I have a confession. A confession that will not come as a surprise to discerning readers of my previous nine novels. I suck at creating plots. I’ve said this enough to know that I get a lot of push back on this statement, but let’s dig a little deeper. I’m working on a whodunit. Think Agatha Christi, Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Connelly. You know. Plot as puzzle.
Most of my novels are plot as the unfolding of a character, not the clever slow-motion reveal of a puzzle. Muffin Man was my first attempt at a whodunit, but closer inspection reveals that it’s really a three-generation father-son story with a whodunit plot clumsily overlaid like plywood hastily nailed over the windows before bugging out of town on the leading edge of a hurricane.
If you read the reviews, you’ll see complaints about the thinness of the plot along with frustration that I didn’t explain the talking muffin or that the main character had too many daddy issues or that I took 4 sentences to describe making an omelette. Never mind the communion symbolism of that scene. But that’s Part 14. Now we’re talking about plot.
It took me 20 years and dozens of books on the craft of writing to learn how to write a novel someone would bother to read. It won an award, but who’s counting? (Me, obviously, but let’s not talk about that.) I didn’t read a book on story structure until after I already had three books published. Once I learned about structure, I studied my first three novels and saw that through a lifetime of living with a native-born storyteller, carrying on that tradition, and passing it down to the next generation, I had instinctively and unconsciously woven in the basic rudiments of structure, however clumsy and crude.
Then I read Truby. In my next four novels, I used Truby to improve the quality of the story, but I already had a plot for those books, so I didn’t use Truby to build a plot from scratch, only to tweak what I had to make it better.
This book is different. The plot I started with was a character (an intentionally homeless person) and a situation (a friend’s death has been ruled overdose or suicide, but he knows better and sets out to bring the killer to justice). That’s pretty much it. I played around with some characters and a back story, but it was all very thin.
So, this is the book where I lean on the rest of Truby’s book to save my sorry hide.
For this chapter, I paste my cryptic notes from Chapter 8, and then the high-level plot structure I created from Truby’s 22 steps. You will probably need to read the chapter to really get what the plot table means.
Chapter 8: Plot
Thought: early in the story Jack helps Joe set up a tiny house.
Plot is a combination of what happens and how those events are revealed to the audience.
A simple sequence of events is not a good plot. It has no purpose, no designing principle that tells you which events to tell and in which order.
Taking action vs learning information (revelation)
- Three unities: 1 time (24 hours), 1 place, 1 action or story line
- Reveals (cha-ching!)
- Antiplot (nah)
Sequence for writing an organic plot
- Look at the designing principle. Plot must be the detailed fruition of this principle.
- Look at the theme line. Plot must be a detailed manifestation of this moral argument.
- Look at your symbol line. Sequence the symbols through actions.
- Choose storyteller vs no storyteller.
- Establish structure in detail. (22 steps)
- Select one or more genres. And twist them to avoid predictability.
22 step story structure
- Self-revelation, need, and desire (ending, beginning, beginning). What will the hero learn at the end, what does he know at the beginning, how is he wrong at the beginning?
- Ghost and story world
- Weakness and need
- Inciting event
- Desire. Start it at a low level so it can build. Increasing levels of desire: survive (escape), revenge, win the battle, achieve something, explore a world, catch a criminal, find the truth, gain love, bring justice/freedom, save the republic, save the world.
- Ally or allies. And subplots (not ally). Reflects the main plot.
- Opponent and/ or mystery
- Fake-ally opponent
- First revelation and decision: Changed desire and motive
- Opponent’s plan and main counterattack
- Drive. Starts with the Plan and ends with Apparent Defeat. Opponent too strong. Each action is a different attack, not trying the same thing multiple times. Hero takes immoral actions.
- Attack by ally. Increases the pressure on the hero and forces him to begin questioning his values and way of acting.
- Apparent defeat
- Second revelation and decision: Obsessive drive, changed desire and motive
- Audience revelation
- Third revelation and decision
- Gate, gauntlet, visit to death
- Battle. The point where the hero is most like his main opponent, but the differences are clarified.
- Moral decision
- New equilibrium
Opening/Start (steps 1-3: Self-revelation, need, desire, ghost, weakness, need)
- Community: Everything is fine in the hero’s ordinary world
- Running: Strong ghost, lives in a world of slavery, multiple serious weaknesses, psychological and moral need, faces multiple problems
- Slow: Purposeless hero
22 Step Structure for My Project
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