"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, August 17, 2008

So now I know how to plot

I had the super fantastic pleasure of attending our local SCBWI meeting yesterday featuring Helen Hemphill, award winning author of Runaround, Long Gone Daddy, and the upcoming Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones. Don't you love the cover of this one?
Anyway, Helen gave a wonderful presentation to a record-breaking crowd (over 70 people) on Five Things To Consider When Plotting A Novel.

The speech lasted the whole hour, and I captured what I believe are the key elements. Get ready...

1) Write out a premise for your novel.
This should be a one sentence synopsis containing the following:
(a) Irony
(b) Tells the whole story
(c) Shows the genre
(d) Tells us a little about the characters
Something totally helpful Helen suggested is to write out several versions of the premise. Maybe a dozen. Play around with it. And then pick the most promising.
* Critique group, get ready - I think we should all do this as an exercise.

2) Desires / Needs / Weaknesses
(a) What does the character desire? What does the character need?
This should be known early on in the story.
These needs and desires should drive every decision the main character makes.

(b) What is the weakness?
What keeps the main character from getting what they want/need?

(c) What is the character's worldview?
A character's view of the world (based on the person they are today) helps explain what decisions they make and why they make these decisions.

3) Cause & Effect
A plot should be connected. Each event should build on top of the events before it. An event should not be able to happen unless the events before it set it up.
With each event, the stakes should increase.
There must be an inciting incident which propels the story forward and begins the series of cause and effect events.

4) Tension
On every page if possible.
Conflict = tension
So to get this tension, the main character must be shown in their weakness. We, as authors, must make them suffer.
But...the tension must fit in with the story. Random tension for the sake of tension will not work.

5) Beginnings and Endings
Hook readers by the end of page 1.
A satisfying ending ties back to the beginning. The book is a circle.
The main character has changed. The dynamic is different.

Helen suggested making a worksheet with all the above elements on it and filling it in for your story.

Thanks, Helen, for giving me such great direction! So I'm ready to fill mine in. How about you guys?
Now, to start with a premise.


Christine M said...

I think I need to print this out and tape it to my computer.

The plot's the thing. And these are great tips to make it stronger.

And that first one does sound like a good exercise for the critique group!

Marcia said...

Thanks for posting about the presentation! I always struggle with plot more than anything, and I AM going to save this.

beth said...

Wonderful notes! Very helpful; thanks for sharing!

Kelly said...

It's not a bad idea, Tricia! It's almost time to do the calendar (or is it time already)? Maybe we could take a week--when Patty is back--and do this all at one time?

Sarah Rettger said...

Christine, you've got the right idea. Except I might just use it as wallpaper. Repetition helps, right?

- Sarah, once again reading Tricia's blog instead of writing :-)

PJ Hoover said...

Yes, Chris, taping these key elements up on the wall is a great idea! I can replace my basic plot structure (or even update it to include these elements).

I'm glad you like it, Marcia! The speech was totally helpful. I got a ton out of it.

You're welcome, Beth! It's so helpful to hear stuff over and over again, just slightly different!

Kelly, taking a week and doing something like this back and forth all week is a great idea! It's like Helen said - you need the premise before you can have the novel.

Wallpaper is good, Sarah! Or perhaps tape it to the computer screen for a week? Hmmm...
-Tricia (who's glad you're reading my blog).

Thanks for visiting, everyone!

Sheri said...

This sounds great! Thanks for sharing! I'm going to spend time really reading this post when I return from vacation. Now I am speeding through everything because I still have to pack! But sounds like it was a very informative, inspiring workshop.

PJ Hoover said...

It was a great workshop, Sheri! Have a wonderful time on vacation!

keri mikulski :) said...

Great stuff! Thanks for sharing. :)

Angie Frazier said...

I'm definitely printing this out and keeping it in a file. Very helpful, PJ, thanks for sharing it!

PJ Hoover said...

You're welcome, Keri! I loved being able to go and to share!

And ditto on the welcome to you, Angie! Hope it helps!

Amy said...

Very cool. Thanks for sharing. I always like hearing how other authors plot, because no process is ever really FINISHED, is it?

PJ Hoover said...

Never finished, Amy! This is so true! And it is nice to hear what others think!

Vivian said...

This is really good. Thanks so much for sharing!

PJ Hoover said...

You're welcome, Vivian! Hope it helps!

Beth Kephart said...

Every time I begin to write a book I feel as if I've never written one before. It's so helpful to be reminded of tangible launch points.

PJ Hoover said...

Exactly, Beth K.! It's like constant reminders (or coninual maybe) are the way to go. I need notes that I go over once a week or so!

Thanks for visiting!

BethanĂ¯e L'insolite said...

Indeed, very interesting - seems like we should all know this at heart. I am also a fellow writer, hoping to have a freaked out Wonderlandesque story building up in my mind as well as hoping to one day writer a screenplay as I find the contradictions interesting to play with. If your interested my blog is spectrumbooks.blogspot.com


PJ Hoover said...

Thanks for stopping by, Bethanie! A freaked out Wonderlandesque story sounds way cool!