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So You Want to Commit Novel: Plot

Originally published 6/10/2010

Last week we talked about the synopsis.  Some of you may have noticed a flaw.  How can you write a summary of the plot if you don’t know how you get from page one to the end?  Good point.

My first stab at a synopsis takes the material I do know and shows me a lot of what’s missing.  Now I drag out my pre-writing tools.  The first is a diagram of a fairly linear plot.  Once I get into the book I tend to zig zag to either side of the main line.  But the primary points drag me forward from section to section and keep me closer to the plan than just wandering through the maze of words until I’ve filled the quota, and gotten lost along the way.  We’ve all encountered books that say nothing at with a lot of words.  I don’t like reading them and try very hard not to write them.  Knowing my plot is the key.

I’m not one of those writers who feel that once they know the ending of the book they can’t write it.  The story is done for them.  If I don’t know the end I have no purpose in completing the book.  The journey and figuring how to get from here to there is the fun part.

I’m using the Kevin Costner movie  Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves as my example.

So I start with a straight line across the page.  The far left is the start and the far right is the end.  For the purposes of this essay I’m working with 400 pages, or 100,000 words by typesetter standards.

I mark the beginning as page 1 and the end 400.  Then I draw vertical lines intersecting the plot at roughly pages 100 plot Point I, 200 mid point, and 300 plot point II.

Page 1: State the Story Goal: Robin wants to go home, get married, have a family and NEVER GO TO WAR AGAIN.  But first he has to get out of the Muslim prison alive.  That is a scene goal.

Page 100: Plot Point I: Character makes a commitment to a course of action not foreseeable on page 1.  Robin has to declare WAR on the Sheriff of Nottingham to be free and achieve story goal.

Page 200: Mid Point: Character takes a physical and or emotional risk that puts the goal in jeopardy:  Robin allows Marion into the outlaw camp.  She could have been followed.  She could betray him.  In falling in love both characters leave themselves vulnerable to the dangers of the other.

In this sequence Robin sends the old blind servant home with Marion.  He is the one who leads the enemy back to the camp by mistake, thus tying the action of the first half to the second.

Page 300: Plot Point II: Character is faced with a dilemma.  Neither choice is acceptable and goal cannot be reached.  Nature of the choice can reflect the theme.  The camp is burned and Robin’s followers imprisoned.  The safe thing for Robin to do is go back to the Holy Land as a Crusader, or to the Continent to become a mercenary.  The honorable thing to do is storm the impregnable castle to rescue Marion and his followers.  He’s likely to die either way.

Thus follows the 20 minutes of murder and mayhem at the end of the movie followed by the short resolution.

Page 275 Dark Moment: All seems lost.  Character has made the wrong choice.  Can now make a NEW goal if necessary.  This comes just after the battle at the camp when Robin discovers the extent of his loss.

Page 375 C: Crisis: Tense action scene where Characters go for broke to achieve original or NEW goal.  This is the sword fight inside the castle

Page 398 Resolution: Tie up as many loose ends as possible and keep it short.  The wedding in the greenwood with King Richard’s return.

Pages 50 and 350, Pinch: A theme statement.  Marked as X below.  This is what can turn an ordinary story into a lasting impression on the reader. At the first pinch Robin asks Aziz (they are sitting on a wall which is good symbolic tie to second pinch) why he, a Muslim, was in the Muslim prison.  Aziz replies that he fell in love with the wrong woman.  Robin asks: was she worth it.  Worth dying for.  At the second pinch Robin and Aziz are climbing into a catapult that will throw them over the wall of Nottingham Castle.  Aziz asks is she worth it.  Robin replies: Worth dying for.

Cue theme music, Bryon Adams singing “Everything I do, I do it for you.”  The refrain repeats “Don’t tell me it’s not worth dying for.”

Based upon Screenplay by Syd Field,  Dell 1982

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1 thought on “So You Want to Commit Novel: Plot”

  1. More often than not, these plot lines work better with a finished book. But I do find them useful for making certain I have the scenes in right order and that there is a theme statement at some point. But who knows the theme until I’ve written the whole $#%%#$$r book.

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