assessment. Right away I could tell what was bothering me about the book. There was lots of clever, even amusing, material that didn't relate to any story. It didn't deal with the dramatic action and character development Alderson wrote about, and that early into the story I had no way of knowing if it had anything to do with thematic significance. This somewhat random wordiness made the book  slow reading. It was difficult to tell just what the narrative line was, so I had little desire to follow it. In fact, I've put the book aside.

What Does This Mean For My Project?


Taking the two influences together--Alderson's contention that dramatic action, character development, and thematic significance be included in every scene and my reading of a book with scenes that included a lot of material that didn't relate to any of those things--led me to become hyperaware of material in my manuscript that had nothing to do with action, character, or theme. What I'm finding is that a lot of that material no longer seems necessary. It drags down my reading. So it's being cut.

Right now I'm not missing it.



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6. The Weekend Writer: Organic Writers And Plotters

I am an organic writer, as I said earlier this month, which makes it difficult for me to talk about plotting. What is an organic writer, you ask? I've seen references to us for a long time, but usually the references aren't very involved, as if many people aren't clear on what we are. ("I may not know organic writers, but I recognize one when I see one!") We are said to write by the seat of our pants. Thus you sometimes hear us referred to by the mildly vulgar term "pantsers." We are said not to plot. I once saw a blogger describe us as using our first drafts to find our stories, meaning we sit down to write before we know what our story will be.

Plotters, on the other hand, presumably plot out their stories before they start to write. My understanding is that they know what they're going to write, they just have to sit down and do it. I once read a plotter describe spending three months working out his plot before he started actually writing. I don't know if most plotting writers do that, or if plots spring from their heads fully formed, or how they work at all. I can only guess what they do.

My last Weekend Writer post dealt with The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. Alderson provides some of the best writing on organic writers that I've ever seen.

Organic writers, she says, tend to think in pictures, as in "the big picture,"  rather than language, while plotters go the other way. They are more analytical and detail oriented. Organic writers tend to prefer writing about characters while plotters prefer dramatic action. Organic writers tend to see a story as a whole and are short on details. Plotters tend to see the story in its parts. Organic writers may concentrate on character and end up being weak on the action that drives readers to stick with a story. Plotters may concentrate on action scenes and lose readers who need human interest.

I agree with a lot of what Alderson has to say about organic writers. Our interest in the big picture tends to leave us going, Okay, how do I get to that big picture? This is why formulaic plotting plans often aren't very useful for us. They involve coming up with details. A problem to solve and roadblocks to solving said problem or, heaven help me, metaphorical doors to go through or not are more mystifying than not for us. If I have problems coming up with details, telling me to come up with details isn't going to provide me with a lot of help.

Plotters are like engineers who design every element of a project so that it can be built into a completed whole. Plotters supposedly know what's going to happen in their story after they have their plot worked out, just as engineers know how their project will turn out once they've finished their, though both may have to make some changes before the job is done. Organic writers are also like engineers, engineers who have to "fast track" a project, meaning construction begins before they've finished the design. Organic writers frequently begin writing before they even are clear on what the basic story is going to be. Their process is all about design changes.

In future posts, I'll have more to say about writing process for organic writers.

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7. Dissecting Christie Part 1


For the next few weeks, we are going to dissect The Crooked House by Agatha Christie.


The first layer we're going to examine is her use of theme. In The Crooked House, Christie used a children's rhyme to illustrate the bent and twisted nature of the family involved in the murder.

The following excerpts illustrate her use of the theme throughout the story.

Chapter 1

She added softly in a musing voice: “In a little crooked house …”

I must have looked slightly startled, for she seemed amused and explained by elaborating the quotation. “'And they all lived together in a crooked little house.' That’s us. Not really such a little house either. But definitely crooked – running to gables and half timbering!”


Chapter 3

I suddenly remembered the whole verse of the nursery rhyme:

There was a crooked man and he went a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence beside a crooked stile.
He had a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.


I wondered why it had been called Three Gables. Eleven gables would have been more apposite! The curious thing was that it had a strange air of being distorted – and I thought I knew why. It was the type, really, of a cottage, it was a cottage swollen out of all proportion. It was like looking at a country cottage through a gigantic magnifying-glass. The slant-wise beams, the half-timbering, the gables – it was a little crooked house that had grown like a mushroom in the night.

Chapter 8

This was the Original Crooked Little Man who had built the Crooked Little House – and without him the Crooked Little House had lost its meaning.

Chapter 13

I went down to the Crooked House (as I called it in my own mind) with a slightly guilty feeling.

Chapter 15

“I think that’s what I mean when I said we all lived together in a crooked little house. I didn’t mean that it was crooked in the dishonest sense. I think what I meant was that we hadn’t been able to grow up independent, standing by ourselves, upright. We’re all a bit twisted and twining (…) like bindweed."

Chapter 17

“He was a natural twister. He liked, if I may put it so, doing things the crooked way.”

Chapter 26

“We will go there together and you will forget the little Crooked House.”

Throughout the solving of the murder, the evidence twists and turns and reveals the way the family members are intertwined in an unhealthy way. The young widow is often described as resembling a cat.

Christie sprinkled the theme in with a delicate hand. The analogy is referred to in only seven of the twenty-six chapters. The idea of crookedness inspires the whole.

To address theme, I suggest considering at the beginning or end of the first draft what you want the story to say. Then, as you go through the revision layers, develop your theme through description and dialogue.

You might find a nursery rhyme to fit your purpose.

Next week, we will take a look at how Christie uses description to introduce characters.


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8. Chase: A Fast-Paced Plot


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison

Start Your Novel

by Darcy Pattison

Giveaway ends October 01, 2013.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

My current WIP novel has a subplot of a chase, which is one of the 29 possible plot templates. Chase Plots are pretty straight forward. There’s a person chasing and a person being chased, the Chaser and the Victim. It’s an action plot, not a character plot (though always, character should be as strong as possible.)

The Chase plot has one major imperative: The Chaser must constantly catch sight of the Victim and the Victim always escapes by the narrowest margin. Otherwise, it’s boring. This subplot must tantalize the reader with the possibility of Chaser actually catching Victim.

My first draft of chapter one completely omitted the Chase subplot, so the first revision I did was to revisit the idea of a Chase Subplot. Yes, the story still needs it. Then, I had to decide how to add in the Chase subplot in an exciting way. What could I add that would give the Chaser a glimpse of her target? My twist on the Chase Plot is the Chaser doesn’t always recognize the Victim. So, I gave Chaser a smart phone app that identifies the Victim. Now, Chaser walks up to a table where Victim is sitting and the app starts to go off, but. . .Chaser is interrupted.

Car Chase

The Car Chase is a staple of Chase Plots. You can choose any form of chase, though, and still up the tension of your story.

Victim is almost caught and only escapes by chance. Because the story is in Victim’s point of view, this works because Victim realizes the danger he was in. Chaser is still clueless, of course, but that’s OK, because it’s not her POV.

Having a chance escape also works this initial time, because the scene introduces the rules of the Chase scene. But now, Victim KNOWS there’s a smart phone app and will have to use his ingenuity to stay out of range of that app. It will, of course, be easier said than done.

The whole scene has upped the stakes in the story as a whole. The other subplots are now free to carry on as needed, because at the right moments the Chase Subplot will be there to add to the story’s tension. Will Chaser actually CATCH Victim? Who know? Stay tuned!

What subplot(s) are you adding to you story to keep the tension high?

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9. Plot vs. Structure

TerminologyI want to step back for a second and clarify my own personal definitions of plot versus structure. As mentioned in my previous post on plot definitions there are many views of what plot it! Additionally, I fear that as I walked us through arch plot and classic design last week, I may have reinforced the misconceptions that plot and structure are same thing.

Plot and structure are not the same thing!

I did a previous series on plot (To Plot or Not to Plot) where I explored the differences between narrative, story, plot, and structure. I’ve since re-evaluated some of the things I said in those posts and the following are my current definitions:

PLOT: Plot is often defined as a “sequence of actions” (Fletcher) or “the actions of the characters” (Bechard). However, plot is also the connective tissue that links events or actions with meaning. It’s not just what happens, but the causal connections of why it happens. Janet Burroway defines plot as a “series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance … Plot’s concern is ‘what, how, and why,’ with scenes ordered to highlight cause-and-effect.”

In simple terms, plot is a series of actions with a cause and effect relationship. In my explanation of arch plot, the hero’s journey is the plot.

Whereas…

STRUCTURE: Structure is the triangle or mountain shape in the diagram I used. Structure has two parts. The first is arrangement. For example, you tell scene one, then scene two, then scene three. Or you tell scene 3, then scene 1, then scene 27, etc. This is about order and organization. The second part is about patterns, rhythm, and energy. It’s about the movement and feeling your particular arrangement creates. The triangle (often called the Aristotelian story shape) is a visual metaphor for the escalating energy that is meant to come as a result of a classic design arrangement.

With structure we are looking at the arrangement and rhythm of the whole. Author, Susan Fletcher defines structure as “the organization, or overall design, or form of a particular literary work … [It is the] larger rhythm of the story.” Additionally, Chea says that “in examining story structure, we look for patterns, for the shape that the story as a whole possesses. Plot directs us to the story in motion, structure to the story at rest.”

In the coming posts, I’m going to list alternative plots and alternative structures. I wanted to clarify the difference between these terms so you would better understand how I’ve organized these lists. One is by the nature of the action (plot) while the other is about the organization and rhythm of the action (structure).

Works Cited:
Bechard, Margaret. “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2008.
Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narative Craft. 8th Edition. New York: Longman, 2011.
Chea, Stephenson. “What’s the Difference Between Plot and Structure.” Associated Content.  16 Feb. 2010. Web. 7 May 2011.
Fletcher, Susan. “Structure as Genesis.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.

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10. Alternative Plots (Part 1)

Up to this point in my Organic Architecture Series, I’ve been discussing the goal-oriented plot (arch plot) and the limitations of this plot-type. Arch plot functions in such a way that the connective tissue is a desire that moves the plot through its progression.

But are there plots where the cause-and-effect tissue isn’t defined by goals? Or plots that don’t have heroes? Or plots where the main character isn’t active?

YES!

In the next two posts, I’m going to introduce you to the following alternative plots:

  • Mini-plot,
  • Daisy chain plot,
  • Cautionary tale plot
  • Ensemble plot
  • Along for the ride plot
  • Symbolic juxtaposition plot
  • Repeated event plot
  • Repeated action plot

This list is by no means complete and I’m constantly on the lookout for more!

I’ve defined an alternative plot  as one that doesn’t have a hero (as termed by the hero’s journey), one that lacks a specific goal, or one that does not use traditional cause-and-effect as its connective tissue. Let’s look at how a few of these plots are different than the hero’s journey arch plot.

Tender MerciesMINI PLOT (Also known as: Emotional Plot)

Mini plot is a minimalist approach to arch plot in which the writer reduces the elements of classical design. Often these stories are internal and appear to be plot-less, and/or have passive protagonists. However, the cause-and-effect links are often derived from points of emotional growth rather than high-stakes action. Some might argue that this is a “watered down” version of arch plot, because you can still see the same patterns of arch plot arising in mini-plot, but on a smaller more emotional level.

  • Film Examples: Tender Mercies, Five Easy Pieces, Wild Strawberries.

red_violin_ver2DAISY CHAIN PLOT

In the daisy chain plot there is no central protagonist with a goal. Instead multiple characters or situations are introduced through the cause-and-effect connective tissue of a physical object that is passed from one character to the next.

  • Film Examples: The Red Violin, Twenty Bucks.
  • Book Examples: Lethal Passage (Larson).
  • Modified Daisy Chain Plots with a Protagonist: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Angleberger), Thirteen Reasons Why (Asher).

inexcusableCAUTIONARY TALE PLOT

In the cautionary tale plot there isn’t a hero and it is often the antithesis of comforting growth. In both Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable and Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun, the main character’s commit horrible acts of violence.  In this plot, the reader becomes the protagonist who must evaluate the main character, and it is often the reader who ends up changing as a result.

  • Book Examples: Inexcusable (Lynch), Jumped (Williams-Garcia), Give a Boy a Gun (Strasser).

keeshaslENSEMBLE PLOT (Also known as: Polyphonic Plot)

This plot has multiple protagonists in a single location which is “characterized by the interaction of several voices, consciousnesses, or world views, none of which unifies or is superior to the others” (Berg). There can be goals in this plot type, but more often it is a character-driven story in the form of a portrait of a city, group of friends, or community.

  • Film Examples: The Big Chill, Nashville, Beautiful Girls.
  • Book Examples: Keesha’s House (Frost), Give a Boy a Gun (Strasser), Bronx Masquerade (Grimes), Doing It (Burgess).

Are you starting to see some of the new and exciting options available? Stay tuned. In part 2, I’ll cover: along for the ride plot, symbolic juxtaposition plot, repeated event plot, and repeated action plot.


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11. Alternative Plots (Part 1)

Up to this point in my Organic Architecture Series, I’ve been discussing the goal-oriented plot (arch plot) and the limitations of this plot-type. Arch plot functions in such a way that the connective tissue is a desire that moves the plot through its progression.

But are there plots where the cause-and-effect tissue isn’t defined by goals? Or plots that don’t have heroes? Or plots where the main character isn’t active?

YES!

In the next two posts, I’m going to introduce you to the following alternative plots:

  • Mini-plot,
  • Daisy chain plot,
  • Cautionary tale plot
  • Ensemble plot
  • Along for the ride plot
  • Symbolic juxtaposition plot
  • Repeated event plot
  • Repeated action plot

This list is by no means complete and I’m constantly on the lookout for more!

I’ve defined an alternative plot  as one that doesn’t have a hero (as termed by the hero’s journey), one that lacks a specific goal, or one that does not use traditional cause-and-effect as its connective tissue. Let’s look at how a few of these plots are different than the hero’s journey arch plot.

Tender MerciesMINI PLOT (Also known as: Emotional Plot)

Mini plot is a minimalist approach to arch plot in which the writer reduces the elements of classical design. Often these stories are internal and appear to be plot-less, and/or have passive protagonists. However, the cause-and-effect links are often derived from points of emotional growth rather than high-stakes action. Some might argue that this is a “watered down” version of arch plot, because you can still see the same patterns of arch plot arising in mini-plot, but on a smaller more emotional level.

  • Film Examples: Tender Mercies, Five Easy Pieces, Wild Strawberries.

red_violin_ver2DAISY CHAIN PLOT

In the daisy chain plot there is no central protagonist with a goal. Instead multiple characters or situations are introduced through the cause-and-effect connective tissue of a physical object that is passed from one character to the next.

  • Film Examples: The Red Violin, Twenty Bucks.
  • Book Examples: Lethal Passage (Larson).
  • Modified Daisy Chain Plots with a Protagonist: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Angleberger), Thirteen Reasons Why (Asher).

inexcusableCAUTIONARY TALE PLOT

In the cautionary tale plot there isn’t a hero and it is often the antithesis of comforting growth. In both Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable and Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun, the main character’s commit horrible acts of violence.  In this plot, the reader becomes the protagonist who must evaluate the main character, and it is often the reader who ends up changing as a result.

  • Book Examples: Inexcusable (Lynch), Jumped (Williams-Garcia), Give a Boy a Gun (Strasser).

keeshaslENSEMBLE PLOT (Also known as: Polyphonic Plot)

This plot has multiple protagonists in a single location which is “characterized by the interaction of several voices, consciousnesses, or world views, none of which unifies or is superior to the others” (Berg). There can be goals in this plot type, but more often it is a character-driven story in the form of a portrait of a city, group of friends, or community.

  • Film Examples: The Big Chill, Nashville, Beautiful Girls.
  • Book Examples: Keesha’s House (Frost), Give a Boy a Gun (Strasser), Bronx Masquerade (Grimes), Doing It (Burgess).

Are you starting to see some of the new and exciting options available? Stay tuned. In part 2, I’ll cover: along for the ride plot, symbolic juxtaposition plot, repeated event plot, and repeated action plot.


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12. Alternative Plots (Part 2)

Thanks for coming back to learn more about alternative plots!

Last week in Part 1, I covered mini-plot, daisy chain plot, cautionary tale plot, and ensemble plot. Today we’re going to continue to push the boundaries of arch plot and the hero’s journey by taking a look at along-for-the-ride plot, symbolic juxtaposition plot, repeated event plot, and repeated action plot. Again, I’ve termed an alternative plot as one that doesn’t have a hero (as defined by the hero’s journey), one that lacks a specific goal, or one that does not use traditional cause-and-effect as its connective tissue.

What I sawALONG FOR THE RIDE PLOT

In the Along for the Ride plot there isn’t an active protagonist.  Instead a secondary character drives the action and the protagonist is along for the ride. Often there’s still a change in the protagonist, showing that we don’t always have to be active goal-seekers for an event or person to incite personal growth.

  • Book Examples: Looking for Alaska (Green), What I Saw and How I Lied (Blundell), Rebecca (Maurier).

Life in a DaySYMBOLIC JUXTAPOSITION PLOT (Also known as: Thematic Plot, Intellectual Plot, Anti-Plot, Existential Plot)

In the symbolic juxtaposition plot the reader should be prepared for a more intellectual experience. Instead of traditional cause-and-effect, this plot uses themes, ideas, images, and concepts to connect scenes and sequences with meaning. It’s a more argumentative plot development where X doesn’t cause Y, but X is in a symbolic relationship to Y.

  • Film Examples: Life in a Day, The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line, Chunking Express, Waking Life.
  • Book Examples: Einstein’s Dreams (Lightman), Criss Cross (Perkins).

Vantage_point_08REPEATED EVENT PLOT

In classical narrative, the same event is never shown twice. In this plot type, however, one event repeats several times throughout the story, but each re-telling usually offers a new perspective. Multiple characters are used to show that there is more than one version of the truth.

  • Film Examples: Vantage Point, Hero, He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not.

Before I fallREPEATED ACTION PLOT

In this plot, a single character repeats an action over and over with the underlying design mantra of “we are going to keep doing this until we get it right.” This plot could be categorized as a goal-oriented plot, as the protagonist may have a goal, and the obstacles are the repetition of a single action with different outcomes. However, I’ve added it here, because it is a deviation from linear goal-oriented plot.

  • Film Examples: Run Lola Run, Groundhog Day, The Butterfly Effect, 50 First Dates.
  • Book Examples: Before I Fall (Oliver).

Are these the only plot types that exist? Absolutely not! This is simply the list I’ve created thus far in my search for alternative plots. If you know of more alternative plots, I’d love to hear about them!

For further reading on alternative plots, please take a look at:

  • Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
  • Pages 44 -66 in:  McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: IT Books, 1997.
  • Pages 165 – 194 in:  Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.

Coming up next: Alternative structures!


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13. Alternative Plots (Part 2)

Thanks for coming back to learn more about alternative plots!

Last week in Part 1, I covered mini-plot, daisy chain plot, cautionary tale plot, and ensemble plot. Today we’re going to continue to push the boundaries of arch plot and the hero’s journey by taking a look at along-for-the-ride plot, symbolic juxtaposition plot, repeated event plot, and repeated action plot. Again, I’ve termed an alternative plot as one that doesn’t have a hero (as defined by the hero’s journey), one that lacks a specific goal, or one that does not use traditional cause-and-effect as its connective tissue.

What I sawALONG FOR THE RIDE PLOT

In the Along for the Ride plot there isn’t an active protagonist.  Instead a secondary character drives the action and the protagonist is along for the ride. Often there’s still a change in the protagonist, showing that we don’t always have to be active goal-seekers for an event or person to incite personal growth.

  • Book Examples: Looking for Alaska (Green), What I Saw and How I Lied (Blundell), Rebecca (Maurier).

Life in a DaySYMBOLIC JUXTAPOSITION PLOT (Also known as: Thematic Plot, Intellectual Plot, Anti-Plot, Existential Plot)

In the symbolic juxtaposition plot the reader should be prepared for a more intellectual experience. Instead of traditional cause-and-effect, this plot uses themes, ideas, images, and concepts to connect scenes and sequences with meaning. It’s a more argumentative plot development where X doesn’t cause Y, but X is in a symbolic relationship to Y.

  • Film Examples: Life in a Day, The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line, Chunking Express, Waking Life.
  • Book Examples: Einstein’s Dreams (Lightman), Criss Cross (Perkins).

Vantage_point_08REPEATED EVENT PLOT

In classical narrative, the same event is never shown twice. In this plot type, however, one event repeats several times throughout the story, but each re-telling usually offers a new perspective. Multiple characters are used to show that there is more than one version of the truth.

  • Film Examples: Vantage Point, Hero, He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not.

Before I fallREPEATED ACTION PLOT

In this plot, a single character repeats an action over and over with the underlying design mantra of “we are going to keep doing this until we get it right.” This plot could be categorized as a goal-oriented plot, as the protagonist may have a goal, and the obstacles are the repetition of a single action with different outcomes. However, I’ve added it here, because it is a deviation from linear goal-oriented plot.

  • Film Examples: Run Lola Run, Groundhog Day, The Butterfly Effect, 50 First Dates.
  • Book Examples: Before I Fall (Oliver).

Are these the only plot types that exist? Absolutely not! This is simply the list I’ve created thus far in my search for alternative plots. If you know of more alternative plots, I’d love to hear about them!

For further reading on alternative plots, please take a look at:

  • Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
  • Pages 44 -66 in:  McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: IT Books, 1997.
  • Pages 165 – 194 in:  Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.

Coming up next: Alternative structures!


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14. Plot Genres

In my last two posts I covered a variety of alternative plots that deviate from traditional arch plot. In this post I want to address what is known as a plot genre.

You’ve probably stumbled across craft books that told you there are x-number of plot types and the story you are writing probably falls into one of these catagories.  For example Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat offers the following list:

  1. save-the-catMonster in the House
  2. Golden Fleece
  3. Out of the Bottle
  4. Dude with a Problem
  5. Rites of Passage
  6. Buddy Love
  7. Whydunit
  8. The Fool Triumphant
  9. Institutionalized
  10. Superhero

Or maybe you’ve stumbled across Ronald Tobias’ 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, which offers these as plot variations:

  1. 20 Master PlotsComing of Age Plot
  2. Atonement Plot
  3. Love Plot
  4. Forbidden Love Plot
  5. Revenge Plot
  6. Mystery Plot
  7. Adventure Plot
  8. Rescue Plot
  9. Escape Plot
  10. Temptation Plot
  11. You get the picture…

So, why aren’t these alternative plots? Why didn’t I include them in my alternative plot list?

Great question.

This is the difference between what I call a plot type and a plot genre. The list above is a category: romance, mystery, superhero, buddy flick, etc. They all come with conventions and audience expectations. And yes, they sometime even come with what one might call “obligatory scenes” (i.e. a scene you would expect from that genre of story). In my book, however, these are all still variations of the hero’s journey/goal-oriented plot. They don’t push the envelope of plot in a new way. Instead they use the conventions of arch plot to tell this variation of the goal-oriented story. Instead of a quest, it’s the goal to “get the girl” or “seek revenge” or “solve the mystery.” The reason we often hear that there is only “one type of story” is because we often lump everything (including all these genre variations) under the umbrella of a goal-oriented story.

Of course you can take any one of these genres and decide to use an alternative plot! Of course you can! And I’d love to see you do that.

But let’s not get confused. A plot-type is defined by the type of action and it’s cause-and-effect relationships. Whereas a plot-genre is defined by the category of the story-type and the expectations and conventions of that category.

genre


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15. Plot Genres

In my last two posts I covered a variety of alternative plots that deviate from traditional arch plot. In this post I want to address what is known as a plot genre.

You’ve probably stumbled across craft books that told you there are x-number of plot types and the story you are writing probably falls into one of these catagories.  For example Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat offers the following list:

  1. save-the-catMonster in the House
  2. Golden Fleece
  3. Out of the Bottle
  4. Dude with a Problem
  5. Rites of Passage
  6. Buddy Love
  7. Whydunit
  8. The Fool Triumphant
  9. Institutionalized
  10. Superhero

Or maybe you’ve stumbled across Ronald Tobias’ 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, which offers these as plot variations:

  1. 20 Master PlotsComing of Age Plot
  2. Atonement Plot
  3. Love Plot
  4. Forbidden Love Plot
  5. Revenge Plot
  6. Mystery Plot
  7. Adventure Plot
  8. Rescue Plot
  9. Escape Plot
  10. Temptation Plot
  11. You get the picture…

So, why aren’t these alternative plots? Why didn’t I include them in my alternative plot list?

Great question.

This is the difference between what I call a plot type and a plot genre. The list above is a category: romance, mystery, superhero, buddy flick, etc. They all come with conventions and audience expectations. And yes, they sometime even come with what one might call “obligatory scenes” (i.e. a scene you would expect from that genre of story). In my book, however, these are all still variations of the hero’s journey/goal-oriented plot. They don’t push the envelope of plot in a new way. Instead they use the conventions of arch plot to tell this variation of the goal-oriented story. Instead of a quest, it’s the goal to “get the girl” or “seek revenge” or “solve the mystery.” The reason we often hear that there is only “one type of story” is because we often lump everything (including all these genre variations) under the umbrella of a goal-oriented story.

Of course you can take any one of these genres and decide to use an alternative plot! Of course you can! And I’d love to see you do that.

But let’s not get confused. A plot-type is defined by the type of action and it’s cause-and-effect relationships. Whereas a plot-genre is defined by the category of the story-type and the expectations and conventions of that category.

genre


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16. Timelines: Plotting


START YOUR NOVEL

Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
  • 29 Plot Templates
  • 2 Essential Writing Skills
  • 100 Examples of Opening Lines
  • 7 Weak Openings to Avoid
  • 4 Strong Openings to Use
  • 3 Assignments to Get Unstuck
  • 7 Problems to Resolve
The Math adds up to one thing: a publishable manuscript. Download a sample chapter on your Kindle.

When you are deep into plotting a new novel or especially, a series, timelines are your friends. It’s a tool that will help straighten out the details and create order.

Obviously, a time line lays out the time period of your novel. Does it take place in 24 hours or does it span 24 years? Within that time span, you’ll want to slot events, reactions, and characters.

Backstory. Using a time line to plan a story probably means you’ll want to include back story events. You can do as much or as little as you need here. Maybe you want to include a character’s birth, baptism or bar mitzvah, high school graduation, or other major life events. You’ll also want to include other major events: parent’s divorce, house burned down, moving to a new school or city, first job and so on.

You can choose to do a separate time line for each person, but I like to have a master timeline where each character’s events are included. If you like, you can get fancy with this and do it on a spread sheet with each character getting a column or a certain color row.

Plot Events. When the events reach the story’s opening, it’s time to start imposing some structure. Dividing the time line into Act 1, 2 and 3 (and 4, if you use that paradigm), makes sense. You’ll want to make sure the story’s time line provides characters a great stage entrance, then introduces events that keep the story rolling. Here’s a great place to start tweaking the pacing of your story.
TimeLine

Ticking Clocks. Speaking of pacing, try introducing a ticking clock: some event must be completed by midnight or unspeakably bad things will happen. If Sherlock Holmes doesn’t solve the crime by midnight, beautiful Aurelia will be the victim of Poe’s pendulum (to mix up a lot of things!).

Edit and Revise. This is also a place where you should edit drastically. If you think up a scene, but can’t decide where to put it–cut it. It’s probably not important to the story anyway. Each scene or event should serve a definite purpose that pulls the reader toward the climactic ending. Some events will have a quiet purpose like characterization or setting p the next scene. OK, as long as there’s some purpose to the scene. Time enough later to Kill-Your- Darlings when you revise the novel.

Messing with the TimeLine. Now that you have the time line laid out, you can actually mess with it, if you like. You could present scenes out of order, with back story coming in as a flashback or even more drastic manipulations of time. The movie, Memento, is about a character with a short term memory problem, which lead to strange time manipulations. If you want to do this, be warned: the younger the audience, the more likely you are to confuse them. Telling a story with a jumbled timeline makes it harder for your reader to understand and enjoy. So, if you decide to go this route, use your best storytelling techniques. Read about flashbacks here or here.

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17. Going Dark

I read two very dark stories in the same week. They were different genres: dystopian YA versus contemporary mystery. Both featured damaged protagonists. One kept me glued to the page. The other found me skimming to see how it ended without engaging me along the way.


The first was Julianna Baggott’s Pure. The dystopian setting is depressingly bleak. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where people have been fused to objects. Her world-building through choice of details made the story interesting and kept me reading. I can’t say I enjoyed it. It was tragic all the way through with no happy moments. The third person omniscient narrator traveled between co-protagonists, Pressia and Partridge, at a remove. The verbal camera also encompassed secondary characters that never fully came to life. They served as pawns to move the story forward. I never really felt a connection to the main characters, though I felt sympathy for their plight. None of the information reveals about how the story world developed were surprising. The terrible choice the heroine made at the end was treated almost clinically. I didn’t sense the anguish she should have felt. The ending was left open for a sequel.

Writers interested in learning more about world-building and unique vision should read Pure.

The second book was Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. Her rich, narrative voice made the story fascinating to read. The protagonist is a child damaged by the murder of her family (allegedly by her brother). She was sympathetic yet tragic. I could appreciate why she turned out the way she did: a thief, a liar, a user. The story’s theme about exploiting the murder of others is strong. Flynn addressed the way survivors are cast into the spotlight and quickly forgotten and the macabre people who fixate on murders. The question of whether her brother committed the murders or not kept me turning pages to get to the truth. Four credible suspects were presented. The verbal camera moved between brother Ben, via third-person close up, the mother Patty via third person close up, the protagonist Libby via first person. In the end, the mystery was solved. I didn’t like the alternative last minute fifth suspect. There is one weird deviation to his POV at the end which didn’t add anything for me.

Writers interested in captivating narrative voice and page-turning, effective information reveals should read Dark Places.

You can learn as much from what you disliked about books as what you loved about them. Read both.

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18. Fiction Techniques for Nonfiction


START YOUR NOVEL

Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
  • 29 Plot Templates
  • 2 Essential Writing Skills
  • 100 Examples of Opening Lines
  • 7 Weak Openings to Avoid
  • 4 Strong Openings to Use
  • 3 Assignments to Get Unstuck
  • 7 Problems to Resolve
The Math adds up to one thing: a publishable manuscript. Download a sample chapter on your Kindle.

All those fiction techniques you’ve spent time mastering — dialogue, description, setting, mood, scenes, characterization, and plot — are equally useful in writing nonfiction. Yes, there is more leeway in nonfiction than in the last twenty-five years, but publishers still value creative nonfiction or fiction written with fiction techniques.

For example, I have a new nonfiction coming out next year, Kentucky Basketball: America’s Winningest Teams (Rosen, 2014). I searched and searched for an interesting opening to the story, until I found a scene that was worthy of describing.


It was Valentine’s Day, 1938. Packed into the University of Kentucky Alumni Gym were over 4000 people, some sitting in windows, others literally hanging from the rafters. The UK Wildcat basketball team led top-ranked Marquette University team by 10 points.

It’s an exciting rivalry game, early in the history of the basketball program at Kentucky. Fiction techniques dictated that I set the scene immediately. Then I use sensory details to fill in the scene to describe the fast-paced last few minutes. Joe “Red” Hagan shoots a long 49-foot field goal from near the half-court line. When Marquette missed three more times, it becomes the winning score. Then, the interesting part started. In the audience was “Happy” Chandler, governor of Kentucky. He was so excited by the win, and especially Red’s winning shot, that he called for a hammer and nail. He rushed onto the court and at the spot from which Red shot, Chandler hammered a nail into the floor to commemorate the moment.

It’s stuff of legends. And it deserved a full scene, which meant fiction techniques.

Research Details for NonFiction: Think Fiction

This means that while I was researching the nonfiction topic of Kentucky basketball, I was really looking for a certain type of information.

Scenes. I look specifically for scenes with a beginning, middle with conflict, and ending. It needs to be something fun and interesting, a specific event.

Details. Next, I look for details. Here’s a fact: the basketball arena was meant to seat 2500, but 4000 fans were in attendance. A newspaper article of the times specifically said that fans were literally sitting in windows and hanging from the rafters. I look for numbers, colors, sizes, shapes, extended descriptions, and other specific details. These will all help the story come alive.

Timelines. The timeline of the basketball game was important to lay out and newspaper reports were helpful. The details of the first half were important to understand, so I could focus on the last three minutes.

Personalities or Characters. This story is made richer by the presence of Happy Chandler, governor of Kentucky. What a happy thing that he was named Happy! It added to the appeal of the story that the governor with such a nickname was so Happy that he did something unexpected.

Unexpected. The story is interested because of the governor’s unexpected reaction. Stories of last-minute wins are commonplace, even if in the moment it feels like a miracle. By itself, Red Hagan’s shot isn’t remarkable enough to include in a book like this. But add to that the unexpected hammer and nail, and it becomes a remarkable story of a fan who wanted to acknowledge a miraculous shot. That’s why this story made it into the book’s introduction, surprise.

Research and document all your research; but while you’re researching, think fiction techniques. And your nonfiction article will become an interesting story that both informs and entertains.

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19. 5 Quotes to Plot Your Novel By


START YOUR NOVEL

Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
  • 29 Plot Templates
  • 2 Essential Writing Skills
  • 100 Examples of Opening Lines
  • 7 Weak Openings to Avoid
  • 4 Strong Openings to Use
  • 3 Assignments to Get Unstuck
  • 7 Problems to Resolve
The Math adds up to one thing: a publishable manuscript. Download a sample chapter on your Kindle.

I am currently slogging through plot development of a new series of novels. Here are some helpful quotes.

  1. “A plot is just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.” Margaret Atwood.
    It is hard to narrow down the possibilities of a story to a particular “WHAT happened next?”. It is a tricky process of going back and forth between character and interconnected events, refining both at the same time you make a decision about WHAT. Because I am planning a series, I am writing three plots with the same characters, which gives each character an internal conflict arc for individual books, as well as for the series overall. If an individual plot line doesn’t give me an idea for WHAT, I switch to series conflict; or I switch to a subplot.
  2. Terror: The Doorway to Great Plots

  3. “Real suspense comes with moral dilemma and the courage to make and at upon choices. False suspense comes from the accidental and meaningless occurrence of one damned thing after another.” John Gardner.
    In the midst of all the WHAT, I am constantly searching for the moral dilemma. Versus. Good versus good. Understandable versus understandable, even if you might disagree. Moral dilemmas make for great plots.
  4. “Writing about writing, Checkhov instrucs us that no gun should go off unless we have first shown it hanging on the wall: every surprise must have its sublimated genesis.” Cynthia Ozick.
    If WHAT happens at the end of Book 3, how can I prepare the reader for it and surprise the reader at the same time? How needs to remain unstated in Books 1 and 2? In Acts 1 and 2 of each book?
  5. “Years ago, someone said to me, ‘Jackson, your books must be printed on scar tissue.’ I was pleased.” Richard Jackson
    Beware of characters who are too perfect, of plots that fit together too neatly. Life is messy and while art works to make sense of that mess, if it is too structured, it fails to connect emotionally. Embrace the scars of your characters. Embrace your own scars as a writer, as a person.
  6. “Get your character in trouble in the first sentence and out of trouble in the last sentence.” Barthe DeClements
    Pacing of plots is crucial; never give the reader a place to put the story down. This focus on tension on every page begins at the stage of slogging out a plot and continues till the last copyedit.

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20. Plot vs. Structure

The plot of your novel is the sequence of actions, and the structure is how you put them together. 

https://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/plot-vs-structure/

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21. The Many Layers of Structure and Design

layers_exampleI’ve spent the last two months talking all about classical design, alternative structures and plots, and designing principles! Hopefully you’ve seen that there are innumerable design possibilities at your fingertips. But as I walked us through this series, I’m sure a few of you read my posts and thought to yourself: Doesn’t that story fit into multiple types of structure? For example, as I explained that The Godfather uses a fairy-tale structure, you might have been thinking: But Ingrid, it also uses the mountain structure!

To which I’d say: You’re right!

Which brings me to my final point in this series: design and structure are layered. You won’t necessarily pick on design concept and be done.

In the film Memento, the designing principle uses a backwards structure to reflect short term memory. But it also has a goal-oriented plot and a mountain structure. Only the major structural beats are flipped.  If the story was told forward, what would be considered the inciting incident becomes the climax when it’s told backwards. Additionally, because the story revisits events of the past, again and again, you could also consider this movie to have a spiral structure.

Helen Frost’s novel Keesha’s House is also layered.  It’s told with eight protagonists as a portrait of a community and each chapter uses a wheel structure to unify the characters through a theme. But the structure of the whole novel still uses a mountain escalation as each chapter introduces new obstacles. It’s also a goal-oriented plot: to find a safe place to live.

Layered Design Slide

Stories are layered. And you may find, like me, that the story you’re trying to tell doesn’t fit easily into a three act structure or the hero’s journey. Or maybe it does. And it’s okay if it does. Just make sure that’s a choice you’ve made because it’s right for your story.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman said in a lecture to the British Film Academy that “there’s no template for a screenplay, or there shouldn’t be. There are at least as many screenplay possibilities as there are people who write them.  Don’t let anyone tell you what a story is, what it needs to include or what form it must take.”

Only you know how to tell your story and only you know how to design it.

Thanks for reading this series!


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22. The Many Layers of Structure and Design

layers_exampleI’ve spent the last two months talking all about classical design, alternative structures and plots, and designing principles! Hopefully you’ve seen that there are innumerable design possibilities at your fingertips. But as I walked us through this series, I’m sure a few of you read my posts and thought to yourself: Doesn’t that story fit into multiple types of structure? For example, as I explained that The Godfather uses a fairy-tale structure, you might have been thinking: But Ingrid, it also uses the mountain structure!

To which I’d say: You’re right!

Which brings me to my final point in this series: design and structure are layered. You won’t necessarily pick on design concept and be done.

In the film Memento, the designing principle uses a backwards structure to reflect short term memory. But it also has a goal-oriented plot and a mountain structure. Only the major structural beats are flipped.  If the story was told forward, what would be considered the inciting incident becomes the climax when it’s told backwards. Additionally, because the story revisits events of the past, again and again, you could also consider this movie to have a spiral structure.

Helen Frost’s novel Keesha’s House is also layered.  It’s told with eight protagonists as a portrait of a community and each chapter uses a wheel structure to unify the characters through a theme. But the structure of the whole novel still uses a mountain escalation as each chapter introduces new obstacles. It’s also a goal-oriented plot: to find a safe place to live.

Layered Design Slide

Stories are layered. And you may find, like me, that the story you’re trying to tell doesn’t fit easily into a three act structure or the hero’s journey. Or maybe it does. And it’s okay if it does. Just make sure that’s a choice you’ve made because it’s right for your story.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman said in a lecture to the British Film Academy that “there’s no template for a screenplay, or there shouldn’t be. There are at least as many screenplay possibilities as there are people who write them.  Don’t let anyone tell you what a story is, what it needs to include or what form it must take.”

Only you know how to tell your story and only you know how to design it.

Thanks for reading this series!


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23. Excitement: Starting a New Novel


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison

Start Your Novel

by Darcy Pattison

Giveaway ends October 01, 2013.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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There’s an excitement in the air! I’ve started a new novel project.
Here’s what I don’t want to happen:

I don’t want the excitement for this project to get bogged down and dribble away. It happens too easily, as life issues take over, as problems arise with the project, or just as the work drags on.

I don’t want to talk bad about this project to anyone. Sometimes, I fall into the habit of complaining. This chapter or that character just aren’t cooperating! Why is this so hard? ARGH! I hate this project because it’s not going like I want. Nope. None of that this time. I love this project and I’m excited about it. I think my readers will love it, too. Hurrah! It’s such a joy to be working on such a great project.

I don’t want this project to drag on forever. I have scheduled two months to get a first draft done and I’m working hard on keeping to that schedule.

Here’s things I want to happen:
Joy. Excitement. Productivity.

Scheduling the Project

When faced with a big project, how do you break it down into manageable pieces?
I’ve already gone through the process of deciding what kind of novel this will be. Now, I just need to write it.

Here are the steps I plan to follow:
One page synopsis. I’ve written a one-page summary of the story, knowing full well that it would need to be fleshed out when the time comes. Now that the time is here, it’s easy to see where I want the story to go. There are huge gaps in the story, of course, but the one-page synopsis grounds the story in some particular issues.

Subplots to Detailed Plot.I am taking a day to flesh out some of the subplots. For example, one subplot will involve kids planning a parade. I spent today researching fun ideas to add to the parade and parade planning. Did you know that some parades these days require horses to wear diapers? It’s true. Horse poop on city streets–though once the norm–is now a no-no. There are special bags which are strapped to horses to catch their “meadow muffins.” (Now, see, isn’t that great language to use in a book? Meadow muffins. Horse apples.) Real life can be stranger than fiction: horse diapers.

I’ll take a day to research the other subplots and layout some ideas for developing the plot lines. Then, I’ll spend a day picking and choosing scenes to include and weaving them into the main plot line to create a detailed plot. That breaks the task of plotting into steps that I can manage. By approaching it from the subplot angle, I am free to make leaps and make errors: it doesn’t matter, it’s just a subplot. But in the end, I am sure that I’ll find some unique things to add to this story to make it more fun and funny.

WARNING: THIS 24-SECOND VIDEO SHOWS A HORSE POOPING. Your kids will probably love it!

If you can’t see this video, click here.

Characterization and character continuity. With a detailed plot in hand, I’ll double check the characterization needed. Because this is a second book in a series, much of the characterization is set up and I’ll need to continue it on, create an emotional arc for this book and make sure there is continuity. The first step will be the emotional arc for the character. I’ll need to make sure the external plot echoes the internal arc. This means a detailed summary of the story that includes the plot, subplots and character issues.

Revise. With a very long, detailed synopsis of the story, I’ll look for holes in logic, characterization and plot.

Write. Finally, I’ll use the synopsis to create a full draft–by Halloween.

This is a slightly different process for me, with more upfront planning. I’d like the full synopsis to be about 1/3 of the finished book, which will be enough detail to help me get the whole story done.

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24. Trust the Writing Process: Of Anteaters and Spider Webs


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Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison

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by Darcy Pattison

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I am working on a first draft of a story and am reminded of a couple things.

First, you must write the story. You can plan all you want, but the story comes alive in the actual writing. A small thing this week: my main character is afraid of all bugs. That includes insects and anthropods (spiders)–anything that crawls or flies. So, there they are, the Main Character(MC) and Best Friend (BF) sitting in art class and painting. Guess what the BF paints? An anteater! It’s a perfect addition to the story but I hadn’t planned on it. It came about simply because I wrote the first draft of the first chapter. And there it was.

We don’t know what we think until we write.
We don’t know what the story is until we write.

It’s like sports. You can predict who will win or lose a game, but the teams must still play the game. And there are always surprises.

Write your story. It will surprise you.

The second thing that is happening is not as nice. The story is boring.
I am still feeling my way through the story to find the line of tension, the exciting bits. I’ll keep writing even if it’s boring, because I am digging up anteaters. To use another bug metaphor, I’ve spun a web and I am sitting like a spider monitoring the web for the slightest hint of movement. When the movement–or story excitement–happens, I’ll be ready to pounce. It’s called trusting the process. It’s the most exciting and satisfying thing about writing, when a story comes together on many levels. It’s also scary: I KNOW this is a boring chapter, too full of static action and talking heads. I KNOW it’s bad. I could throw up my hands and just quit. Instead, I’ll plod along and write through the problems until I find something exciting. I can delete this boring chapter later (and, I will!). For now, I am trusting the writing process to get me to a stronger story. And it will.

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25. Plot vs. Structure

TerminologyI want to step back for a second and clarify my own personal definitions of plot versus structure. As mentioned in my previous post on plot definitions there are many views of what plot it! Additionally, I fear that as I walked us through arch plot and classic design last week, I may have reinforced the misconceptions that plot and structure are same thing.

Plot and structure are not the same thing!

I did a previous series on plot (To Plot or Not to Plot) where I explored the differences between narrative, story, plot, and structure. I’ve since re-evaluated some of the things I said in those posts and the following are my current definitions:

PLOT: Plot is often defined as a “sequence of actions” (Fletcher) or “the actions of the characters” (Bechard). However, plot is also the connective tissue that links events or actions with meaning. It’s not just what happens, but the causal connections of why it happens. Janet Burroway defines plot as a “series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance … Plot’s concern is ‘what, how, and why,’ with scenes ordered to highlight cause-and-effect.”

In simple terms, plot is a series of actions with a cause and effect relationship. In my explanation of arch plot, the hero’s journey is the plot.

Whereas…

STRUCTURE: Structure is the triangle or mountain shape in the diagram I used. Structure has two parts. The first is arrangement. For example, you tell scene one, then scene two, then scene three. Or you tell scene 3, then scene 1, then scene 27, etc. This is about order and organization. The second part is about patterns, rhythm, and energy. It’s about the movement and feeling your particular arrangement creates. The triangle (often called the Aristotelian story shape) is a visual metaphor for the escalating energy that is meant to come as a result of a classic design arrangement.

With structure we are looking at the arrangement and rhythm of the whole. Author, Susan Fletcher defines structure as “the organization, or overall design, or form of a particular literary work … [It is the] larger rhythm of the story.” Additionally, Chea says that “in examining story structure, we look for patterns, for the shape that the story as a whole possesses. Plot directs us to the story in motion, structure to the story at rest.”

In the coming posts, I’m going to list alternative plots and alternative structures. I wanted to clarify the difference between these terms so you would better understand how I’ve organized these lists. One is by the nature of the action (plot) while the other is about the organization and rhythm of the action (structure).

Works Cited:
Bechard, Margaret. “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2008.
Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narative Craft. 8th Edition. New York: Longman, 2011.
Chea, Stephenson. “What’s the Difference Between Plot and Structure.” Associated Content.  16 Feb. 2010. Web. 7 May 2011.
Fletcher, Susan. “Structure as Genesis.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.

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