Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Fiction Workshop 13 Plot Pyramids

Novels, plays, films and longer short stories will have plots and sub-plots. Andrew Melrose identifies a pyramid. The main plot takes up most of the room and the smallest plot the least of the text. Pile these plots one upon another – we get a pyramid. There is a strict relationship between the size of the plots. Possibly it relates to the Golden Segment and the Fibonacci series. It may be a learnt response; even if it is, it is what we are used to and what we enjoy and expect.  

I add to Melrose's proposal. I argue that subplots are not extra plots but that they are part of the main plot. Thus we get in Cinderella:
Main Plot = transformation
Plot 2 = battle with Ugly Sisters and Stepmother
Plot 3 = Can she get to the ball? (aka her rightful place in society)
Plot 4 = Cinders and the Prince
Plot 5 = The Prince and the shoe
Plot 6 = The shoe and the foot
Plot 6 is the small one at the top. 

All plots resolve at the same moment. As the shoe fits on to Cinders' foot, the Prince is rewarded for persevering. Cinders' relationship with the Prince is confirmed. Cinders takes up her rightful place in society. She wins her battle with her stepsisters and her life is transformed.  

Note also how that important final small sub-plot contains that all important crisis point; if the shoe does not find its way to the foot, life will be forever different for both Cinders and the Prince. There's a good argument here also for having one last nasty thing happen before it all resolves. This heightens the tension. So, sometimes Cinders is hidden in a cupboard. In more gruesome versions the sisters chop off toes.  


Creative reading exercise:

Take a novel you've enjoyed and work out what are its sub-plots. Do they relate to each other to form a pyramid? Do they all resolve at the same time? Does the smallest one include the crisis point?

Creative writing exercise

For planners

Look at the plan of your latest story. Does it contain balanced sub-plots? If not, can you put them in? Can they all resolve at the same time? Does the smallest contain the crisis point?  

For pansters

Use the sub-plot / plot theory to see whether your text has balance. Possibly if it seems out of kilter something is not quite right here. Try balancing these plots / sub-plots in a pyramid. Remember to have all the drama in the smallest sub-plot and let them all resolve at the same time.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Fiction Workshop 12 Working with Gustav Freytag's Triangle

Freytag's triangle can be extremely useful. It is a two dimensional model and show us that the story develops in more than one way. Last time, we concentrated on getting you to understand exactly what your story is about and giving it a very rough outline.
This time we're looking a little more at emphasis.
This diagram is probably self-explanatory.  
How can you stress and downplay cause and effects? Then see how the action rises and becomes more complex – desis.
Find the crisis point. Dénouement comes from the French and literally means unknotting. During the "unknotting" both reader and protagonist will get some enlightenment. The action "falls" as we hurtle towards the resolution.

Creative writing exercise

Take the story outline that you developed last time and plot onto a triangle the same shape as this one what are the causes and effects.
Make sure you say a few words about each of these terms as well:
Incentive moment
Rising action
Falling action
Are you now getting some more meat on to the bones?  
You may also find it useful to analyse a story you have read and see how well it fits this model. Even if you are a "punster", you may find it useful to see how well your finished story fits this model. Possibly, if something is not working, it may be because this scheme is too skewed.      



Thursday, 27 July 2017

Fiction Workshop 11 Getting the story right

As an editor who both selects texts and works on them with writers to improve them I find a frequent problem is that there is no story. The writing can be technically perfect and perhaps also aesthetically pleasing but what actually happens?
The trick is to be able to tell anyone who needs to know what your story is about. This video explains it all beautifully.See it here.
You should be able to tell your story in two lines or a couple of sentences. Even if you're a "panster", someone who never plans their work in detail, it can be quite useful to know how your story ends.
If you're a planner, the brief outline may be useful:
Inciting incident
·         Complexity 1
·         Complexity 2
·         Complexity 3
Crisis point (the point of no return)
           Climax (Filling the gap between the crisis and the resolution
However, this will not be useful at all if you are not absolutely clear on what your story is about.  Not only is this important when you are shaping your story it is also crucial when you come to pitch your perfectly formed story later. As well as being able to write a story that is convincing you must be able to persuade others that it has merit.
Editors can fix poor writing. They can't always help you to fix your story.
More on story shape next time.  
Would you like more tips like this? Sign up here.      


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Fiction Workshop 10 Tagging Dialogue

         Use said, whispered, shouted and asked only and then mainly “said”.
         You don’t need to tag much if only two people are speaking.
         You do need to tag if more than two are speaking, if it goes on for more than half a page, and for reluctant readers.
         Try tagging with actions where possible.      

Study the following examples

1.      Byrony Pearce: Angel’s Fury

“Well.” The Doctor stroked the edge of the table[G1] .  “It seems we’ve found your talent.”
I shook my head[G2] . “No.”
She nodded towards the gun, needing to add nothing more.
“Part of you has, and you’re beginning to access that knowledge[G3] .”
I thought of Zillah and a sob hiccupped from my closed lips[G4] .
“What’s the matter?”
“Seth gets to sculpt, Kyle’s a musician, Panda draws and what’s my special talent?  The words exploded like water from a dam. “Putting together murder weapons[G5] .”
The doctor fondled the rifle[G6] . “I imagine there’s more to it than that. Your talent will extend a long way beyond just assembling a gun, so I’d better have a range built on the grounds.
My hands tingled and I rubbed them on my thighs[G7] . “You want me to shoot?” (161)

2.      Judy Waite: Game Girls

Fern seems to manage to relax[G8] . “You didn’t finish telling me about the bloke with the shoes.”  
“Oh – right. We went up to the Love Nest – still with all those Shoe Express bags – and he wanted me to get out of my skirt and top.  So I did that – and then he opened the first box and produced some red patent stilettos. He asked me to put them on. It was all very polite, though. He was a real gentleman.”
“He wanted you to do it wearing shoes?”
“No, that’s just it. He didn’t want to “do it”.”
“He paid for you to sit there wearing his shoes?”
“It was a bit more than that. I had to walk about in them, while he watched. And then he opened another box – and another – and another[G9] 


All of the tags have been removed from this piece of dialogue from Sara Grant's Dark Parties. Below is the actual version from the book. This is not the only "correct answer" of course.
“Open with care.”
“Grand reopening.”
“Open and closed.”
 “Don’t we need to make sure people understand we’re talking about the Protectosphere?”  
“Yeah, right. I think it’s about done.”      
“But we don’t know what we’re going to write!”  
“We better figure it out. Once this stuff sets, we can’t use it.”
“No Protect Us Fear.”

Here is Sara's version. Why do you think she's tagged it the way she has?
I almost believe it’s possible. “Ok,” I say. Think slogan.
“Open with care.”
“Grand reopening.”
“Open and closed.”
I’m not sure that makes sense. “Don’t we need to make sure people understand we’re talking about the Protectosphere?” I ask.
“Yeah, right.” She mashes and bangs a little more. She dips her finger in the bucket. Her hand is red and looks like it’s dripping congealed blood. Congealed blood with bits in it. She rubs the red between her fingers. “I think it’s about done.”      
“But we don’t know what we’re going to write!” I smooth a curl behind my ear and think of my grandma.
“We better figure it out. Once this stuff sets, we can’t use it.” She drops the bat in the tub. A spray splatters the yellowing tiles. She grunts as she hefts the bucket out of the tub. She closes the shower curtain and turns on the water.
“No Protect Us Fear,” I say as the slogan pops up in our head. 

 Try tagging your own dialogue using these methods.  

Sign up to get Fiction Workshops 6-10 as a handy PDF and lots of other free materials. Join my mailing list here.

 [G1]An action is used as a tag.
 [G2]An action is used as a tag here.
 [G3]No tag is needed here as only two people are speaking.
 [G4]A little bit of interior monologue breaks up the text a little.  
 [G5]These two exchanges aren't tagged as it's clear who is speaking.
 [G6]An action is used as a tag.
 [G7]An action is used as a tag.
 [G8]An action is used as a tag.
 [G9]No tags are used in the rest as only two people are talking.