Updated: Feb 18, 2019
Writer Rehab Series
I've spent my share of time in writer rehab, so always know that I speak from having been there and yes, I have the T-shirt. I've written and been stuck in the middle or sometimes the end of many a plotless wonder.
No mandatory testing in this rehab, but if you can count any number of manuscripts you have started and abandoned or you have manuscripts that have been rejected due to lack of a viable plot, you need to be here.
Let's dissect this problem.
Does your story have plot?
First...what is plot?
Plot consists of the internal and external story goals, and the sequence of events as the protagonist/s moves toward those goals.
Those goals are the destination of your character's story journey. The destination must be specific-you must be able to verbalize when your protagonist will arrive at their destination. You cannot arrive someplace without a map and a location. Can you verbalize the internal and external destination?
Conflict consists of the obstacles that are in the way of reaching their destination. What are the obstacles on your character's road? They must be threatening enough to make the reader worry right along with your character.
Sure you know the rule: Emotion on every page.
But how do you get that emotion on every page?
By creating conflict on every page.
The truth about Episodic Writing: This phenomena occurs when there is a lovely scene is in your story which fails to advance the plot. See Janet Dean's post, "No Tea Scenes Allowed," if you need a better explanation.
Episodic Writing occurs for two reasons:
1. The internal and or external goals, motivations and conflicts are weak or missing.
2. You are missing scene goals that move each scene toward the external and internal goals.
1. Create strong internal and external goals with believable motivation and conflict (obstacles to those goals.)
If you have serious problems with internal and external goals and charting them, re-read Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation and Conflict.
Author Shawntelle Madison has created a GMC Wizard for you to use.
2. Scene goals
Scene functions to create emotion, move the story forward and create interest. Think of them as units of conflict. Several units of conflict make a chapter.
Structure of Scenes:
• Goal-Character wants something
• Conflict -2 characters with incompatible goals
• Disaster-hook and/or unexpected development at the end of the scene
Yes, you need Goal, Motivation and Conflict (Disaster) in your scenes too. Many of you already do this without thinking by ending on a hook or an internal.
Michael Hauge (our therapist for this part of rehab) breaks down the journey toward the destination into specific turning points. The formula is called the Six Stage Plot Structure of the internal and external journey.
For those of you unfamiliar with Hauge, the internal journey is the character growth arc. The growth as he defines it is from identity (how the character defines himself to the world to) to essence (their full potential that they are avoiding out of fear).
The following is my translation of the Hero's Journey for a short romance. Adjust as needed for a novella and a longer novel.
It includes the internal and external journey.
Act 1 Stage 1 (living fully in identity)
0% Set Up
Introduction and identification. The character’s everyday life. This is who the character was YESTERDAY.
10% Turning Point 1.
Opportunity-An opportunity presents itself. The opportunity is not your character’s desire or goal. Sometimes opportunity is simply new geography.
Act 1 Stage 2 (50 page point based on a 300 page story) (Glimpses, longing or destiny. Character gets a peek at living in their essence but shrugs it off)
25 % New Situation-A new situation arises. The hero learns the rules of the new situation. Generally, the character thinks this is going to be fun.
Turning Point 2-Change of plans. (50-100 pages in)
Structurally, this is the most important turning point. The finish line is established here at the 25% point. THIS IS YOUR EXTERNAL GOAL. Notice how nicely it corresponds with the end of chapter three hook?
Act II Stage 3 Progress (100-125 pages in) (Moving toward essence without leaving identity. Starting to accept the possibility of essence. Starting to pursue their longing.)
New Plan seems to be working. Obstacles are bypassed or overcome or delayed. Then things begin to be a lot tougher than the character bargained for.
50% Turning Point 3 –The point of no return. The midpoint. (around 150 page point)
This when the traveler is closer to the destination than the point of origin. The character is so committed to the goal, that there is no turning back. There is no return to the life they were living –all bridges are burned. It is when the character’s life they have been living previously is over.
They are forced into:
Act II Stage 4 Complications and higher stakes. (at 175-200 page point) (Fully committed to essence, but fear is escalating. The protagonist is so frightened by internal conflict they retreat.)
Two things happen as a result of the character's full commitment:
1. It becomes more difficult to accomplish the goal.
2. It becomes more important to accomplish the goal.
Stakes are higher. Obstacles are greater.
75% Turning Point 4 Major Setback (at approximately 200-250 page point)
It must seem to the reader and the character that ALL IS LOST!
The character is left with very few options. The original plan is gone. But they can’t give up as their bridges have been burned.
Their only choice is the final push:
90-% Act III Stage 5 Final Push (around 250 pages in-flexible)(Character is living their true vulnerable self, (the mask is off) with everything to lose. They realize that the old identity doesn’t work and they must be true to themselves and find their essence and thus their destiny.)
Everything is at risk. The character gives it all to achieve the goal or die trying. Everything must be at stake.
99% Turning Point 5 Climax- The journey is resolved and all goals tied up. (Climax is not only the moment of achieving the visible goal, but it is also the moment of fully realizing the character’s essence.)
Where the climax occurs (page count and percentage point) depends on how much time you need to reach Stage 6.
100% Stage 5 Aftermath. The journey is complete. (The character’s new life in essence.)
The reader must see the new life, or if the character dies, they must be allowed to experience that emotion. The character can fail or change their mind, but the ending must be a resolution.
Here is a clip of Michael Hauge's The Hero's Two Journey's, where the Six Stage Structure originates. Do yourself and your plotless wonder a favor: buy the DVD or CD here. You can get it for immediate download here and never go plotless again.