I’ve been writing novels since 2005 and in June and July of 2020 I set out to do a series of seminars on some of the basic concepts of novel writing. In the last week of September, I created a three-part blog post about the first seminar, the myth-legend plot structure called The Hero’s Journey.
Today, we’re going to take a step farther with The Plot Skeleton. This is the first segment of a three-part blog post from the notes of the second seminar. Additional blogs will concentrate on the other seminars: Structure for Gardeners; Bit Players Steal the Show; and Character Development.
Over the next several weeks I’ll share with you the notes from each of the other seminars – some of the most essential building blocks I’ve learned for writing a work of fiction. The seminars were very basic and certainly not comprehensive. When the world opens up again, one of the best ways to learn the craft of writing is to go to a Writer’s Conference. Or there are any number of excellent “How To” books on writing that offer more depth than can be presented here.
But my goal is to give you a few good building blocks to get you started.
This second seminar contains some of the most important guidance and information I received as a fledgling author, a concept called The Plot Skeleton.
Fifteen years ago, I attended my first writer’s conference in Philadelphia, trying to determine whether a book I’d written years before was any good. It wasn’t. I learned that fast. But I learned a lot of other things that weekend, things that helped me become a published author.
One of the most valuable sessions I attended was called “Nangie”. Nancy Rue and Angela Hunt (thus Nangie), who are prolific and highly praised Christian authors, put together a nuts-and-bolts program that was both eye-opening and life-changing. In one relatively short, three-day series of classes, they showed me much of what I needed in order to write a good novel, including a tool that I’ve used over and over again.
Everything offered in these blog posts about The Plot Skeleton is based on their work and those seminars, and used with their permission.
There are basically two different kinds of authors:
Architects, who are organized and structured, who have it all planned out before they start. Both Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue are architects. Angie writes detailed biographies for each of her major characters; writes exhaustive outlines; even goes to a website of faces and picks the faces that look like her characters and pastes them on the wall so she can look at them all the time. Nancy interviews her characters – “So, Joe, tell me about yourself …” – and writes down their answers.
And then there are gardeners, the seat-of-the-pants writers who plant a seed; water it; watch it grow; see where it leads. I'm a gardener.
Stephen King, in his great book, On Writing, affirms that all writing is organic; the story tells you what it is. I believe King is right.
In the last week of September, we looked at The Hero’s Journey work of Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, a plot structure that has been used from mythology to Star Wars. Their theory is, basically, all stories contain the same elements – one universal story structure. And this is true for both architects and gardeners. Because whether you plan out everything from the beginning, or work through intuition, novels need structure to support story. Which brings us to the Plot Skeleton.
The Plot Skeleton is another, simpler – but more applicable – way of looking at that same age-old story structure.
The Plot Skeleton was created by Angela Hunt when she taught writing to home-schooled students from the 3rd to the 12th grade. She needed a way to explain plot structure that students of all ages could absorb. Thus, Plot Skeleton was born.
Angie has a series of booklets, Writing Lessons from the Front, and this was the first. It’s available on Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Plot-Skeleton-Writing-Lessons-Front-ebook/dp/B00DD76KGU – where you can buy a copy
The Plot Skeleton combines the spontaneity of seat-of-the-pants writing with the discipline of an outline. It requires a writer to know where he/she is going, but it leaves room for the joy of discovery on the journey.
I didn’t use The Plot Skeleton on my first book, The Sacred Cipher. I didn’t know about it at the time. But, looking back, the story actually conformed to this structure – one of the reasons I believe it has been so successful. After 10 years, it’s still selling well and getting great reviews.
On Wednesday, we will start picking at the bones of The Plot Skeleton. I suggest you have a blank piece of paper and a writing instrument available. You will likely want to draw a skeleton … but leave room on the sides to write notes. See you Wednesday.