Monday, April 6, 2009

Craft Issue # 4: Creating the Plot Summary

I'm starting a new thread on this blog - Craft Issues. I've posted on a few in recent weeks, and want to make it a habit. Please chime in with thoughts, suggestions, and issues you'd like to see discussed.

I've been coping with plot lately, since I'm in the early stages of a novel that really hasn't been hanging together. What to do? For one thing, turn to others for advice. In this case, I turned to Syd Field and his DVD Screenwriting Workshop.

Field's suggestions are clear and precise, and although they're meant for screenwriters, I've applied his techniques to many of my issues. Today, in dealing with my plotting problem, I watched the segment from the early portion of the DVD in which he describes how to kick-start your plot thinking. You have to write a synopsis of your book comprising four terrible pages. Yes, terrible - this helps you shut down that nasty little internal editor that is telling you you can't write this book.

And what to write: First, 1/2 page of the opening scene or sequence in dramatic narrative. Second, in 1/2 page summarize the action of Act 1. Third, in 1/2 page, write down the plot point that occurs at the end of Act 1. Fourth, take an entire page and summarize in a paragraph each the four obstacles the character confronts during Act 2. Fifth, in 1/2 page write down the plot point that occurs at the end of Act 2. Sixth, summarize in 1/2 page the action of Act 3. And finally, in 1/2 page write the closing scene or sequence that occurs at the end of Act 3.

Now if this is a little fuzzy, I encourage you to find Field's DVD or book and check out his full discussion. The important points here are that you can visualize your story in discrete chunks; you can get rid of the ugly editor by letting these summary pages be terrible; you know the beginning and ending of your story; and that you know the plot points - which will be the subject of my next Craft Issue.

For me, knowing the ending of my story (Act 3 and the closing scene) seems to have been the linch-pin. And seeing the story structured in such a fashion makes sense. It's not a strict outline - more like a guide. Which I like because I like to write organically, at least when I'm beginning a new project.

Questions? Fire away!

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