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Plot III: Narrative Structure


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Part of my series on writing the novel.

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Plot III: Narrative Structure

  1. 1. Plot Part III: The Events of Your Story. Narrative Structure
  2. 2. The Foundation: One Sentence Idea •Can you state the original idea for your book in 25 words or less? •Have you written it down? •Does it bring an emotional reaction? •Good writing and strong characters are key.
  3. 3. Have You Filled Out Your Conflict Box? Do You Have Conflict Lock? Protagonist Conflict Protagonist Goal Antagonist Goal Antagonist Conflict
  4. 4. Plot • Plot is a character trying to resolve a problem. • Which entails a series of events that outline the action of a story. • The characters’ motivations drive the plot toward the climax. • Time is linear. Usually.
  5. 5. Plot: By Aristotle •An interesting character facing a problem. •Story is solving the problem. •Tragedy: In solving the problem, it gets worse, which leads to the dark moment, which leads to the turning point. •Character must plausibly solve the problem.
  6. 6. Narrative Structure Elements •Initiating Event. •Escalating Conflict. •Crisis. •Climax. •Resolution.
  7. 7. Narrative Structure Initiating Event Escalating Conflict In Crisis Climax Resolution TIME: THE FLOW OF THE STORY S U S P E N S E
  8. 8. BUT!!! Initiating Event Escalating Conflict In Crisis Climax Resolution TIME: THE FLOW OF THE STORY S U S P E N S E BACK STORY Setting? Problem? Characters?
  9. 9. Before The Initiating Event • Back-Story fills almost half your outline. • The complete history of: • Characters. • Problem. • Setting. • Include the antagonist’s complete plan. • Remember there is a difference between what happened and how characters remember it happening. • Most of it never gets into the book, but you have to know it. (Or do you?)
  10. 10. Back-Story •The stuff that happens before the story starts. •The calm before the storm. •Be careful of info dumping it in your story. •Humphrey Bogart and the talking head. •You can’t use your opening of the book to ‘set-up’ the book. •Beware of . . .
  11. 11. Flashbacks And Memories • The two are not the same. • Flashback= what happened. • Memory= what someone remembers happening. • Memory is tainted by all that happened afterwards and by what someone wants now. • You must make sure the reader knows when they enter and leave a flashback or memory. • Remember, the reader wants to usually know what happens next, not what happened. • Usually there is no conflict in a flashback or memory because it’s already over.
  12. 12. Initiating Event •Opening scene does one (or perhaps both) of two things: •Introduces the protagonist. •Introduces the problem. •This decision tells the reader which is more important. •The next scene does the other. •Where you begin writing does not necessarily equal the beginning of the book. •Who introduces the problem?
  13. 13. The Antagonist •Believable motivation for the antagonist. •We can understand why she’s doing this even if we don’t agree. •Give the antagonist a good plan. •The better the antagonist, the stronger the protagonist must be to overcome her. •Eventually, though, your protagonist must act.
  14. 14. The Initiating Event •The place where things change, the fight starts, the balance has been upset. •The hook. •Beware flashbacks and memories in your opening scene. •Prologues? •Don’t be a secret keeper. •First sentences are important.
  15. 15. First Sentences
  16. 16. PLOT •Why now? •What’s changed? •Why today? Why not yesterday? Or tomorrow?
  17. 17. The Opening Scene •The first ‘shot’ is important. •The first scene is important. •Your opening scene often mirrors the climactic scene, just at a lower level. •Sometimes the opening scene is the protagonist vs. antagonist and the antagonist wins. •Your protagonist, as he/she is at the beginning of the book would most likely fail if suddenly thrust into the climactic scene. •Your first “shot” sets the tone.
  18. 18. Camera View For Opening Scenes •The smaller the story, the bigger the opening view: •Out-In Pan: Day of the Jackal. •The bigger the story, the smaller the opening view: •In-Out Pan: Dune.
  19. 19. PLOT •What is your first shot? •Does your first scene introduce protagonist, plot, or both? •Does your first scene mirror your climactic scene and/or foreshadow it?
  20. 20. Escalating Conflict •For both the protagonist and the antagonist. •A series of progressive complications that ups the stakes. •The stakes get higher, the suspense rises, and the pace of the story gets faster.
  21. 21. Escalating Conflict •Surprise is not suspense. •Suspense comes from caring about character. (Dancer, TX. Pop 81)
  22. 22. Coincidence In Plot •Could be author manipulation of the plot. •Could be fate and lift the story to a higher level if handled well. •Must have internal logic. •Make everything serve multiple purposes to tighten the story down.
  23. 23. Coincidence vs. Fate •Fate works •Coincidence doesn’t •Fate is layered on top of existing base conflict •Coincidence is the conflict
  24. 24. Crisis •The darkest moment, when it looks as if all is lost. •The protagonist reaches the point where she has to make a decision, usually fight or flee. •The decision leads to a course of action and it shouldn’t be an obvious choice. •That choice drives the protagonist toward the inevitable collision with the antagonist in the climax.
  25. 25. PLOT •What is your moment of crisis for your protagonist? •Is it a ‘fight or flee’ situation?
  26. 26. Climax •The choice comes to a conclusion. •The Protagonist versus the Antagonist and one wins. •Both are on stage. No proxies. •The solution to the problem introduced in the inciting incident.
  27. 27. Climax •You only get one climactic scene. •The climactic scene is often the same or a mirror image of the opening scene, just at lower level. •The protagonist has changed from who she was in the opening scene to the point where she can win. •As soon as you finish reading a book, go back and re-read the opening chapter. •Out of the climax, comes the resolution.
  28. 28. Resolution •The emotional pay-off to the reader. •Should be one, short, last scene. •All subplots should have been closed out prior to the climactic scene, usually in reverse order from when they were introduced. •A return to stability or a new reality. •We SEE the change in our protagonist.
  29. 29. PLOT •Is your protagonist different? •Do you have arc? •How is your protagonist different at the end of your book? •How do you show this difference?
  30. 30. DON’T LOOK DOWN Lucy rebuffs Nash and Wilder saves Pepper Lucy realizes something criminal is going on; Wilder is attacked. Realize Nash will kill; Lucy & Wilder bond. Showdown, High Noon Style Fly off into the setting sun S U S P E N S E TIME: THE FLOW OF THE STORY
  31. 31. Narrative Structure Initiating Event Escalating Conflict In Crisis Climax Resolution TIME: THE FLOW OF THE STORY S U S P E N S E
  32. 32. Original Idea Conflict the Fuel of Your Story and the Conflict Box Plot I: Research and Narrative Questions Plot II: Outlining Plot III: Narrative Structure Character Point of View Write It Forward: From Writer to Bestselling Author Writers Conference Guide (Free eBook) Three P’s: Platform, Product, Promotion Writers’ Block and Rewriting How to Write the Query/Synopsis Planning for NaNoWriMo Success Bob Mayer’s Workshops, Seminars & Presentations Your Creative Process: How You Write The Present and Future of Publishing for Writers Writers Workshop and Retreat ON WRITING SLIDESHARES
  33. 33. For More Information click on covers The Complete Writer is four books at discount in one bundle.
  34. 34. New York Times bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret, and feeder of two yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He’s had over seventy books published, including the #1 bestselling series Time Patrol, Area 51, Atlantis, and the Green Berets. Born in the Bronx and having traveled the world he now lives peacefully with his wife and labs. Sort of. Free books below available HERE
  35. 35. Writing Scenic Workshop •An intense, on-premises workshop focusing on idea, conflict, story and the ever- changing business of publishing. •At our house on Scenic Drive in Knoxville, TN •Most importantly, this workshop focuses on developing your creative process as a writer. •Led by Bob Mayer and his wife, Debbie. •We’ve worked with everyone from #1 NY Times best-selling authors to novices writing their first book. •Limited to four people per workshop. This workshop can also come to you if you have four interested writers. For schedule contact