Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pre-NaNo 2011 Series: The Structure Sheet, or "How To Convert A Pantser."


In early March, after the euphoria of my first NaNo win had worn off, I was struggling to go back and make Bond of Darkness better. This was when the plot wasn't working (and I failed to see it). I had pantsed my way through NaNo 2010, and my project at the time, The Shattered Darkness, a sequel to a currently unfinished first manuscript. Yeah, I did the bad thing.

This is when my awesometacular critique partner, Steph, shared with our critique group her structure sheet for plotting. I haven't used another plotting sheet since then. That's how well it works.

So, for the next post in the Pre-NaNo series, I figured I would share it with you. I'm sure variations of the plotting structure sheet exist, but this is what I use. Thanks, Steph. You're a writer's life saver.

The structure sheet consists of three acts, each respective to a certain point in the manuscript as the plot progresses. Let's begin.

Act 1 is your Expository. We learn about the world and the people inhabiting it. We learn what is about to happen that forces our protagonist's hand to do something. 

Act 1 consists of the following:
The Inciting Incident. This is the first time your stakes are likely introduced. It takes some time, for you first should build your world and show me what is leading to this event that is going to change everything. Then, something goes wrong. It should matter enough to the protagonist so the consequence's do not affect them in the end.
First Act Turn. This consists of a following in this order: Choice, First Disaster, and Consequence. Let's rewind for a moment, however. Your first disaster is technically your second disaster, as you've already written the Inciting Incident. Remember that. The stakes have already been created. Choice stems from your Inciting Incident. Your protagonist must fix this. However, what are they to do? Typically, they don't know the grand scheme of things yet, and this leads to your Disaster. They mess up, or overlook something, and now have something else to consider or fix, lest they suffer the Consequence of their Choice.                          
Act 2 is your Rising Action. Your protagonist learns more and grows more. The event they are trying to prevent reveals itself more.

Act 2 consists of the following:
The Midpoint. The unexpected happens here. This is moment when things go sideways, things get worse, and the stakes are raised again. This often comes with a revelation that while the problem is connected in a way to the protagonist, it is also bigger than him/her. Glimpses of the larger picture are revealed yet again. If the big picture has been introduced early on, then change it up and make things more personal for the protagonist.
The Lowpoint. You're getting to the 75% mark in your manuscript. Here, the protagonist learns that trying to fix everything, beginning with the incident and the other disasters caused by choices, are hopeless. The protagonist begins to think they will never win because they learn the full scope of the problem. The stakes escalate again, often paired with a sacrifice. Do not mistake this as you, the writer, having to kill a character, although it is usually what happens. The more problematic things become, however, the protagonist learns perhaps they we're meant to fix this problem. He/She learns their role. The learning of the role can go two ways: it can either frighten the protagonist, or deepen their resolve to make a difference. 
Second Act Turn. This is essentially the same as above, but with all things in place, remember that you're closing in on the end.
Act 3 is your Falling Action. They have come to confront the antagonist and/or the problem. The final battle ensues.

Act 3 consists of the following:
Climax. The stake raise one final time here. Your antagonist is one crazy son of a bitch and they want to defeat your protagonist. Here, the protagonist learns why exactly everything happened the way they did and all of the past events culminate to being the most personal at this point in time. It's do or die. Failure is not an option.
Resolution. The final battle is over. Your protagonist has either defeated the antagonist or learns there is more to be done, despite winning. Things are still wrong, and will continue to go wrong. For stand alone manuscripts, it is the end. For series manuscripts, the cliff hanger is introduced. 
So, here, at the end of all things (yes, channeling Frodo), you have you're structure sheet. I encourage you to try it out. It works.

Until NaNo, Peace and Writing Love.

JWP

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