22 July 2009

Universal Story Form and Plot

About a half an hour into her first plot consultation, the writer at the other end of the telephone settles into the process. I know something of her initial nervousness ~ the fear of not being good enough, not having done enough prep work, not being smart enough to grasp what is required. 

In anticipation of this, I jump right in, pulling the writer along with me. 

My immediate impression? She is drowning in ideas and plot lines. Her story incorporates suspense and romance, some mystery and lots of thematic issues. Before she goes all the way under, I catch her hand. 

Once I determine that the main plot thread for her project is mystery, I ask her to briefly recount all the scenes that advance that plot line. While she does that, I plot her scenes out on a Plot Planner for her individual project (which I mail the next day). Scene by scene, the weight of all those loose ends, straining to strangle her, lift.

As soon as we have the mystery plot line in place, it is easy to see the underlying structure of her story. And, lo and behold, the three most important scenes ~ the end of the beginning scene, the crisis, and the climax ~ were there and right where they ought to be. Ah, the magic of writing. This mystery writer's sense of relief is palpatable over the telephone. 

Of course, she still has lots of work to do, but this reveal reinforces my conviction that the answers are always right there in our stories. Finding them is the job of the writer (and sometimes along with the help of the plot whisperer).

When you're drowning in plotlines, blind from too many words, lost in your story and pulling your hair out, stop and take a breath. Then get out an oversized piece of paper and create a Plot Planner for yourself. Start with one plot thread. Hang it on the wall. Stand back and look. See if you don't feel a sense of relief wash over you, too.