Thursday, April 18, 2013

How to Plot a Novel

At the Zurich Writers Workshop in Zurich last weekend, Writer Abroad got her second confirmation that yes, her novel has structure. This was a great relief, after struggling for a couple of years to make sure her plot made sense.

Structure is highly recommended for anyone writing a novel. It’s essential for everything, from making sure your story has well, story, to making sure your story will be marketable.

But how do you plot a novel?

How about reading a book first?

Writer Abroad used Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks, to help her understand how to plot the main points of her novel. It's the most useful book she's read on the subject so far.

At the workshop last weekend, the instructor, Lee Weatherly, used a Three-Act Graph Worksheet to help the writers figure out if their book had structure. So here’s a quick test from the points on her worksheet. If you can answer the following questions, you probably have a story that makes sense (and if this sounds like Chinese, read Story Engineering or read Lee’s book, Write a Blockbuster and Get it Published):

What is the main character’s goal or problem?

Act One: what is the set-up?

What is the inciting event?

Act Two: How does the hero attempt to overcome the problem? Is there cause and effect and escalating tension?

What is the high point?

What is the rug-pulling moment?

What is the hero’s darkest moment?

What is the climax?

What is the resolution?

Structure may be hard (and feel almost impossible) to get right at first, but then it makes everything else easier—even writing the synopsis.

A synopsis, as Writer Abroad learned over the weekend, is just a way for agents to figure out if your story has structure. So your synopsis doesn’t need to be a scene-by-scene blow of your book (whoops!), it just needs to answer the above questions. For Writer Abroad, this was a real revelation and allowed her to trim her two-page synopsis to one (well, almost one).

Anyone else have good resources to share for understanding story structure?


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