Just recently, I received a large box marked, “media mail.” Not that was a complete surprise. I raced inside with the package and a half-smile across my face (it’s always fun to receive a package). Sure, it’s something I ordered, but I wasn’t 100% sure I’d know what was inside.
The June 2011 issue of “Writer’s Digest” was holding a sort of give-a-way. Only they weren’t really “giving away” anything–not in that sense. They were taking orders for a “Write Better Fiction” package of materials. The deal was there were only 100 of these “kits” being sent out for the whole month. The materials included 5 how-to books of decent length along with a self-study guide, all spiral bound and highlighter-ready. At the end, a certificate indicating that I had completed the self-study program. I got all of the materials at a reasonable price of around $100 (“worth over $500!” the ad quipped). I was order #77. I felt lucky.
And no, this is not a I-got-duped-story-like-the-BestBuy-buy-back-issue. At least I don’t think so. Sorry if I am making it sound that way. I was excited. I still am. It’s just that the books and the study guide sat gathering dust for the last week or so. I want to do something with it. I want to crank out that novel, too. Geesh, I think about all the time!
Today, I sat down at a rainy Starbucks and cracked open the binding of “How to Create Plot” by James Scott Bell. I twisted open the spiral-bound study guide. Chapter 1. Funny how everything begins at the beginning.
Here’s the deal: every story needs a plot that goes like this: (according to James Scott Bell)
L: Lead character. Get introduced to the main character. Paint a picture. Make us care about him or her.
O: Objective. Every lead character has an objective, a motive, something to change, something to maintain.
C: Conflict. There is internal &/or external conflict. Take your reader through it. Don’t let things just happen to your lead character, but show how there are some internal issues bubbling over, too.
K: Knock-out ending. All of those elements above need to come together in what Bell refers to as the “knock-out” ending. Slip a twist or punch in there that keeps your readers wondering or brings them to complete satisfaction. Either way, make it stand-out.
But plot is different than structure. How so? Well, plot is the series of events that happen in the story–what knocks your character down, what builds her back up, etc. But, the structure is, well…how you structure the book. Sure there are chapters, and that’s part of the structure, but are there three acts? A beginning, middle, and end? Is there is a different point-of-view (POV)? Does it happen in chronological order? Reverse chronological order? You see…this writing thing…well, there’s a lot to it!
And, I’ve got some work on my novel to do now, so if you’ll excuse me…