Today we’re going to pick up where we left off on Monday, when I gave you an introduction to Plot Skeleton. This is the second segment of what has become a four-part blog post using the notes from a Facebook Live writing seminar I hosted over the summer.
The seminars presented 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. But my goal was to offer a few good building blocks to get you started.
After reviewing the universal story structure called the Hero’s Journey at the end of September, on Monday we talked about the two types of writers, architects and gardeners, and the writing tool developed by authors Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue, the Plot Skeleton, 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.
Angie has a series of booklets, Writing Lessons from the Front, and this was the first. It’s available on Amazon.
Just about everything I'm presenting in this blog series comes from the work of Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue.
The Plot Skeleton combines the spontaneity of seat-of-the-pants writing (gardeners) with the discipline of an outline (architects). It requires a writer to know where he/she is going, but it leaves room for the joy of discovery on the journey.
So, get a piece of paper and a pencil/pen and let’s start drawing.
The Plot Skeleton starts with the head. Please draw a circle.
I - The Skull: This is the world of your protagonist
Who is the Protagonist?
It’s the person whose story you’re writing. You need to figure that out because it’s the critical starting point.
The protagonist is the person who will change the most in the story … and it’s the person, the character, that your reader will want to inhabit for the length of the story.
Should be a sympathetic character the reader can relate to.
Should be introduced at the very beginning of the novel.
Add Two Eyes - two circles:
One Eye is the Obvious Need (or Problem)
A - This is the "Outer Journey" … the story’s plot.
B - Stories have both plot arcs and character arcs. The movement of the plot and motivation of the characters need to make sense – be plausible.
C - Events move the story; characters grow and change.
D - Not sure of your plot? Describe your story to a friend … that’s the plot.
E - How does Dorothy get Toto back from wicked Miss Gulch? That plot evolves into how does Dorothy get home.
Maria doesn’t fit in at the convent – the nuns love her but she’s a distraction. What does she do?
F - In the first novel of the Empires of Armageddon series, Ishmael Covenant, Brian Mullaney, unfairly banished to Israel, wants to get back home to save his marriage and his family.
2. The Second Eye is the Hidden Need (or Problem)
A - This is the driving force that is beneath the surface.
B - Usually involves basic human emotions.
C - It often arises from wounds in the character’s past.
D - The Hidden Need must be resolved or met by the end of the story.
E - It is the center of the Protagonist’s “Inner Journey” … how the character changes.
F - Dorothy is living with her aunt and uncle with no sign of Mom or Dad. Something is wrong, this is not normal. “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is what she’s longing for. Even though she’s longing for something else, her hidden need is to accept her new home.
Maria’s hidden need is to love God and serve others.
Brian Mullaney … needs to resolve his feelings of guilt and disappointment that he never got to reconcile with his now deceased father. He's fearful of feeling “useless”, like a failure to his family and his duty.
The Ordinary World (Inside the Skull):
Where your story begins … in the protagonist’s ordinary world, doing ordinary things.
It’s okay to open in the midst of an interesting problem.
A - Doesn’t need to be a car crash, gun fight or explosion.
B - This is not the “inciting incident”.
3 . How does the protagonist handle stress? He’s up to his neck in ordinary life but how does he deal with a problem?
4. Through subtext, action and reaction, let us see the hidden need. Don’t explain it, just reveal it by letting us observe him or her in her ordinary world.
A - Brian Mullaney is at a soccer game. His daughters are playing for their school. Sitting with him is his brother. His Dad and brother are state cops. Brian was a state cop. Quit to work for the State Department. His dad never forgave him. His dad just died from Alzheimer’s and Mullaney never received his Dad’s forgiveness.
5. Existing conflicts are revealed: Dorothy and Miss Gulch; Maria and rules (Mother Superior); Brian and his wife.
6. Once the conflicts are revealed, begin to rattle the ordinary world – make things more and more difficult.
7. Developing your protagonist could be 20 to 25% of the book (but much more quickly in a thriller)
Draw a smile under the eyes:
Make your protagonist admirable and sympathetic. Give him some admirable traits so the reader can relate to him.
Dorothy is loyal to her dog, plucky and brave. Maria is a free spirit, loved by the nuns and is soooo good. Brian Mullaney is faithful, loyal, brave and a man determined to fulfill his duty. Even Don Corleone had a set of ethics … he wouldn’t sell drugs to kids.
We yearn to feel sympathy and understanding for the character.
A - Our protagonist needs to be a person of high moral value – someone the reader wants to develop a relationship with, someone with whom the reader wants to get invested.
B - Take a good look at your protagonist. Will the reader find him admirable? Can you make him or her really, really good at what she does? Can you give him a vulnerability, a real soft spot for his child, his wife, his dog? Can you show us he has strong character and a sense of morals? Can you display his sense of humor?
4. This is a good place to plant a seed … introduce his “elemental fear” (Indiana Jones and snakes). Or have him say “I would never …” and then make him do it later. Brian Mullaney would never betray a trust.
5. We strive to build connection with the protagonist before the big story event - the Inciting Incident - takes place so the reader will truly care when the inciting incident occurs, will thoroughly identify with him.
Okay, we’ve gotten through Stage II of the Plot Skeleton, the Skull. But we’re only scratching the surface. On Friday we’ll look at the next stage, the Spine … and discover about the Inciting Incident!
Hope you come back Friday.