Today, we complete our review of the writing tool, the Plot Skeleton. If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you know that all this material comes from the work of Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue (I’ve gotten their permission) and that I believe this tool contains some of the most important guidance and information I received as a fledgling author.
In previous blog posts about Plot Skeleton we’ve looked at an overview (writers are either architects or gardeners), and in detail at the first two stages of the skeleton – the Skull and the Spine.
The Skull is the protagonist’s ‘Ordinary World’ where all stories should start and the place where the character’s needs are revealed. After the protagonist identifies his or her Goal, the Spine begins at the point of the Inciting Incident – which drives the character into the Story World. Once in the Story World, the protagonist moves through a series of intensifying events that swing from negative to positive until the character runs into her Bleakest Moment.
Remember, the Bleakest Moment is when your protagonist is brought to his knees, he’s at the end of his rope, he or she feels the pain of defeat. Things can’t any get worse and all hope of reaching the goal is lost. And that is when the writer needs to make the situation worse … then worse again.
But … now what? How does our protagonist get out of this mess?
If you’ve been drawing along with us, get your pencil ready. The next stage is Send In The Calvary!
The Thighbone … Send in the Calvary
Draw two lines from the bottom of the spine - a right leg and a left leg, bent at the knee. The first stop is the thigh ... how your protagonist will escape from his Bleakest Moment.
1. Your character needs help … it comes from an unexpected source.
2. That unexpected source can be a minor character who returns to the story … an ally comes back … or a missing piece of information is revealed to help the protagonist.
3. The helper can’t solve the problem for the character, but they can give direction, remind the protagonist of something, inspire her to keep going.
4. This help cannot be "help from the gods" – Deus ex machina - a device invented by ancient Greek dramatists. The help must be plausible, and should be hinted at earlier in the story.
A - In the Wizard of Oz, Glenda tells Dorothy about the power of the ruby slippers – “There’s no place like home (with her aunt and uncle)”
B - In The Sound of Music, Reverend Mother tells Maria needs to “Climb Every Mountain” until she finds her dream.
C - In the Empires of Armageddon, Brian Mullaney’s friend and former boss agrees to investigate the evil Noah Webster.
5. The question is, who or what is going to step into the story to help your protagonist – to encourage and strengthen him?
The Kneecap and Leg Bone:
Kneecap – Lesson Learned
1. This is where there is an epiphany for the protagonist – there is a sudden insight that changes everything.
2. The protagonist sees a person, situation or object in a new light.
3. What has your protagonist learned?
A - What has she realized about her life, her past or her future? Does she appreciate someone or something she used to take for granted?
B - Dorothy learns, “The next time I go looking for my heart’s desire I won’t look further than my own back yard!”
4. Then show us how your protagonist can put this knowledge into action.
Leg Bone – Decision to Act
1. Armed with this new realization, this epiphany, what does your protagonist do that he would not do before?
A - Does he go up against the villain with new strength or courage?
B - Does he have a quality, or a weapon, that he has suddenly begun to value?
C - Does she humble herself for the first time, or confess something that she would have never confessed before?
D - In the Sound of Music, Maria decides she needs to return to the Von Trapp family.
E - In the Empires of Armageddon series, Brian decides that he's staying in Israel until the bad guys are defeated and the job is completed.
2. Once that Decision to Act has been made, the protagonist accomplishes the goal, seizes the treasure, grabs the reward ... the Goal has been achieved.
The Foot – The Resolution:
1. Once the Goal has been achieved, the protagonist leaves, or attempts to leave, the Story World.
A - Even on the way home to the Ordinary World, the protagonist will face opposition. Whoever lost the treasure is going to try and get it back.
B - There can be car chases and gun fights, some of the biggest action scenes in a thriller occur while the hero is trying to get home to the Ordinary World.
2. When the protagonist returns to the Ordinary World, he or she MUST return as a changed person – hopefully for the better.
A - The protagonist has gone through a profound experience on the journey. That experience must be clearly displayed in the character's life.
3. The character has a new understanding to share, a treasure to share, or some knowledge to share with others in the Ordinary World.
4. The protagonist has completed the outer journey (the plot events) and the inner journey (addressed some hurt from the past that’s resulted in a changed person)
A - Dorothy returns to Kansas and Auntie Em.
B - Maria returns to the Von Trapp's home to be a better governess.
C- Brian survives his most terrifying test, overcomes evil, and returns home.
5. How has your protagonist changed? A change of scenery? A change of career? Come up with a simple scene or two that lets the reader know that life is going to be different for your protagonist from this point on.
And that’s The Plot Skeleton. Thanks for joining me on this journey. Once I learned this valuable lesson, I’ve used this tool on every book I’ve written. Sometimes in desperation … “What does the Plot Skeleton tell me about this situation?” or more likely, “How can I get out of this mess?” . Sometimes, more wisely, I'll use it at the very beginning of the creative process - become more of an architect than a gardener.
Additional blogs in the future will concentrate on some of the other writing seminars I hosted on Facebook Live: Structure for Gardeners; Bit Players Steal the Show; and Character Development. When we next get back to issues of writing, we’ll look at how to apply structure to your writing task … even if you’re a gardener!