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Message: 2
Date: Tue, 30 Aug 2005 09:27:16 -0700 (PDT)
From: Gevell
Subject: RSW: Plotting Without Fears


Plot structure isn't a prescription; it's a map. You choose where
you want to go, and how to get there too. But this time, you'll
avoid the blind alleys and dead-ends that derail so many good ideas.
Your conflicts and story events will be driven by who these
characters are and what they believe and need. Your story will be
fueled by the clarity of coherence and the wisdom of theme.

Here are some questions to help you map out your story journey:
The Situation
1. In one sentence, summarize your story situation. Example: After
twenty years at war, a king battles the elements, the gods, and
himself to get home, only to find that his kingdom is overrun with
usurpers and his wife doesn't recognize him. (The Odyssey)

2. Next, write a one-sentence thematic summary, that is, the moral or
message your story goes to prove. (You might not be able to do this
right off-- consider what your protagonist learns because of the
story events.)

Example: A warrior must learn to resist temptation and pick his
battles before he can find his way home again. (The Odyssey)

The Protagonist
3. Whose story is this, and why? (This determines the protagonist--
there might be two in a romance.) What journey does he or she make
during the course of the book?

Example: This is Odysseus's story: he is the one who must go home
again and restore his kingdom and his family. He is the one who must
change and grow before he can overcome the god's curse that has kept
him lost for 10 years. His journey is first towards the realization
that he must change, then he must use his new skills to win back his
kingdom and his wife.

The Questions
4. Now write down all your major story questions-- the questions the
story will answer. You might find you have an external one, an
internal one, and a romantic one.


External: Will Odysseus overcome Poseidon's curse and finally make it
home and restore his kingdom?

Internal: Will Odysseus learn to resist the temptations that have
heretofore distracted him from his homeward quest?

Romantic: Can Odysseus and Penelope restore their love after a
separation of twenty years?

5. Read over your answers above and see if you can come up with a few
basic issues that your story deals with.

Example: Odyssey: home, family restoration, deception/hidden
identity, fate, responsibility

Other common issues: forgiveness, honor, divided loyalties,
family, loss of self/identity, self-discovery, past trauma,
friendship, ambition, freedom, parental abandonment, parental
overprotectiveness, competition, religion, politics, self-deception,
death, birth, betrayal, trust, vengeance, shattered illusions, war

Free-write on your story issues-- how do they shape the story?
Does the story help resolve these issues?
Example: Odysseus must battle his divinely ordained fate while
accepting personal responsibility in order to get home, but once
there he must assume a false identity to retake his kingdom from
usurpers, but his task of restoring his family is complicated by his
deception. (See how the protagonist's journey is developing!)

The Goals and Conflicts
6. Start describing the protagonist: Why is he/she the protagonist
of this story? What special skills, abilities, or history put him/her
at the center of the action? What problems come along with those
character strengths? As the book opens, what is his/her goal? What
motivates him/her to this goal? What internal and external obstacles
are in the way of this goal? What does he/she need to learn or do in
order to overcome these obstacles?
Example: The defiant Odysseus offended Poseidon, so he is the only
Greek warrior who didn't make it home from the war. His great
strength is his seeking, clever mind and his willingness to break the
rules (he invented the Trojan horse). The obverse of these strengths
is his rebelliousness and inability to resist temptation.

His goal is to get home; he has lost his life and can regain it
only by rejoining his family. Poseidon continually interfere His
goal is to get home; he has lost his life and can regain it only by
rejoining his family. Poseidon continually interferes, and Odysseus
doesn't help his own cause by giving into temptation to trick a
Cyclops, seduce a nymph, or satisfy his curiosity.

The End
7. Sketch the end of the book. What must have changed? How can the
story questions be answered? How must the protagonist have changed?
What should he/she learn from the events of the book? Knowing the
outline of the end of the book will give you a destination, an
endpoint, to aim at.

Example: Odysseus needs to make it home. This probably can't be done
without Poseidon allowing it one way or another, which means O has to
somehow resolve his conflict with the gods. Since Ithaca is in chaos
after his long absence, Odysseus will need to find the strength to
deal with his disappointment that he is not, indeed, quite home yet.
He must defeat the usurpers but not with sheer might, because there
are too many of them. He needs allies, and can use his patented
wiliness and playacting as tactics to increase his odds. In the end,
he needs to reconcile with Penelope and their son Telemachus, perhaps
by using them in his quest to regain the kingdom. He needs to prove
to them somehow that he is trustworthy enough to be restored to the
family. He needs to show that he has learned to resist impulse and
temptation, and that he now values his family and home.

8. Keeping in mind the protagonist's conflicts, and what he/she has
to learn, brainstorm a few situations that are sure to force a
"learning experience". What kind of event is most likely to cause
trouble for this protagonist? In what situation is the protagonist
most likely to try and fail because of the internal problem? Can you
outline a series of events showing rising conflict and higher stakes?
What will be a good "crisis/dark moment" that forces the protagonist
to finally overcome the internal conflict in order to triumph? What
climactic event can show how much the protagonist has learned since
the beginning of the story? How does the resolution show tangibly the
theme of the book?

Example: Odysseus can't resist temptation. He's a curious, seeking
fellow, and one who truly enjoys pleasure. So the plot should
provide him with lots of opportunities to give into temptation, and
lots of punishment for doing so, until he finally learns his lesson.
The penalties perhaps should get more and more dramatic. There should
be one later episode that shows him resisting temptation and
remaining focused on his goal of getting home.
The dark moment will be when he finally gets home and finds to his
despair that it is overrun with usurpers, and that his wife and son
don't even recognize him. He must resist the temptation to charge in
guns blazing. The climax should show the results of his learning that
lesson-- He can now carefully plan out an attack on the usurpers,
while he couldn't have in the beginning, because he is now stronger
and more controlled, not so driven by his impulses. Penelope's final
test for him demonstrates that he is choosing to forsake his
wandering ways and be a devoted husband and father.

Finally! The Plot!
9. Sketch out an outline of the events that demonstrate the
protagonist's external and internal problems, show the rising
conflict and increasing stakes, and come to crisis, climax, and
resolution. Think EVENT-- actual discrete happenings where the
protagonist interacts, makes decisions, confronts an obstacle,
investigates, enlists an ally, makes an enemy, gives into temptation,
searches for something missing, breaks the rules... some action that
manifests the protagonist's personality and purpose. Don't forget
that each event will have consequences that will bring on the next

Here's a typical map of story events:


Initiating event. Protagonist acts: Trouble starts. On his voyage
home from the Trojan War, Odysseus tricks a Cyclops and blinds him.
He gives into the temptation to show off and shouts his name so the
Cyclops will know who bested him.

**turning point** Something unexpected happens. External conflict
established. : The Cyclops turns out to be the son of the God of the
Sea, and the vengeful Poseidon curses Odysseus to an endless voyage.

Conflict engaged: Protagonist deals with it. Aeolus, Lord of the
Winds, gives Odysseus a bag containing the winds, so that no ill
winds will mar his voyage home. His greedy sailors, however, perhaps
spurred by Poseidon, open the bag, and the fleet is forced into the
harbor of a cruel race who eat most of the sailors.


**turning point** Internal conflict manifests and affects action:
Odysseus escapes with one ship and takes refuge on the island of
Circe, who turns his men into pigs. Hermes tells him how to avoid
that fate, and Odysseus rescues his men. But Circe is so beautiful
that he decides to stay there and enjoy her favors for a year.

Protagonist acts again based on internal conflict: When he leaves,
Circe tells him that the seer Tiresias, in the Kingdom of the Dead,
can reveal the future to him. Odysseus gives into his curiosity and
diverts his voyage again.In Hades, Odysseus sees his beloved mother,
who died while he was at war. She tells him that she died of grief,
and that his father is wasting away without him, but that his wife
Penelope waits faithfully for him though she is plagued with suitors.
(This sets up the subplot of usurpers in his kingdom.)

Protagonist starts to grow: As he leaves Hades, Odysseus remembers
Circe's warning and plugs the ears of his sailors so they won't be
seduced by the songs of the Sirens. He has himself tied to the mast,
so that he can listen to their songs without being enticed by them to
his death. (Note: he hasn't grown enough to resist temptation

**turning point* Consequence of internal conflict/action: To get
back on course after the diversion to Hades, Odysseus must steer his
ship between Scylla and Charbydis, the most dangerous place in the
seven seas. Many of his sailors are lost in the process.

**point of no return* Another failure due to internal conflict:
After that ordeal, Odysseus succumbs to his sailors' pleas to rest on
an island that Tiresius had warned him to avoid. While he sleeps,
the sailors kill the sacred cattle of Apollo, who calls upon Zeus to
punish him. All the sailors are killed and the ship destroyed in a
storm. Odysseus now has two of the most powerful gods as enemies,
and he cannot go back to his previous course. The action has to
RISE, remember-- the stakes get higher in order to force him finally
to acknowledge, confront, and resolve his internal problem.

Protagonist regroups: O finds refuge on the island of Calypso. He
spends five years as the nymph's love slave, until his prayers
finally provoke the goddess Athena into action. She gets Zeus to
help Odysseus escape his captivity.

Subplot develops: Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, Penelope is trying to
ward off usurpers to the kingdom, and Athena sends O's son Telemachus
on a voyage to learn more of his father's fate.

Antagonist reacts: Poseidon smashes O's frail raft with another storm.

Internal conflict returns: Athena helps O swim to an island where he
meets a beautiful princess who wants to marry him.

**turning point* Internal conflict confronted: The princess promises
him wealth, sex, happiness. O is tempted, but recalls his mission to
return home and refuses. His "new self"-- the one who can resist
temptation-- emerges.

External conflict resolves partly: Now that he has resisted
temptation and impressed the gods, O has a swift voyage home.


Crisis-- "New self" tested: O gets home only to find his kingdom is
overrun with usurpers. He cannot be sure of any allies, including his
wife Penelope.

Dark moment: He despairs, wants to nuke the palace with the suitors
inside. But he resists that temptation and makes a plan to infiltrate
the palace in disguise.

**turning point** "New self" engages: He builds his allies, enlisting
his son, newly returned from his character-building voyage.

Climax: Protagonist acts on decision that emerged from the dark
moment. When the usurpers scorn him in his guise of an elderly man,
he resists the urge towards violence until he can put his plan into
place. He tests Penelope and finds her loyal, and proves himself to
be king in an archery contest. Then, in a climax worthy of
Schwarzenegger, he and his little army slaughter the usurpers.

Resolution: Penelope is happy to have him home, but isn't quite
ready to trust him again as a husband. She tests him and, though he's
tempted towards obstinacy, he does the sensible thing and re-commits
to the marriage. The resolution should reinforce the theme or
central issue in some way, and show the growth of the protagonist.
In this case, the broken family is symbolically and literally rebuilt
because of Odysseus's new strength of purpose.


Are the story questions all asked in the beginning and answered by the end?

Is every scene built around an event that changes the course of the story?

Does every event show something about the protagonist?

Do you have recognizable turning points where the protagonist's
world/life changes?

Is the internal conflict established early?

Is there a progression to higher stakes, which forces the
protagonist finally to overcome the internal conflict?

Is the theme proved?

c. 1998 by Alicia Rasley


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