Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Plot Thickens

As you might have guessed, this post is about plotting. :)  It's also my Insecure Writers Support Group post for September. Happy one year anniversary, IWSG!


So many times, we newbie writers read a book on the craft only to be punched in the gut by how much we still have to learn. 

I'm here to tell you that isn't always the case.


I mentioned in a past IWSG post that I thought I might be one of those writers for whom plotting comes naturally. Now I'm almost sure that's true. I still have a lot to learn where fiction writing is concernedplotting includedbut when I finally forced myself to read a book on the subject (I've had an aversion to studying this aspect of the craft - what can I say?), I was pleasantly surprised by how close my story came to the ideal plot structure touted by the author.

The book I'm referring to is Save The Cat by the late Blake Snyder. Blake was a screenwriter, and his book is about writing and selling screenplays, but some of the information can be applied to writing fiction as well—especially the outline Snyder refers to as a 'beat sheet.'

About half way into Save The Cat, Mr. Snyder explains the basic must-haves of story structure and how they should be arranged. He says one should end up with 40 scenes divided into 4 rows (quarters of the story, basically), and that certain things should happen at certain points.

By the time I read his book, I had written nearly half of my HR, Come Back, and plotted the whole thing except for a few details at the end. Since I wasn't getting much writing done with the kids home all day long on summer vacation, I spent some time jotting notes about my story onto a 'beat sheet' outline to see if my plot points lined up with his. 

Lo and behold, they did! A few parts needed tweaking, but it was as if I'd been following STC all a long. I was amazed.

I took it a step further and made plot cards—pink for my heroine's POV and blue for my hero's. (Come Back is written in third person multi.) I numbered them and laid them out in the four rows he suggests. And check it out...


They almost came out even. The rows consist of 12, 11, 9 & 11 cards respectively. I was dancing around the room at this point. :D  Seriously!  I had been in a place where I was doubting my writing bigtime. This was a much-needed boost to my self-esteem.

I love these cards because they are way visual for so many thingsbut one thing you can't see with them is scene length, which translates into word count. My scenes range from a page or two into the teens. Still, I'm finding as I write that this aspect is working itself out, too.

If you're looking for some serious plotting inspiration, check out Save The Cat. Some of the information won't apply to novels, but the parts that do can give you some incredible ah-ha! moments. ;)

How are things going with you? 
Are you struggling and in need of encouragement?
Have you found any helpful aids? 
Have you had a boost to your writer's mood lately? 

Tell us about it!

37 comments:

  1. Your plot cards are awesome. I know this is something I should do and I have tried plotting cards in the past, but I can't seem to push myself to get it done (I got to the third chapter and stopped). But now that I'm in the editing phase, I could at least try numbering my scenes...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It takes time to make these, but I think it will help the writing go more quickly now that I have these cards to keep me focused. I also figure the subsequent editing will take less time because I won't be writing stuff I don't need. And the scenes I do write will keep the plot moving and the tension building.

      You can do this in outline form - you don't have to make cards. The reason Snyder encourages them is that they are easy to move around and re-order, they're visual, and they're way easier to throw away than (deleting) an actual scene you've spent hours writing.

      Thanks for stopping by. :)

      Delete
  2. That is awesome! You were doing it right all along.
    Save the Cat is a great book. I read it while completing my second book and was stunned I'd done the fifteen beats right.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Plot is where my writing completely falls apart. At least I know this, but the worst part is that I still want to write something that has an intricate and twisty plot!
    Index cards (both virtual in Scrivener and paper) have helped with that. It was inspiring to see yours so neatly laid out. It's so cool when something comes together like that, and it's good to see that yours did.
    I'm going to check out 'Save the Cat.' Structure is something my writing sorely needs!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Um. I'm a tad bit OCD. Could you tell? LOL

      Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with your plotting. ;)

      Delete
  4. Just what I was needing - your post is washed in your enthusiasm - delicious! I'll order my copy of the book today. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's really worth it. I hope you find it as helpful as I did. :)

      Delete
  5. Jami Gold has written several posts on STC and even offers spreadsheets based on his "beats" concept. I've not read STC yet though it's on my TBR list. I will say though that I, too, am a natural plotter. I have read probably 10 or so books on craft and have found that my book lined up perfectly. Not sure why that is or if I'll ever be able to duplicate that, but it sure is nice to know I nailed it the first time around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I've got Jami's version, too. Love it!
      Thanks for stopping by. :)

      Delete
  6. Yay! I finished Save The Cat a couple months ago! I enjoyed it---and was also surprised I was pretty much there with his points... but I seriously WISH I was as ordered as you! I'm such a scatter-brain... I need to be more organized inside and out... gaaaaaah... ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wasn't kidding when I said I was a tad OCD. :P

      Delete
  7. Hi Melissa
    I'll definitely check out that book. Another excellent book on plot is 20 Master Plots and how to build them.
    Nancy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, I think I have that one. I just haven't had time to read it.

      Thanks for stopping by. :)

      Delete
  8. It's amazing, this is about the 6th time that I've come across Save The Cat on different blogposts, within the last 10 days or so. And just two days ago, I read about the value of using index cards to plot the scenes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know. I kept hearing people mention it everywhere, and so I finally broke down and got it. Just about the time I thought I'd wasted my money, I got to the part about the beat sheet. Bingo. And when I got to the part about the 'dark night o the soul moment' when he mentions Star Wars and the death of Obi Wan, I had a total epiphany! I'm telling you, it was practically nirvana. hahaha :D

      Delete
  9. I am not a plotter. Just the idea of writing down something I'm plotting in my head makes me eager to do something non-writing. Also, it's probably unwise for me to read that book no matter how useful it is because I can be very OCD about things being exactly the same and the whole 40 scenes and 4 rows would drive me bonkers making sure it was all exact. lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, I wasn't either at first. But I'm discovering I can write faster and better if I have a clearer idea of where I'm going. I still let the characters mold and drive the scenes, but now I don't waste as much time hitting dead ends and needing to go back and revise. ;)

      Delete
  10. The color-coding, organizational geek in me LOVES those cards!! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I bought Save the Cat a few years back when I thought I'd attempt script writing. (Major fail!) I still haven't read the whole thing but I know I should. It's in my "to-read" book pile. There is a lot of books that can tell us how to write but I believe a lot of learning comes down to learning from mistakes and persevering.

    And oh how I wish I could be organized and do plot cards. Every time I make an outline, I go in the complete opposite direction that I want to!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You don't have to read the whole book. It starts getting good (meaning more applicable to novels) around the 30-40% mark. ;)

      Thanks for visiting. :)

      Delete
  12. I was lucky to hear a workshop on STC by Erik Bork (screenwriter for "Band of Brothers") and the awesome sauce was a-flowing.

    I think I'm a natural plotter, but we'll find out in three months :)

    Cheers for another great post :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, wow! I bet that WAS awesome!
      Thanks for stopping by. :)

      Delete
  13. I remember you mentioning this book. Sounds like a great resource. And I so love using index cards. They make them in such fun colors!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most definitely. My dystopian has already been assigned the color PURPLE! xD

      Delete
  14. This post really spoke to me, because I've had the same doubts. I plot by writing and a natural sense of where I want the story to go. But then I worried if this was good enough. I'm finding my way, and found this post so encouraging.

    I love the note cards. I am such a visual person! Thanks for inspiring me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome! It makes me feel good to know my post helped. I love IWSG. :)

      Delete
  15. Great post, Melissa! I sometimes have trouble plotting when I wrote memoirs - what comes first, second, etc.

    I should check out that book sometime. I think it may help me to become a better writer! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck, Livia. I hope it helps you. ;)

      Delete
  16. I was most of the way through my first draft before I read Save the Cat and was pleasantly surprised that I had mostly followed the guidelines set forth in that book - at least as far as story structure goes. In other areas, not so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL - I can relate.
      Thanks for visiting my blog. :)

      Delete
  17. I've yet to read Snyder's book, but I need to. I do have a copy of his beat sheet layout, which I followed with my latest ms, CUFFED. One of these days and hopefully soon, I will order myself a copy of the book. His beat sheet outline is superb. I like your idea of making color-coded cards. Great visual!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should. His analogies using scenes from well-known movies really drive the points home. ;)

      Delete
  18. That's awesome! Good job!
    I am totally going to check that book out! I've heard of a 'beat sheet' before, and to be honest, had no idea what it was or where it came from. So thanks for the info!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I kept hearing about STC over and over until finally decided to break down and read it. LOL You won't be sorry. ;)

      Delete
  19. Allow me to invite you to check out the Addicted to Heroines Blog Tour site for five authors' thoughts on plotting, character development, etc. at www.heroinestour.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete

I love to hear what you have to say.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. = )