by Monica Shaughnessy
Ever wonder why some stories drag or meander and some stories suck you in from page one and take you on a thrill ride? Well, dear reader, it’s all about the plot.
Since I’m preparing a presentation on structure for an upcoming series of Houston writing workshops (read to the end of the post for more details), I’ve got a bad case of the plots. No, it’s not as disgusting as it sounds. Really. Stick with me.
If you learn the basics of the three-act structure, you’re making good progress.
(courtesy of Elements of Cinema)
But no so fast! What about genre? Each brand of fiction has its own conventions.
Science fiction and fantasy are normally plot-driven. The worlds and their complications are just as important as the people who inhabit them, and the story usually revolves around a tight structure. Yes, we want Commander Xletia to succeed, but we’re are just as invested in whether or not Planet Nebulon survives the nuclear holocaust. Oh, my!
Thrillers, too, are usually plot-driven, as are one-off mysteries. But a mystery series? That’s highly character driven. Who solves the mystery is as important as the mystery being solved. We can’t hang with a detective we don’t like, not for six books. Romance and literary fiction, too, heavily rely on their characters. This doesn’t shift the structure, but it changes the way books are plotted.
Wait! I haven’t even begun to talk about picture books! Yes, there’s a formula for that, too.
Or how about Young Adult? Don’t even think about writing one without a romantic plot or subplot or you’ll be dead in the water. And the story’s got to move, baby, move, or so says R. L. Stine in an article last year.
And if your head isn’t spinning enough, let’s talk about novels in verse. You’re not thinking of rhyming, are you? That’s so nineteenth century. But are they plotted the same way as regular novels? In a word: yes. Just because you decided to cut your word count doesn’t mean you can skimp on setting, structure, and characterization.
These are the deep waters of novel writing, not for the casual hobbyist. Even if you’re the kind of scribe who lets the plot unravel organically, either by luck or by strong character motivation, your novel must find its way into some sort of structure (beginning, middle, end) by the final draft in order to be enjoyable by the general public (and no, your Cousin Tito’s cellmate doesn’t count).
Yes, yes, now I’ll get on to the part about FREE…
My fellow Space City Scribes and I will be presenting at Maud Marks Library in Katy, TX in a couple of weekends (9/13) and we’d love for you to come out and learn more about structuring your WIP. A few of us will also be talking about traditional publishing in October and self-publishing in November. It’s going to be a great series of workshops!
See you there!