29 October 2007

Elements of Plot

The following are questions that came up after the last post. Thought the questions and answers might help other writers so I include them below. Happy plotting...

Q: So basically it’s the scene(s) in the climax section that we have to watch out for in terms of the final CED, to see if the character has evolved from the initial fatal flaw in the beginning of the story?

A: Yes, the scene in the Climax is what each and every scene has been driving towards throughout the entire story, which is why it's a good practice NOT to go back and start over again until you have written all the way to the Climax and are pretty sure what that scene is. If you find yourself in that cycle of constantly going back and beginning again, you'll perfect those early scenes that may end up being cut when you finally understand the Climax. Once you know the Climax, you have a much better idea of how best to begin the project.

Q: And what you are saying is that it is suffice by just marking it in a different color to denote the arc or character journey in emotional development? Subplots, therefore don’t need to be marked separately in Plot Planner because it is intertwined within the Dramatic Action?

A: Some subplots deserve their own Plot Planner. In that case I recommend that one line is above the other so you can see how the subplot works with the major Dramatic Action and Character Emotional Development plot.

Q: On the last question, so summaries don’t show thematic details?

A: On a subtle level, thematic significance shows up everywhere ~~ in scene and summary ~~ though word choice, mood, etc. However, you only plot out scenes on the Plot Planner and on the Scene Tracker.

Q: (Anyways, how would we know to mark the summaries for Theme in plot planner if we don’t even track that info in scene tracker). Is my understanding then to just mark those scenes (not summaries) whether above or below the line, that have thematic details, correct?

A: This is true only in later drafts. The Thematic Signficance does not always emerge until after the story becomes more stable ~~ beyond the first couple of drafts. In the early drafts, don't worry about the Thematic Significance. You'll have enough to work with just honing down the Dramatic Action plot and the Character Development plot.

I apologize if I seem to be reiterating my questions, I just want to make sure I am interpreting your response correctly. I know you are extremely busy and I really do appreciate all of your help.

ps. You're right, PP and ST is addicting. And I have resumed back to my writing with more confidence! By the way, I ordered your DVD with the focus on CHildren Writers and eagerly await to be enlightened by your method again. Perhaps by watching you explain your method, I'll get a greater sense on everything you have written in your book.

A: Yes, I believe you will get a greater sense of how the Plot Planner works and how the Character Development profile helps to build the Character Development plot line. Let me know what you think.

Q: Was also wondering, are all of your DVD workshops pretty similiar and touch on everything that is on the book or do you delve into any advance topics on plotting for example with the DVD you have that uses Memoir of a Geisha?

A: The DVDs are different in that they are live workshops that were taped (some better in quality than others).

Thanks in advance Martha for everything and for your continued support!!!

A: Thank you, and great good luck with your project!

17 October 2007

Plot and Subplots

The following are questions Livvy had after my responses in the 10/11 post below.

Q: I did have a question on your Folly example (note: Folly is a mystery by Laurie R. King). You said to use one color to write “arrival” to note Dramatic Action above the line? Then you said to use another color to write “fragile” to note the Character Emotional Development below the line? So am I supposed to plot two points for the same scene? I thought it was either or. Or are you saying for the initial CED, to just note it underneath “arrival” above the line in a separate color just to distinguish it from each other as the beginning emotion? So then for future CED tracking, do I keep it below the line?

A: Yes, to your first question. Both the Dramatic Action (DA) notation and the Character Emotional Development (CED) notations go above the line with different colors to distinquish from each other. Why above the line? Because in the arrival scene we know that the Character is not in control due to her emotional state and the reality of what she has undertaken. Therefore, there is conflict, tension and suspense in the scene and so, belongs above the line.

No is my answer for your second question. The only CED notations that go below the line are the ones where the protagonist is in control. For instance, when she throw away all her medication, we know that in that moment she is in control. This dramatic action is a major symbol of how she is trying to become even more in control of her life.

Q: Are the CEDs that are plotted below the line supposed to show just the progression of the protagonist’s internal flaw or is there a way to show a relationship subplot as well?

The way I look at it, I view the Dramatic Action as the “A” story (or Plot) which is the problem in the outer world that needs to be solved. I am thinking that CED would be the “B” story (or subplot) which is the internal conflict or fatal flaw, which reveals what the protagonist needs to achieve internally in order to help resolve the external goal of the plot. So basically, Plot is dependent upon the Fatal Flaw or “B” story for resolution. But then you need a “relationship” subplot or “C” story to validate whether or not that internal change has occurred in relation to something in the outer world.

A: If how you "look at it" best serves your writing, I recommend that you proceed that way. Personally, I find that the different plot threads can't always be separated in this way, in that they are too interdependent on each other. For example: sometime after she has thrown her pills into the water, she becomes paranoid of sounds she hears. Feeling compeltley empty, she wades into the water. We, the reader, find this alarming attempt at squelching her paranoia, putting an end to her suffering, an act of trying to commit suicide. Yes, what triggered the paranoia is external, but also internal, too.

Folly is definitely Character-driven, but is also a mystery ~~ who attacked her at home and is out to get her? A subplot also turns the story into a murder mystery when she attempts to find out who murdered her great uncle.

In the end, when she shows in the Climax behavior that she could never have demostrated at the beginning or even middle of the story due to all that came before, we know that she has been tranformed at depth by the dramatic action throughout the story.

Q: Can some of the scenes / summaries that are plotted Below the line in the plot planner show Thematic significance? Or does Theme details only correlate with scenes above the line?

A: Thematic details, if you're deliberate about including them, happen in scenes both above and below the line. They are not dependent on tension, conflict and suspense.

11 October 2007

Character Development and Dramatic Action


Q: How do you specifically track emotional development within the plot planner?

A: Using the Plot Planner template, plot the scenes in the Beginning ¼ of your project either above or below the line, depending on if the character is in control (above the line) or an antagonist of some sort holds the power (below the line). Note the aspects of the Character Emotional Development (CED) introduced as is now ~~ flaws, fears, secrets and all. Use a different color from the notes you write for the Dramatic Action (DA) plot line.

For example, in Folly by Laurie R. King, the protagonist is introduced as fragile, doubtful, exhausted, and fearful upon her arrival at the island. In one color, write “arrival” to note DA. In another color, write “fragile and fearful” to indicate the CED at this point.

Feeling fragile and fearful and on the edge is not a temporary emotional state (the temporary emotions belong under the “Change” column of the Scene Tracker). Feeling fragile and fearful and on the edge is where she is in her overall lifetime emotional development due to what has come before (the backstory).

The Middle section shows scenes above or below the Plot Planner line that show how the character's current emotional development affects her life on a deeper level. In the Middle, the shorthand for her emotional development usually shows how her internal antagonists ~~ her fears, flaws and secrets ~~ sabotage her from reaching her goals.

In Folly, the Crisis ~~ the scene of most intensity in the story so far ~~ the protagonist is on the brink of a full-blown breakdown. This serves as a wake-up call, a moment of no return. She now understands the extent of her fragility, but she is also given a glimpse into who she could be with focused and conscious effort.

The End shows her CED in terms of the degree to which she keeps control as she works her way to mastery. The moment of true mastery is shown in the Climax.

In essence, each set of notes in the color for CED should show a visual pattern of the CED arc.

Q: On page 156 under the PLOT PLANNER section, you mention on finding a scene where the character emotional development is at its peak. Using your scene tracker tool, how would I go about finding one?

A: Divide all the scenes on your Scene Tracker and divide by ¾. Around that mark, look for the scene where the emotional stakes are at their highest.

Q: Within the PLOT PLANNER section of your book, you have a chapter on plotting the Thematic significance. I see how it is being done through scene tracker, but how is it being plotted on the plot line so that a visual representation of the theme is seen on the plot line? I take it that was your purpose for this section and not to revert back to scene tracker? I’m a little confused as I am taking it for granted that Plot Planner and Scene Tracker should be two separate tools.

A: Yes, the Plot Planner allows you to see the different plot threads as they interplay together throughout the project. By plotting the scenes above or below the line and indicating the three plot line elements, each in a different color, a writer is able to see the ebb and flow of their scenes at the overall story level.

The Scene Tracker is meant as a way to see how the different plot threads work together within each scene.

Q:I'm confused about the definition of "scene" in the first and second halves of the book. In the first half, I was instructed not to include summaries as scenes, but in the second half (the plot planner), it says that scenes that go "below the line" include summaries. I'd already weeded out the summaries from my scene list, and now I'm confused.

A: Some of the information you may want to keep track of on your Plot Planner sometimes comes in the form of summary. Scene, however, is where the story unfolds.