Plot and Structure

15 09 2012

Highly recommended for writers by writers

I’ve been studiously working through a book with this title by James Scott Bell. It came highly recommended from many fellow writers at WANA Tribe.

Plot is the events in a story that advance the protagonist toward achieving his goal. Of course, all the conflicts and setbacks our hero face are also part of the plot. Plot driven stories keep readers turning the pages. In fact, the pages can’t be turned quickly enough because each one introduces new complications. Every writer wants readers to be unwilling to stop reading.

Like the frame of an automobile, structure is what the plot is built around. Whether it’s the famous Three Act formula used since Greeks ruled the literary world or something less formulaic, there must be a framework in the story. This underpinning must be logical enough that readers can follow the plot without feeling like a rat in a maze.

Diagram of Three Act Structure

While I read the book by a published author, I say, “Uh huh. Yep. So right” until I start to convince myself that I already know all this stuff. Problem: even though I realize that events in the story must address the overarching problem, I don’t run my own written scenes through this so-called “advancement scanner.”

It’s interesting that all the knowledge I’ve gained as a student, teacher and avid reader seems to belong to another mind once I began to pour words onto the page. What’s with that anyway?

Of course, we’ve all spent plenty of agonizing hours on the other end of that seesaw. Every word written gets weighed by our inner critic and deemed unfit for the page. It’s trite. It’s cliché. It sounds like the ruminations of a whining five-year-old or a senile 95-year-old.

Most of the “experts” (meaning published authors) agree that the first draft is about getting words on the page. Ideas should flow out of the creative well and into the Word document. Later, when those 60,000+ beautiful expressions of our imagination have culminated in a completed story, we can return with the editor’s hat affixed to our heads to add, subtract, extrapolate, expunge and generally rewrite the story. Until that first draft is completed, we should lock our critical side in a closet and misplace the key.

What’s your opinion in this matter? When is the right time to let the critic out of the bag? Is it important that I have solid plot points in a first draft or is this something that can be “fixed” during revision?

Related Articles:

Structure Part Two - Kristen Lamb

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