Monday, April 7, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #2 - The Bones It Hangs On

Last week we talked about developing the Great Idea to the point where we have a file full of notes and an idea of the beginning, middle and end.
What's the next step? Building your structure.
Understanding structure early on in your writing process will really help you when it comes to getting other things right, like pacing and building tension.

Most of you will have heard of the three act structure commonly used for play and movie writing.  One thing I did after writing my first publishable novel was to re-write it as a screenplay. I highly recommend this as a writing practice tool.  Script writing deals primarily with action and dialogue and making the most with the least. You only have 120 pages to tell the whole story and the margins are very narrow.

At this point I look through my notes and pinpoint what my plot points are and where on the three act structure they should “hang”.   If I’m missing something vital, I see this right away before I get too heavily into it.  Especially critical is the midpoint, or what Janice Hardy coins the midpoint reversal. This is where something unexpected happens. It’s a twist that keeps the reader steadily hooked. Identifying your midpoint reversal early on will do wonders for preventing the chronic “saggy mid section”.

Since many of you are familiar with my time travel novel CLOCKWISE, I'm going to use it to illustrate.

 Act 1- Set Up: Story opens with the main character, Casey, watching a football practice with her friend Lucinda. We see that she's a teen girl with a crush and can imagine the high school setting.

Inciting Incident:  The story actually starts when Casey jumps up and catches Nate's football. If she didn't do this one thing, the story wouldn't have happened. The inciting incident happens early on in Clockwise, but it can happen a little later on, too.
Plot point I: Nate asks Casey to dance and the inevitable happens--they go back in time

Act 2 – Conflict: Casey has to convince Nate they really are back in time. Development of the subplots with Robert Willingsworth who creates a type of love triangle, and of Samuel the runaway slave

Midpoint reversal: We've spent a lot of time in the past and see how Casey and Nate's relationship is growing. She's scared but hopeful that maybe they have a future together (despite the existence of Evil Girlfriend). But when they go back to the present, everything they had forged in their new friendship collapses.

Plot Point 2:  I don't want to give this away in case some of you haven't read Clockwise, but like plot point 1, something unexpected happens to thrust us into the third act. (For those who have read it, it has something to do with Samuel.)

Act 3 - Climax and ResolutionAgain I don't want to spoil the climax, but this is where everything falls apart and then comes back together for a satisfying ending. (Again for Clockwise readers, this happens in a barn in the past and the twist happens in the present as part of the resolution on Mother's Day.)
I will delve deeper into what each of these points mean in future posts.
One exercise you can do is to go through your favorite stories and see if you can identify these seven points. If you want to learn more about developing structure, I highly recommend Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

Can you easily "hang" the plot points of your wip (work in process)?
I go a little deeper on teaching structure in this youtube video. You can see me in my very messy office and though you probably can't tell, I'm wearing my PJ's--every writer's official uniform!

Now that we've built the bones, the bones need some meat! We’ll tackle that next.

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