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smartcutecandy
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500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

Hey there! Welcome to the Plot Structure lesson! If you're a writer, then you've absolutely come to the right place.
Every day (or every other day, depending on how busy I am) this week I will post a new lesson about plot structure to this forum. If you'd like to get notified every time I post, please follow this thread! I will also be posting a link in the Journal and Pen studio as well. https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/4520963/comments/

The first topic is going to be about PLANNING.

I'll write lessons as I think of them, but I'll try to stay in a sort-of sequential order. Most likely, the topic for tomorrow will be about BEGINNINGS.

Enjoy!
-Candy

List of lessons:
LESSON ONE: PLANNING
LESSON TWO: BEGINNINGS
LESSON THREE: INCITING INCIDENT and RISING ACTION
LESSON FOUR: CLIMAX
LESSON FIVE: FALLING ACTION and RESOLUTION
LESSON SIX: NOW WHAT?

Last edited by smartcutecandy (Jan. 7, 2018 00:40:49)

smartcutecandy
Scratcher
500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

PLANNING:

So you want to write a story. Whether or not it's a long novel or a small short story, you'll need to plan it out.
Some writers prefer planning more than others. Although you don't have to do everything I say, I'd definitely recommend at least giving my methods a try. I'm a long-time author with lots of experience in both succeeding and failing, so you can trust me.

QUICK NOTE: Remember those plot pyramids you always had to fill out in school?
This is basically how your plot should go. No matter how different your story is, every story must have this structure, or it's not really a story. Take any published novel and I will guarantee it has this structure, not matter how hard you have to look to find it. Try to keep this in mind while you plan your plot.

When planning, ALWAYS START WITH YOUR CHARACTERS. If you have a good idea for a plot, but no ideas for characters, put the plot to the side and work on your characters. Now, this lesson isn't about characters, but I have to tell you that any good story is built around the characters. If you have a good plot, but boring characters, no one will read your story. But if you have interesting characters, they can really carry the plot.
EXAMPLE: When wondering what will happen next, put yourself in the shoes of your characters. What are they thinking now? Where is this going? Don't always just follow the natural path you think the plot should go. Follow your characters.

After you've got both ideas for characters and plots, it's time to start writing. Yes. Don't just sit around thinking about your story for months. Actually DO SOMETHING. A bad first draft is better than the perfect story that doesn't yet exist. This may sound weird coming from someone who loves planning and organizing, but trust me, you NEED TO START. If it helps, before you jump right in, make a mini-summary of what you've got planned for your story so far. Grammar and sentences don't matter for this. All you need is just a little booster to get your writing.
Here is an example of a summary from my own novel. It's not the whole thing, but it should give you a good idea of how I do it.

Lily wakes up in room
Meets Austin gets out
Doctor Bob explains
Lily is confused but goes along with it
Flies to Brazil
Falls down- colors too much
Doctored by Sam- sees herself
Take Sam and go to Utah
Has dream on the way about her abducfion
Slight suspicion. Nah
Austin goes out in Utah- disobeys
Lily follows to find singing
Finds Aiden and Rosalind
Takes just Aiden back
Rosalind comes in and abducts lily
But once you've started writing, your story might just take place in front of you. All of the sudden, you're realizing that you need extra conflict between your antag and your protag. Maybe there should be a bit more planning between your characters here. Maybe a little more resting here. Trust me, sitting around making timelines is an excellent way to plan- as long as you're writing while you're making that timeline.

So you're writing….and writing….and then you get stuck.
Oh no…the elusive WRITERS' BLOCK.
You've probably just finished an epic scene. But now you don't know where you're going. You didn't plan this far ahead, and now you're stuck.
Not to worry! I have plenty of ways to defeat writers' block- and this all just requires a little planning.

STEP ONE: What needs to come next?
You either planned your whole story out, or you didn't. If you did, then think ahead to where you need to be a few scenes from now. How do you fill that gap? If that's got you going again, great! If not, you're on to step two. But what if you didn't plan at all? Well then it's time for something to happen. If you have no ideas for what to write next, I've got a great list of them for you.
1. Injure/kill someone. No, not literally; I mean hurt a character. As writers, we have to be evil.
2. Introduce an obnoxious character who will really tick off and annoy the protagonist.
3. Go to the quirk or the main flaw of your protagonist. Someone points it out or makes fun of it. (His bad temper, the scar on his face, the trick knee, etc.)
4. Lose something important. Whether it's a prized possession or a best friend, characters hate losing things.
5. Embarrass your protagonist.
6. Put your protagonist in a hopeless situation. (A ticking time bomb, either literally or figuratively.)
7. A crucial side character disappears.
8. A rumor starts about your protagonist.
Remember, no matter what you do, everything must lead to the major climax, and then the plot being resolved.

STEP TWO: Skip ahead.
I said above to think ahead if you need to keep going. Well, if you don't feel like writing that gap, write the next scene! Like in a movie, where scenes are filmed out of order, books don't have to be written in order! As long as you keep to the standard structure of a story, (exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) you can really write however you want to, as long as you piece it together at the end. Often when I write a novel, I write my last chapters first. That way I know how I want my book to end, so I can just fill in the middle. Often I do make changes, but it's a great way to get your novel going.

STEP THREE: What is NOT going to happen?
Well, rainbow unicorns made out of bacon are certainly not going to fall from the sky. (Unless your story is about rainbow unicorns made of bacon.) But really I want to know, will ____ forgive your protagonist? Will your protagonist do ______? If not, what will your protagonist do?

Well, I hope this helped you with your novel! Sorry if it was a bit unorganized, and please post any questions you have! Tomorrow's lesson is about BEGINNINGS.

Just keep writing!
-Candy

Last edited by smartcutecandy (Jan. 2, 2018 00:06:48)

littlepuppy14
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80 posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

This is awesome Candy! You have great writing advice, and I love that you made this a discussion forum

Pick a letter, check it out! A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
-IcicIe-
Scratcher
100+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

Ooh, this is really good Candy!

smartcutecandy
Scratcher
500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

littlepuppy14 wrote:

This is awesome Candy! You have great writing advice, and I love that you made this a discussion forum
Thank you! I thought it would be the best format for something like this. I wanted to be able to write a lot, and projects make it hard to do that without lots of size formatting.

-IcicIe- wrote:

Ooh, this is really good Candy!
Thanks!
-IcicIe-
Scratcher
100+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

smartcutecandy wrote:

-IcicIe- wrote:

Ooh, this is really good Candy!
Thanks!
Yw! :3

Snowycake
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49 posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

Oh, this lesson's cool!

WintyMint
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100+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

Kewl! :0
smartcutecandy
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500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

BEGINNINGS:

(Sorry this lesson is a bit late.)

How do you begin your story? The beginning is one of the most important parts of your story, because without a good beginning to pull the reader in, no one reads it. No matter how good the rest of your plot is, you must have an excellent beginning.
First, start out with your character. The beginning should show them in a normal state of life just before the action and the adventure starts. You need to have a good balance of interest, yet not too much stuff in the beginning. There are many ways to write a good beginning, and I am going to tell you about three bad ways.

1: WAKING UP
Waking up is not a good way to start a story. Unless they're suddenly in a new place and thrust into action, don't have them wake up. We don't want to see your character get dressed, brush their teeth, get ready for school or work, etc. Readers want action, and unless your character's normal way of waking up is completely different from the average human, or they're not really waking up to get ready in the morning, don't do it.

2: DREAMS
Dreams fool your reader. They think what they're seeing is real, and unless it is, don't mislead them. Plus, after your character wakes up from the dream, they might have to start that boring morning routine. Unless you're excellent at weaving dreams with reality in your story, or your story is completely centered around dreams, dreams are a bad way to start.

3: BACKSTORY
Backstory is not important at the beginning! A beginning should draw readers in, and get them to side with your protagonist. We don't care about him/her just yet! Give us those details later in the story, sprinkled throughout the other parts.

Ok, so now that I've shown some bad ways to start, I want to help you with your opening line.
The opening line is the first thing your readers will read. It is what first captures a reader's attention. Usually it is powerful and surprising, or says something different or unexpected.
Some examples of opening lines:


“There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.” -Divergent
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.” -The Hunger Games
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were very proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Notice, that the Hunger Games does start with Katniss waking up. But, the opener ends with “This is the day of the reaping.”which captures your attention. What is the reaping? What is going to happen? And, it doesn't lead us through a boring routine of Katniss getting dressed, brushing teeth, brushing hair, etc. There is barely a few sentences about that.
The Maze Runner, which is a book I have read but don't own in paper, so I can't quote it, also starts with Thomas waking up. But he isn't in bed- he wakes up in a box, moving up with loud noises. He is completely scared and has no memory of anything. This is an interesting beginning that pulls you into the story as soon Thomas is thrust into a different world within just a few pages.

You may decide to open with something like this:
“Falling from a fifty-foot tall building hurts most people. For me it just sort of tickled.”
“Members of my society don't talk much to each other. Because every day the last person to talk is silenced- permanently.”

Just remember, the opener is like your grand entrance. But how you want to write it is completely up to you. You can be dramatic, or you can play it safe. Just don't forget to make it stunning.

Good luck!

Just keep writing!
-Candy
smartcutecandy
Scratcher
500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

If anyone is curious as to how I summarize my story, here's the beginning of my summary. I've also updated the PLANNING lesson to include it as well.

Lily wakes up in room
Meets Austin gets out
Doctor Bob explains
Lily is confused but goes along with it
Flies to Brazil
Falls down- colors too much
Doctored by Sam- sees herself
Take Sam and go to Utah
Has dream on the way about her abducfion
Slight suspicion. Nah
Austin goes out in Utah- disobeys
Lily follows to find singing
Finds Aiden and Rosalind
Takes just Aiden back
Rosalind comes in and abducts lily
-IcicIe-
Scratcher
100+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

Candy, you’re such a good writing teacher!

WintyMint
Scratcher
100+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

Ah Candy, thank you so much! I can't wait for more! >3<
littlepuppy14
Scratcher
80 posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

-IcicIe- wrote:

Candy, you’re such a good writing teacher!

I agree!

Pick a letter, check it out! A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
smartcutecandy
Scratcher
500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

Hey guys! Sorry no lessons these past two days, I've been busy. I've been writing them though, but I just haven't had time to finalize them. I'll post three tomorrow.

Last edited by smartcutecandy (Jan. 4, 2018 03:24:11)

Snowycake
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49 posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

smartcutecandy wrote:

Hey guys! Sorry no lessons these past two days, I've been busy. I've been writing them though, but I just haven't had time to finalize them. I'll post three tomorrow.
Oh okay

smartcutecandy
Scratcher
500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

INCITING INCIDENT and RISING ACTION:

The inciting incident is directly after the beginning. It's almost inside of the beginning too, because the inciting incident is what bring your protagonist into the adventure.
For Harry Potter, the inciting incident would be that first letter sent to the Dursley's house.
For The Maze Runner, it would be that moment when the Box is opened to reveal the Gladers.
For The Hunger Games, it would be the moment that Katniss volunteers as a tribute.

This moment usually isn't long at all. It really depends on the story you're writing. In the Hobbit, the inciting incident is when the dwarves have the party, wrecking Bilbo's house. But in the Hunger Games, it's simply the line where Katniss volunteers. For every story it's different.

At this point is where you really need to think about the conflict in your story. Usually you'll allude to it at this part, but you don't fully bring it out yet. Remember, conflict drives the characters to do what they do. Without conflict, your protagonist has no reason to do anything. You really need to hurt your characters, (either literally or metaphorically) and push them to their limits. Your inciting incident should be powerful and meaningful. Everyone remembers how Katniss volunteered for Prim. Make sure yours is remembered.

Now, after the inciting incident, your protagonist has begun their journey in a different stage of life. In Harry Potter, Harry is now introduced to the wizarding world, where he meets Hagrid and begins his life at Hogwarts. This is called the RISING ACTION and this is where your character is really dumped with conflict.
I'm going to use Harry Potter as an example here to illustrate the conflict in the story. Hopefully you've read Harry Potter, (the 1st book) but if you haven't, I'll try to write this so you're not completely left out.
Oh, and there will be Sorcerer's Stone spoilers too, so be warned.

Ok, so the main conflict in HP1 (my fancy abbreviation for it) is that someone (Voldy) is trying to get the sorcerer's stone. (Or the Philosophers stone.) So that conflict gets sprinkled throughout the entire book, as other smaller conflicts arise as well. The tension between Harry and Draco, the mutual hatred between Harry and Snape, Harry's relationship with his aunt and uncle- the list goes on. When you write, you need to make sure to add at least one or two sub-plots, to keep the rising action interesting. Harry Potter is an excellent example of a series with many good- yet relevant- sub-plots. A school is one of the best ways to incorporate sub-plots, although it can be cliche if not used in an unique way.
Sub-plots keeps your characters in-use while preparing them for the main conflict. Without them, the plot can seem long and dragged out. Just don't forget to keep the main conflict everywhere- don't let you or your characters forget about it!

The inciting incident, in one sentence, is the journey before the climax; the climbing of the mountain before you get to the top. This is the bulk of your story. Everything needs to happen. In HP1, Harry has many suspicions about who is trying to steal the SS. He gets nearly killed by Voldy in the forest and by McGonagall in the classroom with all of the homework.
(Side note that's not really relevant: I don't know why Harry was complaining. Honestly, he gets to go to a wizard school with his wizard friends and learn how to do wizard spells and do WIZARD HOMEWORK and he's complaining?? Honestly I'd trade Potions and Charms for science and math, despite how much I love those two subjects. But anyway…)
This is where the character develops a lot. We learn about his fears, his doubts, his past, his current friends, his old friends, and what makes him tick. Hopefully we meet some awesome side-characters too. (And great villains!) Be sure to include enough in your rising action, because next is…THE CLIMAX: the turning point of your whole story.

Just keep writing!
-Candy
smartcutecandy
Scratcher
500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

CLIMAX:

Welcome to the CLIMAX! This is where you'll start the downward progression towards the resolution of the story.
I feel like I should point out something- a sort of misconception: the climax is hardly ever in the middle of the novel. In HP1, the climax is during that final battle with Quirrell. Harry learns that it was Quirrell- not Snape- who was helping Voldy, and he works to save the stone from him. This part is very close to the end of the book because the climax is basically the turning point of the story. The protagonist makes one choice or performs one act that completely changes the story. Then he either solves the problem or dies. (Again, this could be literal death or figurative death.)
At the climax, Voldy offers Harry a chance to give him the stone. He tells Harry he could see his parents again if he would just hand over the stone. Harry refuses, which starts a whole fight between him and Quirrell.

In your novel, at some point you must have your protagonist make a decision or do one thing that completely turns the tables. In my novel, for example, (spoilers haha) my protagonist chooses to help the same man who just tried to kill her. This choice enables her to solve the entire problem of the whole novel.
Again, she makes this choice very close to the end of the novel, which makes it easier to wrap everything up rather than her making the choice in the middle.

To have your protagonist make this decision, you must think about the conflict. What would really be a big game changer for the conflict? In Harry Potter, they first had the big reveal that it was really Quirrell who was bad, not Snape. Will there be some big reveal in your novel? Will a friend betray your protagonist? Will the true villain be revealed? A long lost puppy comes home? Here's an example of a climax I just wrote that doesn't necessarily deal with a life-or-death situation.
Why was he here? I abandoned him weeks ago. I told him to get lost. But I still needed him.
“I'm here,” I said into the communicator.
“Great,” replied Sam, “I'm coming to get you.”
He betrayed me. And he brought me down lower than I'd ever been in my life. But if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have been pulled out of that pit that day. And today- no one else would've thought to look in the old house by the ice caves. In a way, he saved me, when I was meant to save him.
In this imaginary story I just made up (applause, applause, thank you) the protagonist- who I've decided I'll call Ann- decides to trust Sam even after he betrayed her trust. This is an example of a climax because the protagonist makes that one decision that completely turns the conflict and story around. In this imaginary story, the conflict is most likely about Ann trusting Sam, so this decision was a big game changer.

Remember, conflict is key, especially during the final moment of that climax.

Just keep writing!
-Candy

Last edited by smartcutecandy (Jan. 4, 2018 15:41:25)

TheEnderQueen
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Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

“Voldy” xD

smartcutecandy
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500+ posts

Journal and Pen Writers' Workshop: Plot Structure Lesson

FALLING ACTION and RESOLUTION:

The falling action is a really short part that's not quite the resolution but after the conflict. Everything is slowly coming together, but loose ends aren't quite tied up yet. I don't know if it even deserves a day of its own. In HP1, the falling action would be how Harry ends his battle with Quirrell- resulting in the disintegration of Quirrell and the escape of Voldy. It also includes Dumbledore answering Harry's questions, though one could argue that that's part of the resolution too.

The resolution is the end of the story. Loose ends are tied up and questions are answered. The biggest part of the resolution in HP1 is Gryffindor winning the House Cup, in my opinion, because Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville, all get recognized for their help in the defeat of Voldy, and Harry gets to spite Draco in winning against Slytherin. Any epilogue in your story would also be conclusion. Perhaps you want to explain who got married, who had kids, who died, who found the chocolate waterfalls and everyone finally believed them, etc.

For the reader, a conclusion must be completely satisfying. It may not answer all questions, or complete everything, (especially in stories that are parts of a series) but it needs to feel finished for the reader. For example, I read the Giver when I was little. I didn't like it because (spoilers) at the end the resolution isn't very good. Jonas bikes away with the little baby Gabriel and sees light- but is it really safe? Where is he? I never understood as a little kid, and although I learned later that it is part of a larger series, I was never satisfied with the end. I'm not saying to not follow Lois Lowry's example- she's an amazing author- I'm just giving an example of an ending that did not seem satisfying to me as a small child. Now, I understand more, so I get why she ended it that way. As a writer, focus on trying to tie up as much as you can without answering all of the questions. Leave a bit of room for interpretation, let your readers think for a bit, or if you become successful enough to become a fandom, leave enough so that a ton of fanfictions will be written to continue the story.
A good ending has a balance between questions answered and unanswered. Keep that in mind as you finish your story and either set the stage for the next book or set the stage for a ton of fanfiction.

If you're going to be continuing your story in a series, please read on. If not, you should read anyway just in case.
At the ending, I like to leave one revelation that has to be explored by my protagonist. It's kind of like that string in your sock that just sits there, waiting to be pulled. If you don't pull on it, it's fine, but it annoys and bothers you. If you pull it, then everything unravels into a new story. In the end of the first story, you must leave that string there for the next book to pull along. My ending (more spoilers for my book if you are interesting in reading it) ends with my protagonist remembering something shocking about her mother. She remembers something that she never realized was important until just then. She wants to go find her mother- who she believed was dead. Then I end the story. It's a big cliffhanger, which I know some might not want to do, but it definitely sets the stage for the next book, which will focus more on the rehabilitation of the society in my little world, and the healing of families.
Just be sure to leave enough questions unanswered so you have something to go on for the next book.

Just keep writing!
-Candy

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