Plot and Structure exercise
by Tracey Warr
Plot is the sequence of events that drives the story from its beginning, through it middle, to its end. ‘Somebody’s got to want something, something’s got to be standing in the way of getting it.’ (Sorkin in Yorke).
Plot plans can help you at two stages: generating the first draft and rewriting. ‘Writing is 10% writing and 90% rewriting’ (Smitley). Writing is more perseverance than inspiration. ‘Great stories fold over themselves at the midpoint and aspire to symmetry (Yorke).
Use the list of questions below as a guide-rope to spend 20 mins producing a 1-2 page max. plot summary, either of a novel or short story you have written, or one you are working on or planning to write. A few words/one sentence should be enough for each element. You are aiming for a bare bones summary. Complete as much as you can. Leave blank answers you can’t figure out quickly.
1. Who is the Hero/Heroine?
2. What are their characteristics (good and bad)? (four words)
3. What is their ‘ordinary’ world where the story begins?
4. What do they think they want – their stated want?
5. What do they want that they don’t yet realise - their inner need?
6. What happens to start the action that changes the Hero’s world for ever?
7. What is their goal now?
8. How does the Journey/story get underway? Does a friend(s) team up with Hero? What seemingly insignificant object might Hero acquire that proves important later?
9. What secondary character does Hero meet who is more familiar with the changed world and mentors and assists Hero?
10. What first three trials test and deepen Hero and allies’ relationships?
11. Everything is going well and Hero’s goals look likely to be realised but then someone yanks the rug out from under them – how?
12. The Hero does not give up and realises their inner need but thinks it’s possible to have both stated want and inner need.
13. What second three trials test and deepen Hero and allies’ relationships?
14. Someone or something very precious to the Hero dies (doesn’t have to be literal). Who/what?
15. The Hero wants to give up, going through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining (I would be a better person if …), depression, acceptance.
16. Someone or something gives the Hero new inspiration (the seemingly insignificant object may come into play). What? The Hero has an epiphany, abandoning their stated want and going all out for their inner need.
17. Reconciliations/relationship problems are cleared up – how/what?. An attack on, or ambush of, the problem is planned – what?
18. Something totally unexpected happens – what? forcing the Hero to make the final choice, a choice the Hero would never have made if put in this situation at the beginning of the story.
When you have filled in as much as you can, study your answers. Spend 10 mins thinking about how you might develop or change this to enhance the drama of your story?
Booker, Christopher (2004) Seven Basic Plots, A & C Black.
Smitley, Adron J. (2011) A Stranger Comes to Town: 13 Essential Steps for Plotting Your Novel, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.
Vogler, Christopher (2007) The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, Michael Wiese Production.
Yorke, John (2014) Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them, Penguin.
Find out more about Tracey and her work here: http://traceywarrwriting.com
All images courtesy of Julie Lewis