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Monday, February 24, 2014

Lost in Translation - Plotting

Have you ever tried to explain something to someone and the harder you try to get your point across, the harder it is to make sense?  You start to confuse yourself and YOU know what you were trying to say to begin with!!!  Somewhere amid the twists and turns your translation from idea to explanation got lost.  That can happen pretty easily with writing, too.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a book, an essay, a research paper or a letter you are writing to someone (seriously...go back and read some of the letters you’ve's not hard to get off track).  The point is, to keep your writing on track you need some guidelines.  A map of sorts. 

Now, now....all of you who are directionally challenged...take a deep breath and calm down.  This isn’t one of those OnStar maps that take you into the darkest alleys of downtown on the wrong side of the tracks when you were aiming for grassy meadows in the country somewhere.  This one you have control of.  And I do realize we are all different and our minds will need different types of maps to process things our own way.  Keep reading...there’s something for everyone (or at least something you can modify for yourself).

Regardless of its appearance....I’m going to call this map a Plot MapJ  Plots can be a difficult thing when you're trying to write a story.  You start out with this great idea in your head but can’t seem to manage to give it a shape so that it is not only emotionally compelling but also holds itself together to the finish.  I’m going to try to make this as simple as can complicate it all you want to suit your taste when you start using it. 

Let’s think about your book the way Shakespeare would have.  Those who know me well know I adore Shakespeare...he was a he had to be on to something with this idea.  ACTS.  No, I’m not referring to the book in the Bible (though I do recommend reading it), I’m talking about how to break your story into sections so that it’s easier to fill in what’s going on.  If you break it into three Acts you’ve simplified right there.

Act I – 25% of your story
Act II – 50%
Act III – 25%

(Side note:  I did get the idea for Acts from reading somewhere..but I seriously suck at citing and it was something someone said to copy and I honestly would love to give credit where it’s due...but I don’t know his/her it was you....speak up.)
Ok, yes, yes, I’m going to add in a little to make it move along.  Feel free to copy and use the outline below.  Here goes:

Act I (25%)
Setup (Happens immediately. We meet the protagonist(s) and we get a glimpse of who they are and what they’re about.)
Plot Point 1  (Where the fun begins...the events that set the protagonist on his/her path.)
New situation  (Self explanatory...protagonist is presented with something new to deal with.)
Plot point 2  (Everything changes...first major event that sends the status quo spiraling into oblivion.)
Climax for Act I  (This climactic event makes it impossible for the protagonist to turn away from this new situation and go back to the life they led a mere 25% ago.)

ACT II (50%)
Seeming progress (the protagonist is at a point of making a plan to get out of the mess they’ve found themselves in.  The Antagonist is planning their own ways to achieve their goals.  More allies likely are introduced for both sides.)
Plot Point 3  (Point of no return.  The protagonist learns the full extent of what he/she is facing.)
Midpoint Climax  (An unexpected twist of events that should really be close to the midpoint of the book...and just when the protagonist seemed to be making some progress.  It’s about to get complicated.  Think Murphy’s Law....what CAN go wrong SHOULD go wrong.)
Complications and higher stakes  (The protagonist is tested.  Faces harder obstacles, harsher consequences if he/she fails.)
Plot Point 4  (Major setback for the protagonist.)
Act II Climax  (Increase the stakes and decrease the hero’s abilities...even set a deadline that has to be met.)

ACT III (25%)
Final Push (Crisis. Things can’t continue as they are.)
Plot Point 5 Climax (The final showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist.)
Aftermath/Wrap Up: (Ties up loose ends and foreshadows the future...because you KNOW you want to write another book)

Keep in mind...this could easily be changed to a FOUR Act scenario.  Just split Act II in half and use four 25% Acts if you feel you have more Plot Points and more climactic events to add.  It’s whatever works for you.

You can use any method you want to map this out: notecards, a story board, napkins from McDonald’s, that little triangle-mountain looking chart thingy they taught us in 8th grade English...whatever works for you.  I personally use MS Word and this outline.  It’s easier to add thoughts & details into Word than trying to rewrite the whole thing in my writer’s notebook.  That’s just where I jot down the ideas as they come to me. I said...everyone’s mind works in various, mysterious ways.

If anyone has any thoughts or tips for plot or character outlining they’d like to share that could help someone...let’s hear them!!!  Contact me or comment and we can get them posted so that other writers can benefit from your ideas as well.

Happy plotting everyone!!!  Try not to get lost.