Sunday, 20 July 2008

WRITING BOOKS - Plot & Structure

Plot and Structure

By James Scott Bell

I enjoyed reading Plot and Structure, so I thought that I would jot down some of the key points that I picked up. In essence this book describes how to develop a road map for your story. Some may see this as a recipe for writing formulaic rubbish but just because every house has a plan doesn't mean that they all look the same. I have mixed my metaphors but you get the idea.

Bell acknowledges that there is a continuum of writers, from those that are capable of vomiting a stream of consciousness to those that can't get out of bed without a Gannt chart. I haven't worked out where I sit yet but I suspect that is just to the right of Genghis Kahn. No matter where you sit on that continuum, your writing will benefit from some structure and at the very least you should develop your LOCK before starting.

LOCK is a FLA (Four Letter Acronym). I guess he couldn't get it down to three.

L = Lead (who is your lead and why are they interesting?)
O = Objective (what does your lead want or want to get away from?)
C = Confrontation (what obstacles stop your lead from getting their objective?)
K = Knockout (what is the killer ending which ties up everything and resonates with the reader)

Bell argues that a strong ending can rescue a middling story. As part of the minimalist approach he recommends that you also whip up a back cover description of your story based on the LOCK. If this doesn't sound like something that you would want to read then it is time for a rethink.

By now I will have lost our less structured brethren so allow me to forge on with a bit more detail.

Bell points out that the three act structure has been in place for thousands of years which suggests that there may be something to it.

Act 1 introduces your lead and usually has an initial disturbance to get the reader interested. At or before about 1/5th the way through your word count a major disturbance occurs which thrusts your lead through a door way into Act 2. This door way is a one way trip. Once through your lead must have a reason to keep banging their head against all the obstacles you keep throwing up. This gives the story momentum and keeps people reading.

The door way to Act 3 should be at the 3/4 mark or further and is another one way trip. The trigger to crossing this threshold could be a major clue or setback, which sets you up for the final confrontation or choice in Act 3. The knockout.

Bell also talks about the rhythm of your story with the major chords being:
  • Action then obstacle; and
  • Reaction (how the lead responds and what choice is made)
And the minor chords:
  • setup; and
  • deepening
Which are added for spice.

Bell then speaks about the character arc, which editors tell me my stories don't manifest. His theory is that the arc looks something like:

Start -> Opinions -> Attitude -> Values -> Core Beliefs -> Self Image.

There is lots more in Plot and Structure, with plenty of examples from popular fiction, literary works , screenplays and comics.

I enjoyed it and will be giving some of his suggestions a go. I reckon it was well worth the $11.55 (plus postage). BTW - this is part of a series of books on Writing. There are other titles on Dialogue, Characters, Setting, etc. I have also purchased the one on Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint. Once I read that I will let you know what I think.

I bought this book on-line at Get it now while the Ozzie dollar is strong.

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