For me, plotting is the most difficult part of the writing journey. I think this stems from the fact that I'm an only child and, when I first began creating characters, I thought of them as playmates instead of people with their own stories. I wanted them to stick around so we could continue to have adventures together. After all, that's what happened to the casts on television programs I watched. They kept returning each week for a new episode.
Writing short stories has been a good experience for me because it's forced me to find endings. But, I still struggle to understand and apply story and character arcs.
Recently, I found two books that have been very helpful in guiding me through this process. It's interesting and completely accidental that I selected and read them in the order I did. They fit together beautifully, as if the first serves as an overview and the second explains the basic principles in greater detail.
As far as I can determine, the authors worked independently and did not plan their works as companion volumes. The only connection I've discovered is that they are both active in writing for the Christian marketplace.
The first book is The Plot Skeleton (2013) by Christie Award winner Angela Hunt. It is in fact the first of nine books she has written that provide short lessons about writing craft. The series is called "Writing Lessons from the Front" and includes the following subjects: (2) Creating Extraordinary Characters; (3) Point of View; (4) Track Down the Weasel Words and Other Strategies to Revise and Review Your Manuscript; (5) Evoking Emotion; (6) Plans and Processes to Get Your Book Written; (7) Tension on the Line; (8) Writing Historical Fiction; and (9) A Christian Writer’s Possibly Useful Ruminations from a Life in Pages. I've ordered the entire series, so I'll update you as I read and learn.
While The Plot Skeleton is short in length, only 32 pages, it is a strong concept and gives authors an excellent visual image for designing story structure: a stick figure skeleton. The skull represents the protagonist with an obvious problem and a hidden problem (the two eyes). The smile reminds you to give the protagonist an admirable quality. The neck indicates the inciting incident. Following the spine (the path toward the goal) and ribcage (complications) allows the author to map out a story line that reaches a point (the hip) where the protagonist experiences failure and must seek assistance. The thigh is the receipt of help, the kneecap is the lesson learned, the calf is the epiphany and decision to act, and the feet are the resolution.
|Rebecca LuElla Miller|
The second book, Power Elements of Story Structure (Power Elements of Fiction Book 1) (2014) by Rebecca LuElla Miller, began as blog posts. Miller provides a step-by-step process of developing a story, beginning with an exploration of what plot is, then considering specific aspects of plotting like three-act structure, scenes, stakes, and introducing information while keeping the story moving. In demonstrating her points, she makes reference to excellent resources and uses specific examples to demonstrate effective use of the principles she describes.
For example, Chapter 14 explains how backstory may be revealed through character memories or flashback scenes. Rather than having a character hear a bell chiming and think that it reminded him of a past experience, Miller suggests the sound of the bell causing the character to react in a manner that became habit when he heard the bell as a boy. The Amazon listing indicates Miller's book is the first of a projected series.
I hope you might consider each of these books on plotting and check out the authors' websites. Both are experienced and knowledgeable writers with the ability to teach the skills they have learned. Also, they are generous with their advice. Angela Hunt's website is http://www.angelahuntbooks.com and Rebecca LuElla Miller's website is http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/.
What's your writing weakness? What sources have you found helpful to build your writing skills?