Friday, April 9, 2010

Twist, Turn, Pivot and Point: Structure & Plot

I'm nearly ready to transfer my entire document back into a new project in the Scrivener program. I love this program because I can easily shift my scenes around, mark my structure points, color code my hero/heroine/villain cards and more. Oh, it is a lovely writing tool.

Before I move my WIP into Scrivener, I am revisiting the idea of plot and structure. I've read a few books on the subject and they've helped me clarify the major points I need to work toward in my overall novel writing. However, at times they merely muddy my thinking because there are about twenty billion different ways to label the major turning points and sections of the novel. Many novels and commercial movies have been dissected using these amazing templates.

I am in awe of any writer who can sit down with any novel idea/template and know all the answers before she starts writing.

I am not that kind of a writer.

I know most of the answers, or think I know. Then I write away and try to meet the goals I've set for my writing. Then I read my muddled mess, or send it to CPs or enter contests or share it a workshops, and all my clever plotting and ideas are shot down (well not all, but a lot or they are asked to go to the "next" level -- whatever that is as I don't often know what my original level is).

And then I sit down, rip out the parts that aren't working, or don't resonate, and try to come up with more answers to the original questions and fill in renewed blank spaces that I thought were answered. And then I have to look at the mess again and try to create order out of my chaos.

So here I am at the apex of binding my WIP into a solid structure and I am revisiting the plotting ideas once more.

This time I am reading the book STORY STRUCTURE-DEMYSTIFIED by Larry Brooks. He's really good at distilling the information for the reader. The book is a fast read (thank goodness), and it offers really amazing examples from movies like the TITANIC and books like THE DAVINCI CODE. He renames some of points, restructures some of the elements I've gleaned, but essentially I already have the basics written down on my handy dandy chapter/scene skeleton outline (it is very simplistic).

Sure, the words are different (not all, but some), but it is basically the same. So even though I have had this skeleton and have used it for every revision, guess what? Yeah, you got it--I still have to rip the guts out of the story because I haven't quite nailed down all the plot points/major milestones, or I have them but they're not in the right spots.

What gets me is that the information is the essentially the same, but the labels become different. For instance, INCITING INCIDENT. That's Larry's HOOK. His INCITING INCIDENT is the FIRST PLOT POINT. Or in another language THE FIRST PIVOTAL PLOT POINT. He talks about the 3 Act Structure in terms of the novel and screenwriting, but for the novel, he talks about 4 BOXES. And what scenes belong in each BOX. And his ORPHAN, WANDERER, WARRIOR, MARTYR remind me of the hero's mythical journey (or something like that--I have that info tucked somewhere as well).

And I'm glad he does relabel or restate the facts in a new way for me. Why? Because it makes me think outside of my box. I start brainstorming and getting new ideas for my book. I am affirmed about what is working for me as a writer, organically and structurally. I'd love to become the writer he talks about: you know the writer that figures out all the points, the main items in the boxes, and then writes a fairly clean first draft where it needs minor revisions.

Heck, that's why I read structure books. They give me hope that one day I won't need to gut my stories four to five or more times. But the truth is, I'll be lucky if I can get away with not gutting more than twice. That's my goal. At least until I get the "call" and an editor asks me to gut my story and revise it again.

So here are the fun ways to label plot points and story arcs I've gleaned over the years I've been struggling with structure:


Well, you get the picture. Is it any wonder I consider my writing process "organized chaos?"

What clever books and ideas have you got to share with me regarding plotting and structure and the writing process?


KarenG said...

Wow, I don't know Christine, I think you've got it all with that list! It's a good one.

Christine said...

KarenG: there are so many ways to label the same item on the flow chart it is astounding.

I'm just muddling through with my writing and hoping I hit all the marks.


MaryC said...

LOL Christine. I'm definitely feeling the same muddle this week.

And just to muddle it some more - I'll throw in Scene and Sequel. I'm rereading Jack Bickham's book on story structure right now and scene and sequel is how he suggests plotting your book.

I was thinking the other night that I sort of feel like one of the contestants on American Idol when the judges each give conflicting advice.

I read one blog that has a Very Successful Author say "Do This" and so I go back and look at my mss and think Voila! That's what I needed to do. Then I stumble across another blog where another Very Successful Author says "NEVER Do This".

Christine said...

Hi MaryC: I remember Scene and Sequel very well. I have used it in my writing. I just don't think there is ONE way to write a book. There are elements we strive to include, that we MUST include, but how we achieve our goals is as varied as the snowflakes dropping out of the sky.

I think it's good to have these ideas planted in our heads without trying too hard to twist ourselves into pretzels to crank out the perfect first draft. Some of it will come out organically.

Wendy Marcus said...

Hi Christine!
I use Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. It follows the three act structure, like I think most of them do. If I get stuck while writing, I often refer back to it and it helps me clear my thinking.

Christine said...

Hi Wendy: I have that book and haven't cracked it open yet. For some reason, the Larry Brooks book really resonated with me because he doesn't say outlining is the key. He's really talking about hitting those key points. Of course, that's what all my books say to do. It's how he frames it. I still muddle along with my stories even if I do have the points worked out. The good news is that my hook, my inciting incident and my last major plot point and resolution appear to be cool. Now to find the elusive mid point AGAIN. You know--dreaded chapter ten LOL.

Terresa said...

My writing is a lot of "organized chaos," too. (sigh)

Thanks for the heads up on STORY STRUCTURE-DEMYSTIFIED by Larry Brooks. I'm going to check it out.

Happy writing!!

Christine said...

Terresa: it is a wonderful book, but ultimately, I am flying into the mist on this one again :-). I long to hang my stories onto a framework, and they do, but the framework seems to change all the time. And I think Romances are bit trickier because there are two heroes and that means a romantic black moment and a plot black moment.

Ah, what a tangled web I weave.

Good luck and definitely check it out--it's work having on your computer (it's an e-book).

Anonymous said...

I can empathize with this, Christine. I'm stuck at Opening Scene, Act 3 with my WIP. I have Final Scene right there: ready, willing and able but this transition point has stopped me in my tracks. Could be why I'm doing yardwork instead.

The creative process is as individual as you would expect from creative people. What works for one Successful Author isn't going to rate very high with Another Successful Author.

When I worked with a dance company, the Creative Director had a mantra: 'The process is everything.' I don't buy that 100%, but it is certainly a significant part of why we write/create - we like work!

Thanks for the insights into your process.


Gwen Hernandez said...

My favorite thing about Larry's book was his description of what your character should be doing in each part. I also like how he split up Act II and described pinch points that remind you of the antagonistic force. I'm a pantser/mister, but I still need some idea of major milestones, and I like knowing whether I'm on track.

Wendy: James Scott Bell's book is another favorite. He also has some fun tidbits on Twitter.

Terresa: Larry's book is available from

Christine: I can so totally relate to your angst. Good luck!

Christine said...

Hi Leigh: Thanks for visiting. Yes, the process is very individual. I yearn for easy fixes, but they simply don't exist. I hope that's not true, but this feels like giving birth to an elephant, not a book, right now.

Good luck with your revisions!

Christine said...

Hi Gwen: Yes, there were some excellent bits of advice in the Brooks' book. I am certainly incorporating the "does this scene feel like a set up, a reaction or an action scene" in my revision.

But the worst part is, as always, the dreaded cutting!

Which is why I haven't been able to blog this week.