I've been yammering a lot lately about the amazingness of plotting/outlining. Most of this yammering comes because, after hearing Larry Brooks speak at the LDStorymakers conference, I read his book Story Engineering and it changed my life. I kid you not. Best writing craft book I have EVER read. I highly recommend you go buy the book for yourself.
Today, let's talk about how learning the story structure mentioned in this book can change your life even if you're a pantser. I know, it seems at odds-- structure? Pantsing? Never these twain have met. Or have they? In essence, pantsing is a way to create a long, rambling outline for your book. I was a pantser for quite a while, and found this to be true. And whether you plot or pants your novel, in the end, we're all striving for the same thing: an engaging, fabulous story.
One of the best ways to do this is using the three-act structure. In order to achieve that story and structure, there are certain plot points you MUST hit. Go watch your favorite movie, and you'll find all of these points exactly where they're supposed to be. Being aware of them can help you either outline beforehand, or guide you as you pants, so your novel can be more satisfying to readers. I'll do a post on Friday outlining all of these points in a well-known book, but for today, let's look at the basics.
There are FOUR PARTS to a story separated by THREE POINTS, and they fit roughly into the typical three-act structure.
Part 1 (Act 1): The setup. This is where you explore what the character's life and world is like before the story starts. You set the stakes-- what does the character have to loose? Obviously, you don't want to ramble on about the random nothings of their life. You want a HOOK-- a compelling moment that hints at the inciting incident and the first plot point. You want an inciting incident-- a moment that can help launch the story. You want specially chosen moments and details that lead up to the point where they get a full-frontal view of how their life will change. And that point is called...
Plot Point 1. Plot Point 1 is where the goal, the journey, and the conflict all become clear-- the first full-frontal view of the conflict, stakes, and opposition. This can be, but doesn't have to be, the inciting incident. The inciting incident is more often earlier in Part 1. The key here to determining that is to look at what the character learns when the inciting incident takes place. If the inciting incident is an intriguing moment that sets the character on a new path that they and the reader don't quite understand, then it is NOT Plot Point 1.
Also keep in mind that PP1 come approximately 1/4 of the way through the story-- about page 100 in a 400 page novel. And yes, the timing is important. If it comes too early or too late, your reader, who has unconscious expectations of when certain moments will come, will either be confused or bored. Moving on, PP1 launches the beginning of
Part 2 (Act 2): The Response/Wanderer. It's important to remember that this is a reactive, not proactive stage. This is where the hero is running, or floundering in some way as he or she responds to what they learned at PP1. It generally covers about half of Act 2, and transitions to the next stage at the
Midpoint. The midpoint is, predictably, right in the middle of the story (about page 200 in a 400 page book). This is where the hero learns something new and empowering in the context of the story. This new thing gives them what they need to start fighting against the antagonist, therefore launching
Part 3 (Act 2): The Attack/Warrior. The character can now jump in, guns blazing, and start attacking, acting the warrior. Here's the thing, though-- they can't win yet. They don't have enough information to defeat the antagonist. They can try, but inevitably they fail simply because they are missing a vital piece of information. And that moment comes at
Plot Point 2. This is where the hero learns that vital piece of information that will allow them to triumph over the villain. It's the moment that launches the final conflict, which takes place in
Part 4 (Act 3): Climax and Resolution. At this point, no new information can enter the story-- it all must have been hinted or foreshadowed at previously. The hero can now take everything he/she has learned and meet the villain for the final showdown. Because of what he/she has learned and how he/she has changed, they are now able to triumph. After the triumph, they have a short resolution time to tie up loose ends, and then their story has come to a heroic end.
You'll also notice two smaller pinchpoints. These are moments right in the middle of Part 2 and Part 3 that remind the reader and the hero of the threat of the villain. They can be small or large, but they also are important to the flow of the story.
So, my friends, questions? Comments? Concerns? Did that help you understand story structure? Is there a structure you yourself like to use that's different than this one? Are you opposed to structure and want to explain why?