Thursday, June 24, 2021

Plot Structure Systems


When I first started learning about story structure, I first adopted the model made by Christopher Booker in "Seven Basic Plots" (a fascinating but extremely lengthy read). Once I started looking at other plotting systems, I noticed a lot of similarities. It bugged me at first, because I'd already learned one set of terminology and didn't want to learn another. But if you look at it, the systems are all very similar to one another. 

Most of these plots have, at their base, the seven-point story structure. These are the bare bones that make a story work, and a huge variety of authors use it. 

KM Weiland adds details about the key event and inciting incident. She has a ton more interesting information on her website, from how to integrate a character arc into this system, to how Marvel movies use (or don't use) structure in their movies, to archetypal character arcs based on a human's life cycle. It's all fascinating stuff!

I wanted to break down story structure further, so I took the typical three-act story and broke each act into parts. This takes a long novel and breaks it up into manageable pieces. With the overall picture managed by this outline, my creative mind has more space to work on emotion, theme, growth, detail, and other aspects of writing. More on my CVP Method here.

Save the Cat uses different terminology, but still, many of the points line up. It was originally designed for screenwriters but adapted to novels. Save the Cat has more specific story advice and details than the other methods.

Seven Basic Plots divides all stories into seven different categories. These are plots, not genres, and different examples of these can be found in most traditional genres. All seven plots follow a basic pattern.

The Hero's Journey is much older than these methods but is still in use today. It follows a specific type of story, one that is often used today.

There is more information out there to dive into. This blog gives an excellent rundown of several different methods of organization.

Feel free to compare the information and make your own guidelines--or simply wing it. Have fun!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Story Structure for Kids


Story Structure for kids (and other beginners)

I've been writing stories since I was a young child, yet I didn't publish my first story until I was 28. That's about twenty years of practice before my stories were ready. I learned by trial and error and developed skills slowly over time. 

The biggest issue with my early stories was that they had no structure. I just wrote whatever came to mind. After a lot of practice, I finally developed a feel for how stories needed to progress. I only discovered story structure after I had written my first book, The Spectra Unearthed, yet that one does fit the beats of a structured story. 

Note: The color coding matches up to my system, which I will discuss later. Note that I have three shades of blue in the middle when I should have only two.

Again, it took me twenty years to get to that point, and about four years of working on that one book. Some authors still write by instinct, and their stories still end up having structure even if they don't do it deliberately. Personally, I find that story structure lets me write faster, and my stories turn out better.

 Nine steps for a simple story

Today I gave my kids a nine-step formula for writing a structured story. I had them write down one sentence per step. When I write, I use a similar formula, though for me, one step equals about three chapters.

1. Who and what is your character? What do they want? Why are they interesting?
2. What will happen to your character? (passive) 3. How does your character choose to change? (active) They choose to interact with step #2. 4. Who or what is stopping your main character? 5. What does your character learn about themselves and the world? 6. What can your character lose? What will happen if they don't win? 7. What goes wrong? 8. What happens when your character faces what's stopping them in step 5? 9. How has your character changed?

Half steps for a more advanced story

For more advanced writers, you might want to add half-steps in between some of these major beats:

2.5: What was your character's life like before the story? 3.5: What is your character's new life like now that they have chosen to change? 4.5: How does your character react to their troubles? 5.5: How does your character prepare to face their troubles? 6.5: What convinces your character to keep trying? 7.5: What hidden strengths can your character draw on to rise above everything that went wrong?

Next, my kids and I looked at KM Weiland's Story Structure database to learn how stories that we already know and love fit our model. We used Harry Potter 1. I've also used the movies Frozen and Aladdin.

My structure system

I used my own story structure system to come up with those nine steps. Many different authors have come up with different story structure systems. They all have similarities, but some of them use different labels for the same point. I started using KM Weiland's model, but soon adapted it for myself. 

Here's a quick overview of my system:
I took the three acts and broke them into eight pieces. Each piece has a specific job and ends in a specific "beat" (which I defined in the steps above).

Look at how my "climax" beats align to the steps/questions from earlier:
1. Who and what is your character? What do they want? Why are they interesting? (Characteristic Moment/Hook)

2. What will happen to your character? (Key Event)
3. How does your character choose to change? They choose to interact with step #2. (First Plot Point)
4. Who or what is stopping your main character? (First Pinch Point)

5. What does your character learn about themselves and the world? (Midpoint)
6. What can your character lose? What will happen if they don't win? (Second Pinch Point)
7. What goes wrong? (Second Plot Point/Low Point)
8. What happens when your character faces what's stopping them in step 5? (Climax)
9. How has your character changed? (Resolution)

Story Structure in The Spectra Books

For my first few Keita's Wings books, I used story structure to turn a messy rough draft into a publishable story. Now I also use it to create an outline before I start writing. I update my outline as I go to help me keep track of where I am in the story and what I need to do next.

Here are some of the finished outlines for some of my books (some of them are cropped to remove spoilers).

Mira's Griffin:

These are color coded instead of labeled by section. Act 1 is yellow, Act 2.A-B are green, Act 2.C-D are blue, Act 3 is red, and I colored the resolution yellow as well.

I broke up each chapter into scenes for DreamRovers to help me keep track of the three point of views. 

Yes, I am a bit obsessed with spreadsheets.

For an even more in depth look at my CVP Method, check out this article.

Story structure is a huge topic and I hope this is useful. This is an amazing age when more information abounds if you wish to search for it. Have fun!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Book Recommendations, June 2021

 Here's a few books that I've read, enjoyed, and reviewed over the past few weeks:

I NOT David: A women's fiction book about a family after the young son is diagnosed with autism. I'll admit it. I cried.

Rise of the Fomori: Faerie Warriors book 2: I really enjoyed the first book, and the second is a great continuation. The twists and turns kept me guessing.

Mr. Darcy's Dragon: This was a fun tale that mixes a Pride and Prejudice retelling with dragon keeping. 

Matriarch: It's labeled fantasy, but I felt it fit better in the horror genre. I shocked myself by how much I enjoyed it, scary ending and all. 

Stolen Goblin Bride: This book was much more light-hearted and wholesome than I expected from the title and cover. Yes, the girl is carried away by a goblin, but she's entirely willing and their relationship is wholesome.

DreamRovers: Walker Filmasa


DreamRovers has three point of view characters. You met 15-year-old Norma and her farm animals last month. She appears on the cover of book 2, Trail of Decision. Indra Filshira opens the first book and is on the cover. 

The third point of view is Walker Filmasa. He's the first male point of view I've written. His character was originally inspired by the Wild West figure Porter Rockwell, though Walker's character changed and developed along with the story. His journey to accept his place in a family and to forgive himself was a deeply personal one to write--although I'm sure he'd rather I discuss his wilderness survival skills. Walker has had a hard life and fans are eager to see if he gets a happy ending. 
Sneak Peak:

Walker’s boots crunched through layers of snow. Cold bit his nose and the few inches of his face not protected by his beard. Meat that had been a rabbit hung from one hand, cleaned and ready. Out of habit, his unhurried tread took him from cover to cover—behind a boulder, a stand of small pines, a ridge of earth. 

His latest camp appeared, a simple shelter of heaped snow. A circle of blackened earth showed where he’d banked the coals of yesterday’s fire. The dry wood to start it again lay hidden under a camouflaged roof between two scrub oak trees. He scanned the camp twice until he was certain that no one else had been here, and then eased into the open. 

A rooster emerged from the dark entrance of the snow cave. His feathers bounced comically as he ran. Walker couldn’t suppress a smile. Robbie probably only cared about the handful of grain in Walker’s pocket, but the attention was still flattering. The old scars that marked him as a fighting bird, before Walker had rescued him, were now covered by thick golden feathers, and his beady eyes were bright. 

Keep reading the rest of the first chapter here.

The Spectra World master maps!

  Summer is here! It's the perfect time to explore somewhere new! Sure, that might include a physical location, but I for one hope to ex...