Rachelle J. Christensen taught a great class on plotting that was slanted toward Suspense novels, but could be used for any genre. I've always been a "discovery writer" or a "pantser". And there's nothing wrong with that. However, this class helped me understand a few things about plotting that I can use after "discovering" my story to help in the editing stages. This will be a summary of my notes from her class.
Perhaps one of the most important things Rachelle said was this, "Now we are competing with movies."
I'm the kind of writer (and reader) who likes to be firmly in the setting and know a little about the characters before all the conflict gets started. That way I can answer the "Why do I care?" question. However, if we want people to sit and read instead of watching the latest blockbuster movie, we need to do something to grab their attention and emotions right off the bat. While still helping them know "Why do I care?"
Sometimes this feels almost impossible doesn't it. Rachelle suggested sitting and free writing for the first 50 pages. Then you can look at all that story and figure out where it really begins. She suggested that you jump right in and then do a brief intro of the characters.
"Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." ~Elmore Leonard
Rachelle then ran through the 7 Plot Point System and suggested we all go watch Dan Wells YouTube videos on Story Stucture. Once again, Rachelle and Dan both mention you need this even if you are a Discover Writer. Here it is briefly:
- Plot turn 1--Introduce conflict, world changes (inciting incident)
- Pinch 1--apply pressure (something goes wrong/make it worse)
- Midpoint--Exact center of your story, maybe not center of the book. The protagonist moves from reacting to acting
- Pinch 2--cycles of try/fail until you've added more pressure until almost hopeless (example: In The Incredibles, Syndrome has captured them and the robot is smashing the city.)
- Plot turn 2--They get the final piece of information or thing needed to move toward the end and the...
And finally, the elements of Suspense which can be used in every genre as well.
- Setting--Don't just grab a location out of a hat. There must be a reason they are from Oregon, or wherever. Every element is important. Whatever you mention in that setting must be important. If you mention an expensive oriental vase, someone needs to steal it or get hit over the head with it.
- Characters--The must be involved, active. Also, a good description is like the setting for your character. (I would add they need to be well rounded characters with strengths and flaws)
- High Stakes--Obviously, but also be mindful that your minor characters don't hijack your story because they are more interesting or their stakes are higher.
- Question--Make sure the story raises questions that your reader wants answered while keeping a good balance. If you ask too many that take too long to answer the reader will get frustrated and perhaps stop reading.
- Foreshadowing--"You know the thunder is coming, but when?" (I also took a class by J. Scott Savage on the Art of Subtlety, so stayed tuned for more on this. And no, while technically foreshadowing, there was nothing subtle about that last sentence.)
- Problems--There need to be hard choices, grey areas. Create lose-lose situations (Pinch point 2)