My problem is plot. Often, in the quiet of the night as I stare at my desktop I wonder if I am doomed. The opening of Ansen Dibell’s book Plot addresses my plight: Coming to Plot the Hard Way.
That’s me, hard way and all. Entering that plot fortress, walking through the dark entrance into a maze of choices, left me frustrated and convinced I’d never find my way to the other end.
I’ll backtrack here to two years ago and full-blown pantser writing, where I ended up with a 105,000 word story. I’d repeatedly tossed one minor conflict after another against the wall, keeping every strand that stuck there, the same as that age old cooked pasta test. I’ve been rewriting the last half of that manuscript, fixing all my dead end detours and misplaced road signs. So I set out this year to find a better way to create my stories.
On the positive side, I’ve been told my story characters shine, my dialogue is good and believable, my setting throbs with scents, and textures and color, but my plots…ah, ,my heart burns with desire, but I’m denied. Premises explode on the page to later fizzle into flat plotlines. I’ve read book after book, taken workshop after workshop, seeking the right fit.
In my epic search I’ve tried several approaches and after hours of tedious effort tossed them aside.
The 3-Act Solution with turning points. My one attempt resides in my computer with no third act. No matter how many times I tried, this process didn’t work for me. Yet, I know this can be effective. It’s just too exacting for my Mexican-jumping-bean mind.
The index card system. Similar to the script writing technique, where each scene is on a card and you shift the cards to create that fast moving, well-thought out story. I now have a pile of cards with no cohesive meaning. Some writers find this a perfect fit. I’m stumped again.
Is it me? I asked my husband if he thought I showed signs of dyslexia. I am left-handed, maybe that’s one reason. Left hand in touch with the right brain, the creative side. So, I decided to create my own system, based on techniques from workshops and a writer’s website.
First, I begin with a log line based on my idea (premise). I struggled with log lines until I took the recent FTH online workshop with instructor Cindy Carroll. What a difference that made!
Second, I work up the hero and heroine character sketches, their archetypes and I identify how they mesh and how they conflict. I use elements of Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict as a guide.
Next, I begin with the log line to write a one page synopsis. Stop, don’t run away with your hands in the air shouting, “No, No, No, not the dreaded One Pager….” Write that one page synopsis before writing your story and see if the premise works. I don’t expect your story to remain exactly like the one pager. Characters do unexpected things, and sometimes their actions are better than what we first imagined.
I use Beth Anderson’s Writing the Tight Synopsis as my guide. You can find a free copy at her website:
My critique group endorsed my one page synopsis. It’s important to run this by someone for input before your next step. Expand that one page synopsis into five or more pages. This includes the subplot action. I feel so happy and confident with my “new” plotting system. I’ve reworked the story a few times, fine-tuning the emotional development between the hero and heroine.