Back at the end of September I dropped off the grid for a week and was posting pictures of this other person, that was because Amy flew from Australia to Alaska to visit me. We’re basically twins, except we don’t share parents, genes, nationality, or birthdays… but we do share a brain.
We started writing fiction around the same time and met on Critique Circle (which I highly recommend to anyone who needs a critique group and support). Over the years we’ve both been published, but we’ve taken different career paths. Amy is a full-time teacher in Australia (where they pay teachers living wages) and most of her time is spent teaching the basics. I’m a full-time work-at-home-mom who spends more time writing my own stuff than editing (usually). This means she’s better at using commas, and I’m better at making a plot work. And all because we’ve spent different amounts of time on different things.
While Amy was here we spent a good chunk of time plotting out all her upcoming projects. Partially so we didn’t have to talk it out on Skype, and partially because I wanted to show Amy the technique I’ve been using this year. Eventually we hit the point where we realized that what we were doing would be helpful not just for Amy’s classes, but for our blog readers as well. Amy typed it all up, and at the end of the series (if we fix technical difficulties) there will be a video of us revising the plot of Amy’s old NaNo novel, HOW NOT TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD.
Being an English teacher is good for my writer ego. I used to think that probably I was just *stupid* for all the beginner mistakes I made – but going on seven years of high school* English teaching where students usually have to complete one creative response per semester, I’ve marked over 1100 creative responses that have been predominantly written by ‘new writers’ – and I’ve learned that my mistakes weren’t actually mine after all, they were just ‘new writer’ mistakes. Woohoo. Go me. Etc.
* That’s Years 7 – 12 in Australia.
However. There’s one issue that really *ought* to be a new writer mistake that I’m really struggling to break myself from in my writing. I know better – by golly I do – and I even know the solution. But I’m only *just* getting to the point after ten years of seriously attempting this writing thing, and about a million words of fiction (whoa, I hit my million some time 6 – 12 months ago, that’s cool! I only *just* figured that out right now, for this post!), where I can remember that this is a problem I need to proactively fix *before* I write my story – because MAN, retrofitting this problem SUCKS.
So what’s the problem, then?
(This is the #1 reason you still haven’t seen my novel Sanctuary, despite me talking about it off and on for, you know, my entire previous life >.< The character arc started about a third of the way in, the structure meandered, and OH MY WORD trying to retrofit a proper character arc and structure into the thing is giving me FITS. *FITS*, you guys. **FITS**.)
I remember clearly my university writing professor saying to the whole class of us: “There’s no doubt you can all string a pretty sentence together, but can you tell a *story*?” He was talking about structure, because although we had things to say and could say them in pretty ways, almost the entire class of us – and most of my students – struggle to put things together in a way that builds a correct story AND character arc at the same time.
If my big problem was structure, why am I calling this series ‘Plotting’? Because the two are intrinsically linked; if you know structure, your plot will flow more easily and resonate better as a complete, satisfying thing with readers.
So with that in mind, here are some Structure 101 resources 🙂
This is a powerpoint I walk my students through that goes through the basics of structure and provides a few different options – three act, five act, 8-point and hybrid.
And this is a worksheet on the Hero’s Journey structure with prompt questions for each stage (see also this thread for an excellent discussion on the western-male-centricness of the hero’s journey concept).