Welcome to the first post in this series on plot. Over the next two weeks*, I'm going to be looking at all things plot like and hopefully sharing some useful points for writers, as well as hopefully learning something new.
*Wednesday will be a post on writing links and the weekend will be whatever takes my fancy.
This post is looking at the structure of a story. Any story. It does not matter what genre you wish to write or who you think your audience is. The basic story structure remains the same. In its most simplistic form the structure has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That might sound obvious but I've actually read a few books where I get to the end and wonder where I stopped reading the introduction. It feels like the entire story has just been setting something up and we've never really moved on from just getting you used to the characters and the world.
So what should each of these sections include? (At the moment I am only going to look at linear plot structures. I'm going to examine non-linear plots in a separate post)
This is where you need to establish your main characters and setting as well as your problem (yes there needs to be a problem or a conflict and you need to give the reader some idea of what it is in the beginning so that they know more-or-less where the story is going).
Dangers in the beginning include being overly descriptive. Yes the field may be lovely but if you describe all twenty shades of green for the grass most readers will call it quits. Being overly descriptive can also be likened to doing an info-dump. The reader wants to know about your characters but they don't want to read two pages of description telling you every pertinent detail without moving forward in the story.
Other dangers include not managing to hook your reader. This is why many writers chose to begin with some sort of action sequence or prologue before getting into the introductions though it isn't necessary to jump straight into action in order to get your reader interested. Or at least it shouldn't be.
Despite the story being divided into three basic components they aren't all even lengths. The middle is generally the longest part of the story and unfortunately the one that fewest people seem to value. Everyone will tell you that you need a great start. You have to hook the reader straight away. They'll tell you that you need a great finish. Something people will remember. They seldom tell you that you need a strong and convincing middle that is interesting and logical and well developed. It doesn't matter how great that ending is if the reader gives up in the middle because you've relied on bad cliche's and poor dialogue to move your story forward.
The middle is crucial. You build tension, you lead in additional complications, you give your readers a reason to care what happens to your characters and your settings; the middle will definitely determine whether your book is a thrilling page turner or a yawn that the reader decides to flick through a few pages before going to sleep.
Please end you story. I don't know how many times I have gotten to the end of a book and just wanted to scream because the story doesn't end. I'm not actually talking about series or books that are leading into a sequel. I assume that those will eventually end so while they might be frustrating, I'll get over them.
What bothers me is when in the beginning I'm introduced to some characters who have a problem and during the course of the middle all manner of other complications emerge. By the end one of those additional complications has become amazingly interesting and amazing and the writer ties it up with a big bang and tells me they all lived happily ever after. What happened to the original problem? Usually it is hanging out there un-resolved. It is like the writer decided mid-way along that a side story was more interesting and then hasn't bothered to re-write the opening. Terribly frustrating for the reader. As happy as you are to see the other issue resolved, the voice in the back of your mind just keeps wanting to know what happened to...
Does every problem need to be solved? No. Depending on who your audience is and the purpose of your story. Some things are never solved. Sometimes the solution is that the world ends or that the bad guy wins. That is a solution, though maybe not the one the reader wanted. The story has to end. Whatever you have set up as your main storyline has to have some kind of conclusion. How you do that is up to you.
Tomorrow I am going to look at types of complications and how they work in the story. I'd love to know which part of the story most writers focus on when writing. All three? The beginning? The ending? Let me know.
Some useful links:
Guest blog on Nathan Bransford from Victoria Mixon - Everything you need to know about writing a novel
Greg on Writing - Writing Mistake #7