Plot Points for Characters

Last week Writer Unboxed ran a piece called How to Craft a Page-Turning Plot by

The article is rather long, but the relevant part is under item 1. Apologies for such a long quote, but it’s totally worth reading the rest of the article.

Essentially, Yardley is reframing the elements of plotting in terms of what they mean for the characters.

The inciting incident is the first domino struck: if the incident hadn’t occurred, then the protagonist would not have a goal.

The first plot point, generally the end of the first act, is where the goal is established, although the protagonist has no idea how to accomplish said goal.

The midpoint is a turning point, where the protagonist goes from reactive to proactive — from aimless to focused.

The third plot point is the hardest to pin down, where the protagonist sets up for the final act… the calm before the storm, the prep, a moment of confidence because they’re stronger.

Then, there’s the black moment, where the worst thing that can happen to the protagonist, in terms of the story goal, strikes.

Then the climax and resolution. The protagonist’s transformation is complete. Through the lessons learned, the protagonist is changed and the goal is either obtained or not, depending on the kind of story you’re writing.

That’s it, in a nutshell. Again, this isn’t the only system, and it may not be the best for you. But I have found it helps to approach it in terms of your character thinking:

– “I want this, it’s important, but I don’t know what I’m doing”

– “I know what I”m doing, but it’s going to be really hard.”

– “I may have the hang of this, but I’m scared.”

– “My soul is absolutely crushed.”

– “I have grown, changed, and become more than I was. I resolve the goal, one way or another, as a result.”

When you look at it in terms of character, emphasizing change, you’ll usually find the middle starts shaping up a bit more easily.

This set off a lightbulb in my brain. I can’t even quite put my finger on it now, after the fact, but I know it’s there. I’d been looking at plot elements solely in terms of plot, as though that were separate from character.

This helped me to finally, finally!, write a decent query letter. In a query you have to lead the reader through your set up (the normal world), then the inciting incident, then where things start to heat up, then explain what the potential consequences will be for your primary characters. (Did I just come up with a query formula? I think I might have.) Query format demands plot, but it needs the emotion of character in order to mean something.

So, thank you, Cathy Yardley!! I’m ready to go wading into the #PitchWars trenches now!


But, Therefore, Then – Plot Connectors

This is one of my favorite tidbits, made ever-cooler by its origin. It’s a trick that comes from the writers of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I first learned of it from the documentary about how an episode gets made, 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park.

The WriteOnSisters blogged about it recently, and they have a really nice explanation:

If you can put “but” or “therefore” between scenes, then congratulations! You’re advancing the story!

If you can’t use the above words and put “then” between the scenes, you’re not advancing the story.

For example (each sentence represents a scene):

I ate a tuna salad sandwich for lunch today. Then I went and bought a coffee at Starbucks. Then I worked on that spreadsheet. Then I checked Facebook for an hour. Then I went home.

That’s a string of random stuff happening, not a story. “Then” isn’t a connection, it’s a segue into something unrelated.

“But” and “therefore” are connections. “But” denotes conflict. “Therefore” implies a reaction. Both mean that the following scene isn’t random; it’s connected to the previous scene in a meaningful way. For example:

I ate a tuna salad sandwich for lunch, but the tuna was poisoned. Therefore I had to go to the hospital, but the hospital was overrun by zombies who bit me! And therefore I became a zombie.

You can see how this is capable of getting out of hand rather quickly, South Park-style.

I think Matt and Trey’s original may have been “but” and “so”, but “therefore” is more polished. 😉

It’s an excellent tool, one I don’t use enough. Plot is about cause and effect, not just a string of events (“thens”).