Today’s the day! At midnight, NaNoWriMo starts …
I woke this morning, aware that I need to learn more – not about using Scrivener. I feel pretty confident in that respect. But about novel writing itself before I start writing for real tonight.
I looked at my cork board with its 32 index cards. Mathematically, I could target myself 2000 words apiece. But this wouldn’t necessarily result in a novel. So I Googled ‘plot points‘ and this is what I found … there are lots of theories.
The 3-act structure
The basic three-act structure which tells the story of ‘before-during-after’ looks like this:
- Act 1 presents the set up of characters within the location. The reader meets anyone of importance and learns about the relationships between characters.
- Act 2 reveals, via some obstacles, the confrontation ie the conflict facing the protagonist.
- Act 3 any loose ends are finally tied (and everyone lives happily ever after) gives resolution through a climax and a dénouement.
It would appear that these acts need not appear in the order 1, 2, 3. According to some sources, the climax might well occur in Act 2. The three-act structure can also be broken down further and, with script writing in particular which tells the story of ‘before-during-after’. Multiple 3-act sequences might be strung together.
The Hero’s Journey
Claimed that every story ever was written shares this fundamental structure:
- The call to adventure, in which the hero/protagonist makes a decision (to accept or turn down some challenge)
- A road of trials, with lots of obstacles, along which the hero travels, and succeeds or fails en route
- A boon when the hero achieves some goal. Ideally gaining some essential truth about him/herself
- The return to the real world in which the hero either succeeds or fails
- The application, when the hero uses the boon to make the world a better place
Points: plot points and turning points
In trying to understand all the terminology, I find it interesting to pluck ‘facts’ from various sources.
- Plot points are the significant events.
Do we include any insignificant ones, I hear myself ask.
- Plot points are events that have an effect on the protagonist, changing his/her view of what’s confronting him/her and/or resulting in him/her acting is a way that’s different from earlier.
Do we bother to mention the ones that had no effect? In Red Pen, I recommend editing out any negative space ie non-events.
- Turning points connect one act to the next in the 3-act structure.
Okay, but isn’t that a bit obvious?
I’m not sure I understand how this is going to help me, so I press on and dig deeper into the theory. Many experts in the field concur:
- There are to be three major plot points.
- These three plot points are to be positioned at equal intervals: a quarter of the way through, half of the way through and three-quarters of the way through.
In the three-act structure, this ties in nicely with the ‘quartering rule’ above, provided – my mathematical brain interjects – Act 2 is twice as long as Acts 1 and 3 (which are of identical length), and there’s another major plot point in the middle of Act 2.
I’m beginning to see how this might work!
- The first plot point is the turning point from Act 1 (setting up) and Act 2. Towards the end of Act 1, there’s is a major incident which confronts the protagonist, also his/her attempts to cope with this incident lead to a more dramatic situation: out of the frying pan and into the fire! This pivotal incident is called the catalyst or inciting incident.
- The midpoint (middle of Act 2) signals a wake-up for the protagonist. Up to now he/she has been the victim of events, but now he/she takes charge of his/her own destiny! This might also be called the point of no return …
- The third plot point is the turning point from Act 2 to Act 3. The protagonist is weary from all that’s happened so far but presses on (to victory).
Or, there’s the 5-point plan … or Freytag’s model of exposition / conflict / rising action / climax / falling action / resolution …
On top of the demand for structure, it appears I also need to employ one or more dramatic devices – or avoid them, as the case may be.
- Chekhov’s gun serves to remind writers to include only those props / characters / events which serve some real purpose. The gun mentioned in Act 1, it needs to be used to shoot someone in Act 2!
- Deus ex-machine means ‘god from the machine’ and describes the use of unexpected events or the introduction of additional characters to solve the problem for the protagonist. This device is clearly frowned upon in some quarters: a topic of heated debate!
- Foreshadowing involves dropping hints about what is to come, either to arouse the reader or to avoid disappointment. Showing how the characters have progressed in time. A scene early on can be played out again under different circumstances with different outcomes.
- The irony is achieved by revealing to the reader something which is not known to one or more characters. This puts the reader one step ahead of the ‘ignorant’ characters. It has three stages: installation / preparation, exploitation / suspension and resolution. There are different types (!): comic, cosmic, dramatic, historical, romantic, situational, Socratic, tragic …
- A MacGuffin is a goal or aspiration which is introduced early on, and then almost forgotten until the very end of the novel. It serves to catch attention and drive the plot forward, but really it’s not of great importance. Sometimes called a ‘plot coupon’.
- The red herring draws attention away from what is important to something which will mislead the reader.
And there are masses more to absorb … but, I think it’s time to stop ‘learning’ about what I should or shouldn’t do, and just do it. The rest of today will be spent revising my cards on the corkboard!
How are you spending your final pre-NANO hours?
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