The plot is one of the major drivers in any fiction work.
Plot, structure and architecture
These terms are closely related but are not the same.
Structure is the bones or skeleton of the work. Without structure, you’ll end up with a limp mess of “stuff,” commonly known as “literature.” You’d better have really good characterization or other competencies, or you’ll never sell the thing.
Structure is the foundation, framing, joists, roof, etc. Look at any garden shed and you’ll see a lot of structure.
Add style, mood and creative communication to the basic structure and you’re now into the architecture. Structure is to architecture as a lean-to in the woods is to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Waters.
You’ll need to be working with the Six Core Competencies to get the architecture going. It’s not any one thing you do, but a synergy of the Competencies.
This is the actual happenings in the story which, hopefully, occur as part of your structure. The basics of dramatic (fiction) structure might be:
- The hero gets up a tree.
- People or the environment throw rocks and other nasty stuff at him.
- He learns to throw rocks back
- The hero gets out of the tree.
You’ve got some conflict or problem which the protagonist has to solve; it's a game with freedoms, barriers and purposes.
Since the days of Greek theater, the 3-Act structure has dominated the storytelling Craft. In novel writing, it can be relaxed a little, but don’t make it too limp. Screenwriting (for film) has a very stringent structure (still the 3 Acts) and you don’t deviate from it in the slightest.
Bell and Ingermanson’s 3 Acts are above the line; Larry Brooks’ 4 Parts are below the line. Brooks’ is a bit more defined.
Some definitions for the graphic:
Doorway: A scene which goes one direction or another with no backing out. For the first doorway at 25%, the protagonist decides either to launch himself into the unknown or to continue doing what he’d done before. Guess which route he usually takes.
Disaster: Ingermanson’s take on a doorway. The protagonist strives to reach a goal/solve a problem but ends off worse off than before.
Plot Point: Brooks’ summation of Bell’s doorway.
Pinch Point: Brooks’ “invention” of a quick twist or reminder: “a Pinch Point is simply sticking the nature of the primary antagonistic force smack into the face of the reader (and possibly the hero, but not necessarily). Whatever is causing problems, we see it again at the Pinch Point.” This could be a short paragraph or sentence or a brief scene.
The percentage on the scale is just that. A typical novel has about 400 pages, so the first Doorway/Disaster/Plot Point comes right around page 100. In a screenplay, it’s almost exactly at the 25% point of the entire film (based on time).
Mythic Structure: The Hero’s Journey
Star Wars popularized this structure. It is named for Joseph Cambell’s book, The Hero’s Journey. It has various forms, but they all follow a similar pattern within the 3-Act Structure:
- You’re introduced to the (nescient) hero’s world.
- A disturbance or “call to adventure” disrupts his world.
- The hero may ignore this disruption for a bit, but
- He crosses the threshold into a dark world.
- A mentor often appears to teach the hero.
- Various things happen with the forces of darkness.
- The hero has a dark moment within himself he must conquer in order to continue.
- A talisman might aid in the battle against darkness, such as King Author’s sword Excalibur.
- The hero fights the final battle.
- The hero returns to his own world.
But I’m not a plotter!
No problemo! We tech writers/analysts/programmers are actually very good plotters. We are very good at discovering or developing each and every possible consequence of an action. Even if the original developers haven’t taken into consideration all the possibilities at a given point, we’ve got the experience to list them out. How often have you tech writers pointed out one or more alternative possibilities to the developer? As a programmer/analyst, I’ll bet after you’ve stepped on a sensitive body part a few times, you’ve been putting in those several extra ElseIf or Case statements, right?
- Read Larry Brooks’ article: The Most Powerful Two Hours You’ll Ever Spend as a Storyteller
- Go to your local plot shop (or your own bookshelf) and acquire some plots.
- Decompose the structure (not the plot) as Larry shows so you end up with a generic template. While Larry says to use a movie/DVD, any fiction media should do.
- Repeat at least once more on another acquired plot.
- Now tweak one of those templates to make your own “original” structure and plot.
You’ve now got at least two best-selling plots for your own novels.