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Author Topic: Plot structure and pacing  (Read 14027 times)

Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #15 on: April 28, 2015, 08:42:03 AM »
Rules are rules. They're good to know and master, but eventually made to be bent or broken. Picasso was so good at drawing, at 12 he started using his left hand in drawing classes out of boredom. He's more than entitled to his later works, that focus on "deconstructing", and he does it well precisely because he knows perfectly how to construct.
I guess in writing one could say that most original authors would all be able to craft a decent "intro, twist, developement, conclusion" story. It's a basis to master, it isn't necessarily what makes them good.

It reminds me... When I met my boyfriend he sent me this pdf from the guardian that his teachers in uni (creative writing) had them all read over. Here it is, a compilation of different authors on the "rules for writing fiction" :
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I got annoyed by the first one, Elmore Leonard, who keeps saying "never do this (..) unless you're like X, who's super good at doing it and still pulling it off", giving the definitive impressions that all his rules are bullcrap, as long as you manage your way around them. I guess that's the real hint...
I find it a touch ironic that the author there whose advice I least agree with (Elmore Leonard) also happens to be the one releasing a book on how to write. Admittedly, it's mainly his absolute nature that you should never under any circumstances go against his points that bothers me more than the content, but I don't think that's a book I'm going to be picking up any time soon.

Anyway, I agree with the general consensus that, ultimately, you should do what ever you think is right, but I don't think that necessarily means you should discard the traditional methods out of hand. Things like the three-act structure have lasted so long in media because they do work. Set-up characters and worlds. Build up the conflict. Climax and Resolution. It's no coincidence that some of the best paced movies/books/whatever I've seen usually tend to follow that structure. And sometimes subverting them for the sake of it can work against you. Take ScarletBea saying that she prefers the big battle to take place in the beginning or middle of a story. The problem there is that, by having such a large battle only partway through the book, that can sometimes end up simply overshadowing your climactic battle and making it seem weaker in comparison. That was one of the main issues I had with How to Train your Dragon 2 (although that's still one of my favourite movies). Of course, this is more of a problem with the visual medium than books, since battles look far more impressive visually than descriptively, and competently handled, you can easily write a smaller scale fight that compares. But my point is, the traditional methods are there for a reason.

Speaking of, the medium in question does make a difference. Yora mentioned manga (Japanese comics) in OP, of which I am a huge fan and which have a very different structure than most novels, often with numerous arcs rather than a single solitary story (although most manga still have some level of a 3 act structure within said arcs). But said manga are often published weekly in chapters and are designed to go on for as long as they are popular and avoid being cancelled, sometimes leading to writers making stuff up as they go (hence why a lot of long-running manga tend to get fairly bad as they go along (although there are numerous exceptions)). Obviously, that's very different from novels with usually tell a fully self-contained story, as part of a single book or series. Thus different structures are needed. So just because something works in one medium, doesn't guarantee it'll work in another. I openly admit my own Fantasy stories takes a lot of influences from manga, but it still holds to a traditional structure because the alternative simply doesn't work as well. Or, at the very least, is far more difficult to pull off competently.

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Offline Yora

Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #16 on: April 28, 2015, 10:02:43 AM »
Comic is just a medium, there's plenty of different things people do with it. A movie is very much unlike a TV show, but both are film. There are plenty of manga with a very dense and structured plot, mostly for grown up audiences. It's mostly the kids stuff that strings up cliffhangers after cliffhangers at infinitum. I think partly because with younger audiences you have a much higher turnover rate, and the people who read the series now could be completely different from those who read it when it started.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #17 on: April 28, 2015, 12:17:28 PM »
This is a skeleton. It gives me the absolute core, which I can then hang with the muscles, skin and clothes of a whole story.
But isn't that the case even with the (simple) three act structure? I mean, that is just the starting point and doesn't necessarily define the pacing or even the final structure of the story once you start to flesh it out with sub-plots, twists and whatnot.  :-\

Absolutely. But as I noted, I find it easier and more meaningful to approach the construction of the story this way. It's not about what's "right", it's about what gets the job done for you as a writer. :)

Offline ArcaneArtsVelho

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #18 on: April 28, 2015, 02:21:37 PM »
This is a skeleton. It gives me the absolute core, which I can then hang with the muscles, skin and clothes of a whole story.
But isn't that the case even with the (simple) three act structure? I mean, that is just the starting point and doesn't necessarily define the pacing or even the final structure of the story once you start to flesh it out with sub-plots, twists and whatnot.  :-\

Absolutely. But as I noted, I find it easier and more meaningful to approach the construction of the story this way. It's not about what's "right", it's about what gets the job done for you as a writer. :)
:-[
I should learn to read the post I'm replying to, and then really think what I'm going to reply. The thing I tried to point out was precisely that there is no one right way to do it. Or something like that, I think. ??? It was in no way my intention to question your preferred method or praise the three act one.

As it is with so many things, "whatever works for you" is the way to do your writing. Of course that isn't to say there couldn't be a better way than your current "whatever works". That is why it's nice to read other people's ideas and opinions; you just might find a new and better working way of doing things.  :)

Personally, I start writing with having a beginning, a turning point of some kind, and an end in mind, but generally I don't give too much thought to the structure beyond that; if it feels good, it's probably all right. And the structure isn't a thing that draws my attention in books, films etc., at least not if the plot is decent, the characters are good, and the pacing or rather the general feel of the story is somewhat enjoyable.

So, I'm easy to please, I guess. And I don't think about (important?) things. Should I?  :o
Everything I wrote above is pure conjecture. I don't know what I'm talking about.

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Offline Nora

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #19 on: April 28, 2015, 02:25:50 PM »

Personally, I start writing with having a beginning, a turning point of some kind, and an end in mind, but generally I don't give too much thought to the structure beyond that; if it feels good, it's probably all right. And the structure isn't a thing that draws my attention in books, films etc., at least not if the plot is decent, the characters are good, and the pacing or rather the general feel of the story is somewhat enjoyable.

So, I'm easy to please, I guess. And I don't think about (important?) things. Should I?  :o

Deuce, I'm exactly like you!  :o ;D 8)
I think trying to write a couple of stories following a beat sheet would come to some advantages, just to have that experience stored in the back of my mind, could always come in handy.
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Offline ArcaneArtsVelho

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #20 on: April 28, 2015, 03:42:02 PM »

Personally, I start writing with having a beginning, a turning point of some kind, and an end in mind, but generally I don't give too much thought to the structure beyond that; if it feels good, it's probably all right. And the structure isn't a thing that draws my attention in books, films etc., at least not if the plot is decent, the characters are good, and the pacing or rather the general feel of the story is somewhat enjoyable.

So, I'm easy to please, I guess. And I don't think about (important?) things. Should I?  :o

Deuce, I'm exactly like you!  :o ;D 8)
EXACTLY like me? Oh that's horrible. I'm so sorry for you.  ;D


I just want to clarify my last post a little. When it comes to bigger stories, I do make quite a detailed outline, almost like a beat sheet, i suppose, but it's more for story planning and, perhaps, pacing reasons than structural ones. If that makes sense. Maybe I'm just confused about the concept of structure as thing you need to think in itself.  ??? Yes, my stories have a structure, but to me it's the story that forms the structure and not the other way around.

I can't even tell what I'm trying to say.  >:(   And now, my head hurts. I clearly should flex my thinking muscles more. Maybe then I would be able to order my thoughts.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2015, 03:49:31 PM by ArcaneArtsVelho »
Everything I wrote above is pure conjecture. I don't know what I'm talking about.

I'm a perfectionist but not very good at anything. That's why I rarely finish things.

Offline D_Bates

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #21 on: April 30, 2015, 12:52:28 AM »
I also spent a good few years trying to understand the points Yora made in her first post and came to the same conclusion others here did.

When people say three act structure it does literally mean Intro, middle, end. But to go into more depth, it's A) Introduce the protagonist and the plot they are engaging in, B) Have the protagonist deal with the hurdles that complicate their situation and C) Conclude the plot as to whether the hero succeeds/fails and how they grew/what they learnt as a result of their adventure. Quite often the intro/end are half the size or so of the middle, but there's no reason at all why you can't make it even spread. If you end up with a massive intro/end and tiny middle you've probably misfired somewhere.

For pacing, this is really down to the writer, but the best stories (as the lovely ScarletBea pointed out) are ones that act like a wave. You have a build to a big event/showdown/climax, then you taper off as the characters deal with the fallout, only to then build towards an even bigger climax, and then taper off again... rinse and repeat until you reach the end.

From my experience (and I don't want to come off like any of those in that previous linked article btw, this is just an insight into my journey) the most difficult thing to overcome is being honest about why/what you are writing. Are you writing to tell stories, as a personal exploration/hobby/outlet to put the world to rights, or trying to make a living, because they're all very different things.

Structure is very stringent, but the twists and turns of the plot is completely down to the reader. If you write, say, a romance, it comes with the territory that the two protagnoists end up together. That's what someone who picks up a romance expects, the dance of courtship where two people find one another. If you don;t give them that you're basically cheating them, but that doesn't mean it has to be the same story every time. For example, you could set the heroine up with a guy only to kill him off halfway through, because her real love is that other guy on the side who then steps up to comfort her during her grief. You could have a love triangle, play with love hate, explore homosexuality, or hell, why not write it from the man's PoV? Guys can look for love too.

The reason most stories fall into cut and paste recycles of one another Yora mentioned as a peev is because that's what agents/publishers want to promote. Unfortunately, like every walk of life, 9/10 times monetary success is down to those you know. Someone who's half good at marketing can sell dogshit to the masses as though they were receiving gold bullion, but somebody who's an expert in their field will sell barely nothing unless they've got even a half decent marketer supporting them. When people say 'know your target audience', what they mean is understand what's currently being promoted, because at the end of the day agents/publishers are making their own living off your work, and--like many jobs--most only want to put in the minimum amount of effort rather than take risks on something new and fresh.  And yea, that sucks for people who love the craft.

If you're trying to do something unique (which is my motivation and I suspect is also what a lot here are trying to achieve), then picking at my own subconscious for a moment the system I sort of use is this:

- Decide on a plot to put your own spin on.
I often know some of the characters/world elements I want to write about, but before I create a word of it I work out what sort of plot they're most suited to. Reading books on plot structures was invaluable to me. The one I have right now is called '20 Master Plots and How to Build Them', but there are plenty of others out there.
To note, these are just guidelines, and often you'll have a couple running side by side, but it's important to know which one is your main focus.
Also, don't confuse plot with genre. Most genre's favour certain plots, but plots can transcend genre. A love story isn't necessarily a romance.  A chase is common in thrillers, but the first book in the Lord of the Rings was also a chase plotline. I'm currently working on a revenge story. You could easily build a sword and sorcery tale around a quest, a rescue, an escape, metamorphosis, a rivalry, love, a riddle--the list is endless. One of the beauty of fantasy is that it's really flexible. You can explore almost anything within the confines of your world.

- When you know the plot decide whether your story will be character or event driven.
And this is trickier than you'd think. Many will shout character because 'that's the one everyone says!'. If it's character driven then you should be able to answer how your character grows, and if asked to specify key events they should be those moments that are creating that growth. If the answer is made up of big battles/showdowns then your plot is likely event driven because your characters will likely end up being slaves pushing towards creating those events. And there's nothing wrong with an event driven plot, James Bond novels are. But you're at an instant disadvantage if you're trying to shoehorn in character growth when your heart is more set on creating those big movie moments.
Using TV/Movies as examples, The Avengers are event driven plots. Sure, the superheroes are cool characters, but they stay static. They have their super power, enough wealth to live a life of luxury so they can just run off and do their super hero thing--something that's often begrudged on their part for drama, an ugly character trait--and they save the world. But the important thing to remember is that everything they decide to do is simply building towards that next big action scene.
Going into TV, an episode of CSI could be either character or event driven. You can easily tell which one it is because the event driven stories have the whole team working to solve the murder while the character driven ones often sideline the majority of the cast to focus on one individual's personal crisis.
For books, The Hobbit is an event driven plot. Sure, Bilbo has that moment where he feels the rush of comradery, but at the end of the day he goes out, completes his quest, and returns home to have a smoke by the fire ending up exactly where he started out. In contrast, the sixth book in the Lord of the Rings (and yea, you have to break it down into its individual parts to analyse) is a heavy character driven plot. The whole quest to get the ring into Mount Doom is more or less sidelined to focus on that internal conflict between Bilbo, Sam, and Golem. And, funnily enough, when most people recall the moments they loved that's not one that features highly. I guess you could say events make entertainment for the masses, character is for scholars.

- Once I know the above I then decide what stylistic PoV I want to use.
Again, this is often tricky and largely falls to personal preference. Third person is the market standard because it's an easy style to write, and gives the freedom of injecting that little bit of character development to cover up an event driven plot under the cloak of it being a character driven one.
Personally, if I wanted a full on eventfest I'd go omniscient. There's a reason it's the format of choice for children stories. Kids don't care about character. They're not concerned that the wolf ate Grandma, only that the Woodcutter saved Red Riding Hood. Hell, most characters don't even have real names, and if they do it's often a simple 3-4 letter affair.
First person is the most intimate form and should only be used for character plots where you're literally trying to explore the protagonist's psyche. But I wouldn't use it unless I was super confident I'd nailed the protagonist to the floor, and even then I'd probably do it from an outside character like Watson to Holmes, because there's a huge risk to stuff it up and make the primary protagonist completely unlikable, and the restrictions to the style means you can't really fall back on the events to save it.

Whichever PoV you choose the one writing rule out there I agree with is stick with it throughout. I really hate when people say skilled writers know when to break the rules regarding PoV. What takes more skill? Abiding by a rule or breaking it? Though there are certainly times rules need to be broken, let's be realistic here, 99/100 its done simply because the author has either written themselves into a corner, is hiding flaws they don't know how to fix, or is just being downright lazy.
The reason that particular rule exists is because it makes sense. When you're writing you can jump between perspectives and characters at will because you have the whole story in your head, but a reader is at the mercy of what you give them. And yea, if you suddenly switch PoV/tense/character they'll get confused. Most won't crucify a great story for a blip here and there but do it enough and they'll just get frustrated and give up.
I've seen a lot of posts in other threads lauding Third Person/Omni as almost a necessity, but why? If you're running third person why break to omni? The only reason to do so is for mindless exposition, so the thought process should be: 1) Does my character already naturally know this information, and if so why not relate it from their thoughts/perspective? 2) If the character doesn't know it are they going to learn it later, and if so why can't the reader learn it with them as part of that discovery process? 3) If neither of the former, is the information really necessary or are you just force feeding world history for the sake of 'look how big and thought out my world is.' If that's the case I think most here should know what needs to be done, and it's not switch into Omni for a few paragraphs.
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Offline JMack

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #22 on: April 30, 2015, 01:41:45 AM »
Very interesting post, David. 20 Master Plots is now on its way to me from Amazon.  ;D

Re: LOTR, if I'm asked why I love the book, my answer is all about Frodo, Sam and Golem. They are what gives the thing its heart, and its gravity.

That, and all the cool plot shit.  8)
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Offline D_Bates

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #23 on: April 30, 2015, 07:19:28 PM »
You won't regret 20 master plots. It's one of those books that just throws ideas at you without telling you 'this is how it's done.' Once I got to grips with various plots and how they're structured writing became so much more fun because I was able to concentrate on the real nitty gritty details of my style without second guessing everything I was doing.

And yea, I love Frodo, Sam and Golem too. One of the things that amazes me with Lord of the Rings is the sheer depth you can get from the story when you start peeling back the layers. For example, today I was thinking about what I posted and came to the conclusion how the final book is essentially a rivalry between Sam and Golem. The two characters are more or less representations of Frodo's psyche: Sam the angel on one shoulder and Golem the devil on the other.
The contrast between them is just fantastic: Sam the out of shape, simple speaking, honest, hard working gardner who represents the innocent beauty of childhood friendship in the past; Golem the lithe, deceiptful master of riddles who represents the haggard shell Frodo will become in the future should he fall prey to the supposedly easy life of owning the ring of power.
The structure flows as so:
Beginning - all are together and Sam and Golem are trying to convince Frodo the other is rotten.
Middle - Frodo buys into Golem's lies--that voice in his head driving him to ambition--and pushes Sam to the back until he gets stitched up at Shelab where his ever faithful friend jumps in to save him. And now the roles are flipped and it's Sam's turn to be by Frodo's side, challenging his false ambitions while Golem lurks in the rear until we reach the climactic...
End - the showdown on the ledge overlooking the lava where Frodo has to make his decision and the pair are literally tearing him in two as they vie for his soul.

I find it simply amazing how this metaphorical brilliance was developed from a couple of simple plot props from a children's tale. Tolkian really was an incredible writer, so far beyond the mere world most give him credit for. So to hijack this thread and answer the question of another, yea, I guess he's certainly one of those who influences me in my writing.
« Last Edit: April 30, 2015, 08:20:09 PM by D_Bates »
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Offline Yora

Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #24 on: May 01, 2015, 03:57:42 PM »
Lol that's awesome. Just goes to show how much further you have to go once you've mastered the basics I guess!  ;D
Turns out I completely misremembered this. It was actually a written article by Sarah Avery and not a video by Brandon Sanderson.
Still a great story.  :D
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Offline Francis Knight

Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #25 on: May 01, 2015, 11:49:51 PM »
How to plot depends on the writer

I start with A character or two, in a situation. I do not plan. Plot hapens as they do things, the anmtag and other character do things and then everyone reacts and...plot

Character IS plot

Given a c rtain situation. a plot could go any way depending on what all the characters do

What a character wants -- protag, antag, secondary -- what they do, an what they do in reaction (send in he goons, press the red button, go on a tequila jag, volunteer at the Samaritans). ...that is your plot right there, what they decide to do based on what has already happened and who they are.

Simples

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Offline D_Bates

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #26 on: May 02, 2015, 04:06:42 PM »
I am curious here Francis Knight... With the way you write how exactly do you end a book? Do you just keep writing until you hit a certain word count and then just tie it up and shut it off? If you don't have a plot to know where the characters are going and what they're trying to do then how do you know when the story is done?

I see plot more as a framework that acts as a road for the journey through the book. Sure, the characters decisions decide how that journey happens, and often they'll end up taking detours along the way, but no matter how far they stray they always end back up on the road as they head to that destination at the end.
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Offline Yora

Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #27 on: May 02, 2015, 04:21:48 PM »
Another considerable risk is that it becomes difficult for readers to follow why things happen. You can introduce an convenient coincidence that allows the protagonists to continue their quest once or twice, but when it becomes a regular occurance there is little reason for readers to try to figure out what's been happening so far and anticipate what might happen in the future. When the plot primarily (or even just to a noticable extend) progresses because of coincidences instead of the protagonists efforts, things become random.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #28 on: May 02, 2015, 04:29:03 PM »
It's interesting how many people assume that planning ahead means forcing your character to do things regardless of their character. Just doesn't feel that way to me. :)
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Offline Yora

Re: Plot structure and pacing
« Reply #29 on: May 02, 2015, 05:01:51 PM »
I would say I approach a story by thinking of some major points in the story and how they are connected, and then start coming up with ideas what circumstances and events could motivate the character to reach this major plot points.
Though I usually start a new idea for a story at the final scene with the ultimate outcome being the entire goal and purpose of the story. Which apparently is somewhat unusual.
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