Plot: 1. A secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, especially a hostile, unlawful, or evil purpose: a plot to overthrow the government. 2. Also called storyline.
This week I am feeling like a legend, because I’ve completed the first draft of a novel.
For three-and-a-half years I have religiously slogged away at this piece of work, and I have barely reread a word of it for fear of giving up and not completing the task.
Along the way I have made a study of the elements of good storytelling, particularly plotting, and how it can be applied for the benefit of entertaining the reader/viewer.
Now, faced with editing and rewriting my own work, I have created the following toolkit for myself, which I hope may be a help to other writers. But, a warning: This toolkit is not for writers who don’t care about entertaining their readers.
Creative rules are meant to be stretched, that’s what I call being original, but remember, even Picasso, one of the 20th century’s greatest abstract artists, could utilise realistic composition as well as any traditional old master. He knew the rules before he broke them.
I have transposed my research into battle parlance because compelling stories are not about people sitting around contemplating their navels in isolation, they are about conflicts, winners and losers. The Catcher in the Rye is as much of a battle as Gone With the Wind, and I guess ‘plot’ has two meanings for a reason!
The five-act dramatic structure
The narrative hook – announcing a war!
On page one, grab attention by extrapolating why your war is worth telling. Prevent readers/viewers from putting your book down or finding another movie in the multiplex. See my post on the Sh%t, click moment.
Act One – an exposition describes both armies, and the battle lines
Introduce us to the characters and show who is the protagonist (the hero) and the antagonist (the anti-hero, or ‘villain’). The protagonist must be called to action, posing a question so interesting that we are gripped: Can they possibly win?
Act Two – rising actions show the armies testing one another’s strength
A series of events unfolds in which the antagonist puts obstacles in the pathway of the protagonist, events that show us who both of them really are. These might result in minor skirmishes between the two armies.
Act Three – the climax starts the battle, and the combatants charge!
The climax must show the start of the major battle between the protagonist and the antagonist, including a devastating point of no return, after which there is no going back for either.
Act Four – falling actions show one army losing
The battle between the protagonist and the antagonist continues, allowing one of them to win. The winner defines the piece as a comedy or a tragedy.
Act Five – The dénouement ends the battle, but not the war
Everything that created this battle unravels (dénouement means ‘to untie’), or dissipates, or is resolved. In a comedy, the protagonist is left better off than when they started. In a tragedy, this is reversed. The big question posed in the exposition must be left answered.
Good luck with your plotting!
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.
An extract from Write, Regardless!