Wednesday, March 23, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 8: Choosing a Plot Structure


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Welcome to week eight of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I posted Chapter 6 of THIRST yesterday over on my author website. Click here to read it.

  

Recap

Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:
A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.


Week three was Storyworld. Week four: maps and floorplans. Week five: protagonists and main characters. Week six: side characters. Week seven: prewriting.

Today's Topic: Choosing a Plot Structure

Plot is the series of events that take your character from the beginning of the story to the end as he chases after his story goal. We've blogged about plot often on Go Teen Writers, but rather than giving you a list of archived posts, I've divided them up among the following breakdown of plot structures:

1. The Three-Act Structure: This divides a story into three parts: setup, confrontation, and resolution. This is by far the most popular plot structure. It's been around a really long time, too. Greek philosopher Aristotle gets credit for the idea since he said in his Poetics, "A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end." Hollywood has perfected this structure, as have novelists. The thing works. Readers and viewers like it. If you want to learn more about the three-act structure, read this post: Understanding the Three-Act Structure. And if you want to plot out a more in-depth outline, you might also want to download my Story Brainstorming Sheets.




2. Blake Snyder's 10 Story Models: In Blake Snyder's book Save the Cat, he explains how he came to realize that there were really only ten basic movie types out there. Whether or not you agree with him, the concept is intriguing. In his book he suggests that if you can figure out which type of story you have, you'll be well on your way to figuring out what the plot structure might look like. Read 10 Story Models That Will Change the Way You Brainstorm to learn more.



3. Georges Polti's Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations: The book, Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti, gives thirty-six basic plots for all stories. According to Wikipedia, "The original French-language book was written in the 19th century. An English translation was published in 1916 and continues to be reprinted to this day." If you've got an idea for a story but are stuck on how to include a strong plot, perhaps reading these 36 Plot Ideas for Your Novel will inspire you.



4. Alternative Plot Structures: Dr. Charles Ramírez Berg has written numerous articles on film and is currently a professor of film history, screenwriting, and criticism. He created a list of alternative plot types for filmmakers, but I think that novelists can learn much from his analysis. I've described several of his alternative plot structures including the Puzzle Plot, the Ensemble Plot, the Chainlink Plot, and the Repeat Plot in this post called Is There More Than One Plot Type?


5. The Hero's Journey: The Hero’s Journey is a plot structure discovered by Joseph Campbell. It describes a typical adventure of the The Hero, as the main character in a story who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the people he represents. Stephanie broke down The Hero's Journey in this post. And if you're interested, here is her part two of that post. And here is a site that lists an explanation of each step in the Hero's Journey.



6. Follow the Map: This is a common plot method for a story. The hero starts at one place on the map and must travel across it to achieve something. The Hobbit is the perfect example of a Follow the Map story. For fun, I once wrote a blog post called Plotting the Quest Novel, Dora the Explorer Style, since Dora so loves her maps. And while I loosely plotted Dora's map plot around the three-act structure, you don't have to. The whole point of the Follow the Map plot is that the map leads the Hero from one point to the next as he gets closer to his goal.



7. "Yes, but" or "No, and"---Also called Try-Fail Cycles: This is a simple plotting method of writing a scene, then asking a question at the end that determines what the hero will do next. Did the hero succeed in his goal for the scene? The answer can be:

Yes, but then this happened, or
No, and he went on to do this next.

It's that simple. To read more about this, check out my post called The "Yes, but" or "No, and" Method to Creating a Plot and Shannon Dittemore's post called Try/Fail Cycles.


8. List Weaving: This is where you create a list of important scenes you want to have happen in your story and organize them by topic. For example, in my novel King's Folly, I created lists of situations/scenes/clues/etc that I wanted to have happen for each of my point of view characters, for each major story line (the murder, the prophecies, the magic, the disasters, etc), and for each subplot. Then I combined one-to-four items from each list into scenes to make my way through the story. List Weaving works well for complex, epic plots. Plus it's always good to have more than one thing happening in a scene.



9. Retellings: This is when you take the plot structure from a well-known story and use that to tell another story about the same characters or to tell your own version of the same story. Fairytales are the biggest examples of this type of storytelling. Readers love them because they're familiar and bring about nostalgia. An author can only use another story for the basis of his own if the original story is in the public domain. Besides fairytales by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grim, and the retellings of mythologies, some other authors that have had their stories retold over and over are Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare. Click here to read my post on Retellings: Why Do It and How?
 


As Stephanie says in her excellent post---What's the Best Way to Plot a Novel?---there is no one way to plot. So take your time to think it through. Or, if you're a seat of the pants writer, just write and see where the muse takes you! Though keep in mind, most pantsers do need to come back later and add scenes to create a solid plot structure.

Assignment Time

Choose one or more plot types that intrigue you and that you think would work well for your novel. Remember, there are no rules here. Mix and match, combine, do whatever works best for your story. Share in the comments what you're going to do. For THIRST, I'm doing a combination of: Follow the Map, "Yes, but" or "No, and," Snyder's "Dude With A Problem" model, and Polti's "Disaster" plot.






24 comments:

  1. I think my plot structure is a mix between try/fail cycles and dude with a problem. Thanks for the cool post Jill :)

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    1. You're welcome! (I love Dude with a Problem stories.)

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  2. My plot structure would be the Three Act Structure with the Hero's Journey. Great post!

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  3. It has a bit of "self-sacrifice for kinsman" (my character has very definite ideas about how she wants to spend her summer but, by the end of the book, she's changed her mindset in order to help her friend) and a lot of the "golden fleece" (while working to help her friend, my character totally changes for the better) so it's almost a "quest-style" contemporary (since my character sets out to reach a definite goal) but it also has a romance thread...I'm not great at pinpointing plot structures. Before I started writing, though, I used Stephanie's post on developing a story idea into a list of key scenes and that was extremely helpful. Thanks, Stephanie!

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    1. Oh, good job developing a list of key scenes! That always helps to keep me on track.

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  4. My book actually follows the three act structure fairly well, which I didn't try to do deliberately. Knowing that will help me solidify structure and scene importance.

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    1. Nice! We storytellers often do a good job instinctively. I think we read enough books to have s good idea of what makes a good story.

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  5. Mine is part follow the map, part hero's journey, and part try-fail cycle.

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    1. Sounds like an adventurous combination!

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  6. Mine will be "Yes, but" or "No, and", Try/Fail, and Hero's Journey.

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    1. Nice! I love reading what you all are doing.

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  7. Mine is kind of a mix between Hero's Journey (Or in this case anti-hero's journey.) list weaving and the three act structure.

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    1. When you say anti-hero's journey, does that mean that you are writing for the villians POV?

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    2. Well he is sort of the villain. There are people worse than him, and he fights them, but he also fights the heroes for most of it.

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  8. Does a plot following the heroes journey mean that the hero goes back to being the same person he was before the story happened? The way the drawing looks it seems like the hero goes through everything and just goes back to beginning again.

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    1. He returns home a changed man. Here is a link to a site that further explains each step of the journey: http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/the-hero-journey-mythic-structure-of-joseph-campbell-monomyth.html

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  9. I'm not completely sure which ones I'm using, but what I DO know is that my story is a retelling, so I've at least got one thing I'm sure of :D. I can be very indecisive.

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  10. Mine I think is a combination of list-weaving and three act structure :)

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  11. I'm a bit late starting for #WeWriteBooks, so I have a bit of catching up to do.

    My story has the basic romance plot but I never planned on writing a romance book. It's a fairytale retelling combination of Beauty and the Beast plus Sleeping Beauty. Both fairytales have romance, so it's rather obvious that mine would too even though I didn't realize it.

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  12. Most of the time, I plot using the list weaving and then organizing those into a series of scenes. And for this story, I'm also using a retelling (Cinderella) to help me plot.

    ~K.A.C.

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  13. Mine's a mix between Hero's Journey, the Three-Act Structure and Polti's Disaster plot, with aspects of Snyder's Rites of Passage plot.

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  14. I like the idea of possible achieving a mix of 'The Hero's Journey' and 'List Weaving'. Meaning that the whole point of the called journey he/she was drawn to was to achieve a list of things, all while fulfilling all the necessary neat criterias to be considered a 'Hero's Journey' plot line.
    The 'List Weaving' plot line would be excellent forehead you are stuck on your plot and need to think what is next. It provides an easy way to make a easy conflict or mission for a hero.

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