Have you ever gotten 30,000 words into a story and been stuck wondering “Now what?” Or how about 50,000 words in and said to yourself “That was the climax?” Or maybe, after 90,000 words, wondered “Wasn’t there supposed to be a bad guy here somewhere?”
Welcome to my world!
After doing each of the above, I finally decided to do something about it, and I succeeded! (At least I think I succeeded. I’m going to test my theory next month during CampNaNoWriMo in which I plan to produce a 50,000 word story with an actual plot.)
Earlier this month I purchased Rock Your Plot, a how-to book on crafting story plots. Yes, it’s formulaic, but for me, at my stage of writing, it’s a necessary formula, and one I am actually able to follow.
The first part is determining whether or not your idea is actually a story. “Someone gets infected with magic like they might come down with a cold” (my original story idea) might be an interesting concept to explore, but it doesn’t make a story. You’re left with “so what?” and “why do I care?”
No, a good story premise has to include a protagonist, a goal, and a conflict. (Oh, and by the way, you need to be able to put it all in a single sentence or your reader will be yawning before you finish explaining your premise!) In my case I had to turn my story idea into “An engineer is infected with magic and must survive a hidden war where he is the prize.”
Note that it is perfectly allowable for the premise to change as you develop your story, as long as it still contains a protagonist (my engineer), a goal (survival), and a conflict (a hidden war).
The book spends a lot of time focusing on goals, motivations, conflicts, and disasters, with the idea being that every scene should contain all of the above (well, you can occasionally leave out a disaster) or why include it in the story? A day at the beach may be nice, but a day at the beach with sharks in the water is more interesting to read about.
The focus of the book, however, is developing your plot outline. Now, everybody talks about the classic plot as being three acts, as if everyone spent their free time at the theater watching Shakespeare or something. Yardley instead focuses on the following events:
- The Inciting Incident: the moment something changes.
- Plot Point 1: establishing the story question.
- Pinch Point 1: Opposition shows itself.
- Midpoint/Plot Point 2: new information shifts protagonist from reactive to proactive.
- Pinch Point 2: the antagonist strikes back.
- Plot Point 3: ramp up for third act.
- Black Moment: worst thing ever (in terms of story question.)
These were something I could get my head around. In particular I found her descriptions of these plot points useful – for example, the Midpoint is where the protagonist starts trying to take matters into his own hands (whether or not he’s successful at that), and the Pinch Points focus on the antagonist rather than the protagonist and remind the reader of the conflict that’s driving the story.
I also find it interesting that instead of the usual Climax, this book uses the concept of the Black Moment, when things are at their darkest for the protagonist. This helps to drive home that the conflict and tension must always be increasing, and the hero’s options narrowing, so that the choices made at the climax are logical within the context of the story.
All of these are shaped by the goals and motivations of the characters (principally the protagonist, although the other characters’ goals and motivations also come into play if the story and characters are to be believable.) Each chapter of the book includes exercises to help you practice what it’s trying to teach.
All in all it was a very good book, enhanced by a workbook and a Scrivener template (links included in the text.) As a result of reading and working my way through it I now have a plot around which to write my next story. I can hardly wait!