When I wrote my first book, I really had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t plot – just let it flow “organically”. I didn’t understand the idea of a story structure – sure, I knew there was a beginning, middle and end, I knew about character arcs and I knew that that middle part was REALLY hard to write, but that was probably it.
I finished that book mid last year – thanks mainly to 50K in 30 days – and decided to let it sit until after conference before I started editing. Best decision ever!
At RWA’s Gold Coast conference, I attended Alex Sokoloff’s full day workshop, Screenwriting tips for Authors. She showed us how you can use a similar structure that screenwriters do for movie scripts, in writing a novel.
In a 2hr movie, there is a climactic scene every 30 mins. She talked about using the 4-act structure to structure your novel – with a climax at the end of each act. (She actually refers to them as Act 1, Act 2 Pt 1, Act 2 Pt 2 and Act 3 to fit into the traditional 3-act structure.) The climax of act 1 leaves your characters about to “cross the threshold” or “heed the call to action”, the climax of act 2 Pt 1 is the mid-point of the novel which completely changes the game, the climax of act 2 Pt 2 is the “black moment” and the climax of act 3 is, of course, the resolution. You can buy her book at Amazon – I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Prior to Alex’s workshop, my novel was a series of scenes that fell pretty much whenever I came up with the idea. After her workshop, I bought a corkboard, a pile of coloured post it notes and set to work.
I divided the board up into the 4 acts, wrote down all of my scenes – one on each post-it note and tried to arrange it into the 3 act structure. It was easy enough to put the mid-point in, and the call to action, but it was immediately obvious that I had too many scenes in some sections, and not enough in others. A sure sign that my pacing was off. In the end I cut scenes, combined scenes, moved scenes and wrote a few new ones.
It was incredibly valuable to be able to see the story visually. To be able to move a scene around and see what impact it would have overall BEFORE I spent all that time rewriting it. The photo below was taken part way through the process. This novel has 2 protagonists, so the yellow and green indicate their POV. The blue was a couple of scenes in the hero’s POV. The pink and purple I think were notes to me with ideas of what was still needed. It took me several months to restructure my novel so that it worked.
This time around I’m plotting BEFORE I finish the novel! Hopefully it will save me a lot of angst at the end 🙂 Now I’ve got 3 protagonists, so 3 main POVs to keep track of. I can know where a scene will fit in before I write it which will save me a lot of rewriting. I hope so, anyway!
Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat has also been useful for me. He uses “beat sheets” to do a similar thing but I have to admit the visual nature of the board appeals to me.
Do you plot? What’s your process?