Plots, part 5

This is the last of the information I currently have on hand.

Three images showing different ways to plot your story. Note that you don’t have to use any of these. Writing is a fluid and creative process where you don’t have to adhere to strict guidelines. That’s all they are – guidelines. People talk about common elements because they’re established and readers tend to like them (in most commercial fiction.)

Here’s yet another variation of The Hero’s Journey.

a5acb45a82851374a819eace282fe702

And one more variation, called “the plot dot” by Derek Murphy.

Creativindie plot dot

And another take on the 4-act story structure.

fouracts11

For more information,:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheHerosJourney

http://mystorydoctor.com/escalating-your-story/

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Plots, part 4

The Hero’s Journey (aka classic plot, archplot structure, etc) is popular yet also complicated. Everyone has a slightly different idea on what each part should be. There are general ideas, sure, and the specifics differ.

“[Archplot is a goal-oriented plot where] for better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extrapersonal). He may or may not achieve it.” – McKee

Billy Wilder has a really simplified view:

  • Act I: put the character up in a tree
  • Act II: set the tree on fire
  • Act III: get your character down

This is from information compiled by Ingrid Sundberg. (Source image at the bottom.)

Act I

The Ordinary World (beginning: 25%). In a movie, this would be the first 30 minutes.

  • Ordinary world
    • The known, the set-up, the status quo, limited awareness
  • Call to adventure
    • Inciting incident, the call to action, the catalyst
  • Refusal of the call
    • Threshold guardians, defining moment, separation, reluctance, new situation, the debate, meeting the mentor
  • Crossing the first threshold
    • Energetic marker 1: end of the beginning
    • The point of no return, committing to the goal, break into two, turning point 1, the threshold, awakening
    • Plot point 1, act 1 climax

Act II

The Special World (middle: 50% of the story). In a movie, this would take up the next hour or so. (Minutes 30-90).

  • Tests, allies, enemies
    • The fun and games, resistance and struggle, rising action and obstacles, belly of the whale, push to the breaking point, the special world, road of trials
  • Midpoint
    • Energetic marker 2: halfway point
    • Mid-act climax, moment of grace, mindfuck moment, moment of enlightenment, commitment to the journey, progress
  • Approaching inmost cave
    • Challenges and temptations, grace and fall, resistance and struggle, complications and higher stakes, the bad guys close in, intensification, preparation, rising action, obstacles
  • Inmost cave
    • Energetic marker 3: Crisis
    • Dark night of the soul, abyss and revelation, the major assault, death of the ego, death experience, rock bottom, the ordeal, the crisis, big change, epiphany
    • Plot point 2, act 2 climax

Act III

The Ordinary World (end: 25%). In a movie, this would take up the last 30 minutes or so. (Minutes 90-120).

  • Final Push
    • The descent, the sprint
  • Seizing the Sword (Climax)
    • Energetic marker 4: Climax
    • Seizing the prize, transformation, finale, break into three, the final incident
  • Return with the elixir
    • Transformation and return, rapidly falling action, the road back, denouement, new life, resolution, aftermath, a new status quo
  • End Scene

Here’s the full easy-to-read chart I took this information from. I typed everything out so I can copy-and-paste in the future, if need be. (It’s easier to use when I have both text and an image.)

final-revision_traditional-mountain-structure-handout_8-5x14

Plots, part 3

The Hero’s Journey (aka classic plot, archplot structure, etc) is popular yet also complicated. Everyone has a slightly different idea on what each part should be. There are general ideas, sure, and the specifics differ.

“[Archplot is a goal-oriented plot where] for better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extrapersonal). He may or may not achieve it.” – McKee

Billy Wilder has a really simplified view:

  • Act I: put the character up in a tree
  • Act II: set the tree on fire
  • Act III: get your character down

I’ll start with Christopher Vogler’s take.

The general plot:

Act I – The Ordinary World (beginning: 25%)

  • Ordinary world
  • Call to adventure
  • Refusal
  • Meet the mentor
  • Crossing the threshold (transition to act 2)

Act II – The Special World (middle: 50% of the story)

  • Tests, allies, enemies
  • Approach to Inmost cave
  • Ordeal (midpoint)
  • Reward – “seizing the sword”
  • The road back (transition to act 3)

Act III – The Ordinary World (end: 25%)

  • Resurrection
  • Return with the elixir

The general character arc:

Act I – The Ordinary World

  • Limited awareness
  • Increased awareness
  • Reluctance to change
  • Overcoming
  • Committing (transition to act 2)

Act II – The Other World

  • Experimenting
  • Preparing
  • Big change (midpoint)
  • Consequences
  • Rededication (transition to act 3)

Act III – The Ordinary World

  • Final attempt
  • Mastery

And here’s a random semi-related chart I found somewhere a long time ago.

ed2973c00416ed83a6ba219487f2c9a8

Plots, part 2

Larry Brooks’ story structure has several interlocking parts, but more or less breaks stories into four parts. (You could still argue that this is a 3-part structure: 25% beginning, 50% middle, 25% end.)

Setup

This is the first 25% of the novel. It includes the opening scene, a “hooking” moment, then a “setup inciting incident.” Optional: has a major plot twist that doesn’t establish the hero’s need/quest.

  • Hook reader
  • Introduce hero
  • Establish stakes
  • Foreshadow

Response

Begins the middle section, and comprises another 25%. It contains the first plot point (must define need and quest, opposition defined, actions need to flow from this point) followed by the first pinch point (antagonistic force asserts itself).

  • Retreat, regroup
  • Doomed fight back
  • Opposition reasserted

Attack

The second half of the middle section, and another 25% of the novel. It opens with the midpoint. New knowledge creates new context (must be game-changer) and the hero is empowered. There’s a second pinch point, where the antagonistic force hits back hard. There’s a “all hope is lost” lull near the end of this section.

  • Hero proactive and shows initiative
  • Opposition pushes back

Resolution

The final 25% of the story. The second plot point comes into play: final injection of information (gamer changer once again) and last piece of the puzzle.

  • Beyond plot point: no new information or characters
  • Problems resolved, for better or worse

Final resolution sequence

  • The last scene(s) ending the story.

Here’s another way of looking at the story structure, which is more concise and character-centric.

Orphan (25%)

  • Establish demons

Wanderer (25%)

  • Reacts and runs
  • Unsuccessfully strikes back
  • Failures related to character flaws

Warrior (25%)

  • Attacks the problem
  • Overcomes flaws

Martyr (25%)

  • Risks all
  • Conquers inner demons
  • Must be catalyst
  • Never rescued or passive

Read More »

Plots, part 1

Everyone has their own ideas on what a story structure should be. Here’s one I found on Tameri.com which applies to a lot of modern books and movies. Recently I’ve been comparing major films to this outline, and they all follow it, with few exceptions.

Prologue

(prologues are generally discouraged, as books should start at chapter 1, but they can be useful depending on the story)

  • Short setup or tease
  • Useful when action is delayed within the story
  • Establishes “history”

Beginning (~3 chapters long)

Challenge (catalyst)

  • Problem that launches the story
  • Seldom the Big Event
  • Shows life in collapse and chaos begins
  • Primary character losing control, has to regain power or a balance in life
  • A false, then real challenge revealed

Conflict (simple plot)

  • Man vs Man
  • Man vs Society
  • Man vs Nature
  • Man vs Self
  • Man vs Man’s Work (Machines, etc)
  • Man vs Fate
  • Man vs Supernatural

The Middle

Big Event

  • Ends “beginning”
  • Introduces primary conflict, complex plot
  • Major characters known at this point
  • Establishes story’s direction
  • No false Big Event

Revelation (pinch)

  • Mid-story, usually the intermission point
  • Character decides upon a course of action
  • Protagonist learns about others; primarily about his or her self
  • Sometimes a minor false revelation precedes the real
  • “Point of no return”
  • Leads to the crisis
  • True nature of characters revealed

Crisis

  • All seems lost
  • Worst moments in story
  • Doubt, fear, other troubling emotions – will the main character rise to the challenges ahead?

Climax (showdown)

  • Pause, then action
  • Question, state, accuse
  • Crisis solved (or not) based upon the climax
  • More drama / action than Big Event
  • Forces the main character to prove they understand personal weaknesses and overcome them. Not entirely about the external victory; also about internal growth

The End (1-2 chapters long)

Resolution (denouement)

  • Winners and losers are known
  • No loose ends remain
  • New insights for characters
  • Sometimes a brief false resolution
  • Short section, fast paced

Epilogue (dawn)

  • Most long stories have a false then real dawn.
  • Last page or two
  • Happily ever after… but…
  • Leaves a question or two, without undoing the story

Pantser vs Plotter

In case you haven’t heard these words before:

A “pantser” is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. They make everything up as they go along. A “plotter” is someone who plans out some/all aspects of their story before writing.

Both have merits and downsides.

Pantsers have more creative freedom, but their stories may become aimless or trickle off into nothingness. Plotters work within a predetermined structure, which can be limiting, but their plan enables them to write more consistently and achieve a good end.

I used to be a pantser. I’d get an idea, and write until my imagination had transferred everything to a page. The problem with this? I’d fizzle out and never finish what I started. I had a great idea and it would have nowhere to go. I struggled with direction. I couldn’t finish anything to my liking.

As I read more, and did research into outlining/plotting, I found a lot of useful information. And now I have a new view on the “pantser vs plotter” debate:

Pantsing is having an idea. Plotting is having a story.

I’ll probably use both methods. Some people work best with one or the other. You won’t know what’s best for you until you’ve had some experience.

Having structure seems important – a beginning, middle, and end. Instead of starting at the beginning or middle and trying to find the way from there.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll have a series of posts discussing types of plots. Stay tuned!

Short beginnings and endings

“Effective stories introduce the apparent primary challenge as quickly as possible.” – Tameri

So what does ‘quickly’ mean? Tameri has a concise guideline depending on what form your story is in.

Short story

  • Plot introduced in the first paragraph (or within 50 words)
  • Story established within 150 words

Novella

  • Plot introduced by page 3-5
  • Story established by page 10

Novel

  • Plot introduced in the first 25-50 pages, (or within the first 3 chapters)
  • Story established within 50-100 pages

Script for a movie

  • Plot introduced in the first 5 pages
  • Story established within 10 pages

Script for a TV show

  • Plot introduced in the first 10 pages
  • Story established within 25 pages

It’s then suggested that ending is also quick, “like a roller coaster ending with a steep drop,” and is shorter than the beginning. For example, a novel whose beginning is 3 chapters would have an ending that’s 1-2 chapters long. In general it seems the end of your story should be 50-65% of the beginning’s length.