It’s Okay to Dream: Crafting an Original Plot

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Photo by Dominic's pics via Flickr

In a similar vein to Monday’s post I’m going talk about another one of the many tips James Scott Bell has in his book PLOT & STRUCTURE. (Really a great book. You should get it. No, I don’t work for his marketing team. Why do you ask?)

Anyways, his suggestion was about how to come up with original ideas. He said that when you come to an important part in your book (a twist, a life-changing event for the character, or the end) you should let your mind wander and jot down ten ideas about what could happen. The next day you go back to the ideas and think about two or three of the ones that appeal most to you. This way you can have a more original plot instead of one with the scenes unfolding the very first way you imagined them (and also probably the very first way most other people will imagine them). And as he pointed out, you don’t have to end up using them, but it will help you to look at your plot in a different light or it might give you an idea for some other part of the plot.

Now, I was pretty hesitant when I read this at first—I’m a plotter with PowerPoint slides to keep everything just right. Abandon my pre-planned plot from six months ago? Never. Impossible! I mean, I’ve thought about it so many times that I can’t even imagine anything going differently. But no matter how brilliant your plot is, it’s always helpful to take another look at it—maybe a plot hole will pop up, or you will really be validated in your brilliance. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m going to. Soon. I just came up with a shiny new outline for a book yesterday (sort of yesterday, I’ve been thinking about it for a few months) and I can’t wait to experiment!

What about you? Do you think of different possibilities for scenes or just go with the first thing that comes to mind? Do you find it hard to change a scene that you’ve had planned out for a long time?

Get Your Character Through That Door!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Photo by Le Petit Poulailler via Flickr

Yes, I’ve been gone from the blogosphere for the past, oh, two weeks and a half, but I have a great excuse. Okay, I don’t really have one except that I never realized how quickly days pass by and you realize you haven’t blogged. But all’s not lost. While I was gone, I read (both fiction and nonfiction) and revised, and read some more. So I want to share with you what I learned about structure from a little book called PLOT & STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell. Hopefully, you will find it useful : )

Apparently there’s an Act I, II and III (big news, I know). But wait! There’s more. Mr. Bell says: “Let there be a disturbance and two doorways!” He focuses especially on the connections between acts and calls them doorways. For those who are visual learners (like me), this is what it looks like:

Act I

Character going along the way they usually do

(In novels you want to keep this part pretty short, in my MS it’s only about 3.5pgs)


Something unusual happens to the character, but they still go on living pretty much the same way

(This is usually what makes the reader interested in reading further)

~First Doorway~

Something happens to character and they have to face the problem, there’s no way going back

(This makes the character transition from Act I to Act II)

Act II

Character has to deal with challenges associated with the main problem, further complications arise

(This makes up the bulk of the story)

~Second Doorway~

Something happens to character and they have to face the final battle, the novel has to end, and there’s no way going back

(This makes the character transition from Act II to Act III)


Character has to gather whatever tools and help they can get and fight the battle to the end, conclude the novel

(This is about a fifth of the novel, about 65pgs in my MS)

Mr. Bell especially emphasizes the fact that whatever pushes your character through the doorways between each act, there’s no going back. Let’s use a movie I recently watched as an example of a disturbance and the first doorway. It’s called the Holiday and focuses on two women.

Example 1 – The Holiday, movie, 2006

Disturbance—Woman I breaks up with her long time boyfriend because she found out he was cheating on her, Woman II finds out a guy she’s in love with (and she used to date on and off) has just gotten engaged

Now, they can technically keep living more or less the way they were, but they both decide to do something unusual—take a vacation far away.

First doorway—they find each other online and agree to exchange homes for the holidays

This takes them through the first doorway and into Act II because they can’t really go back—alone in new places they have to face how their lives are going and what they want to change about their lives.

Okay, so I don’t want to talk about the second doorway in case someone wants to watch the movie (it’s a great movie!), but I can do another example.

Example 2 – The Woman Who Only Liked Bad Guys, novel, I just made this one up

Act I – Woman reserved to relationships because she’s only attracted to bad guys and has bad experiences as a result of it, takes the same route to work every day

Disturbance – A man asks her out while she’s getting coffee in the morning and gives her his number

First Doorway – She always, always turns men down, especially his type, but that night she calls him up and accepts to go on a date with him

Act II – She goes on a date with him, falls for him, thinks that maybe he’s different (even thought she knows deep down that he’s not), they keep dating, move in together, months pass, but she keeps finding strange things around the house, she’s afraid he’s cheating on her

Second Doorway – Two big guys from the police show up at her door and she finds out that he’s involved in trafficking rare government-owned ladles (yes, ladles, why not?) She’s surprised (she was so sure there was another woman) and dismayed (not the ladles! They were so important to their country).

She agrees to help the big guys find her boyfriend and track down the ladles.

Act III –With the help of the big guys, a lot of guns, and her highest heels she goes out to bring her boyfriend to righteousness. They find him and he goes to jail. The ladles are saved and returned to the country’s treasury. She breaks up with her boyfriend and realizes he really was bad (even thought not exactly for the reasons she thought). She’s sad, but then ends up hooking up with one of the big guys from the police and realizes that she can like good guys. Especially ones that know the value of a ladle.

Okay, so I got a bit carried away coming up with Example 2, but I hope it made the disturbance and doorways clearer. I should also mention Mr. Bell said that you don’t have to have these elements in your novel, but they make it more relatable to readers.

Agree or disagree? Does your novel have a disturbance and doorways?