If an author writes, ‘The king died and then the queen died,’ there is no plot for a story. But by writing, ‘The king died and then the queen died of grief,’ the writer has provided a plot line for a story.
~ from The Elements of Literature
If it were just that simple! You have this story running amok in your brain, and you know point A and point Z, but getting there is when you enter the crazy maze. Before you know it, you are totally lost! And so are your characters.
What SHOCKS me is how quickly it can happen. I’ve found that STARTING the novel is NOT a problem for me, BUT just a few chapters in, I feel like that little lost mouse or hamster in search of the BIG CHUNK ‘o CHEESE or the exit, whichever comes first.
So, I did something I didn’t want to do. I solicited the help of my eldest son, the screenwriter. Chris has written about a dozen screenplays over 13 years, and has yet to sell one or see one produced. Nevertheless, he PERSEVERES, and he is close to seeing his dream come true – at least we think so. At any rate, his scripts are outstanding – seriously – and I’m not just saying that because I am MoM. Enough credible people have critiqued them to support my assessment.
So the other day I chatted with him about my latest WIP. (Even though they are all very encouraging, I don’t like to do this with family. Not sure why.) Because Chris has a lot of writing fiction experience, I decided to take a chance. Besides he might want company in his misery in pursuing the big break.
As anticipated, he asked the hard questions about my plot, including these …
What is your overarching theme?
I am an English teacher and must admit I didn’t even think about the theme! For shame. I guess I thought it would just “show up.” But Chris said that having a theme in mind helps guide the plot’s development. It doesn’t have to be one of those super deep messages that only an English professor will recognize, but rather something simple that holds the story together.
Who is the antagonist?
And so I am thinking about this and have come up with a theme that is reflected in both the content AND the text structure. It has to do with the ways and means beings try to communicate with each other. Got that? Really intriguing, huh? But I hope it makes sense once this project is completed.
While this might not seem like a plot-related question, we discussed how characters drive the plot. If I don’t have a good idea of who my characters are and how they contribute to the unfolding of the story, I will most likely end up with a loser plot.
Although I thought a lot about the main character, I hadn’t really decided upon a bad guy or girl or “thing.” But I threw out a couple of ideas, neither of which could really work into much of an enemy. So Chris shared 2 suggestions: that I look beyond the MC’s immediate circle of family or friends and that I introduce that character early in the book.
He also mentioned some possibilities, including a teacher, but I could NOT bring myself to turn an educator into a villain. Teachers have enough problems right now without capitalizing on the few miscreants who give good ones a bad name.
Shortly after our conversation, I thought of a perfect foil, and I had even met such a person. It was a TERRIBLE experience!
Chris’ last suggestion was to consider studying Michael Hauge’s “Six-Stage Plot Structure.” This structure was created to help screen writers, but Chris thinks it will work with novels as well. Here is what it looks like:
(Click on the image to enlarge it.)
I haven’t “played” with this structure yet, but I am anxious to. I’ve written 5 chapters of my WIP, but I’m feeling the effects of wandering in that maze. I think I better give this a try.
So, writing friends, what do you think? Have you ever tried anything like it? I’d love to hear from you.