Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In the Life of an Agent: Editing Edition Part 2: Plot Structure

Last time (December 8th), we discussed close reads and what extraneous/filler words I look for in client material. We addressed a long list of pointless, fluffy words serving no purpose. They don’t push the plot forward, develop character, or provide any worthwhile prose. For a refresher check back here.

This week we’re going to discuss plot structure and craft. When I read client material — especially in a close read — this is what I focus most on it. And I can be a stickler about it. I blame my Gothic Literature Professor. She beat the literary snot out of me.  

There are probably scores of methods to structure plot for your story. Too many to list here. I’ll address those I see most and how I use them during close reads.

The Synopsis — Not exactly a plot structure, more a play-by-play of your entire novel with all the twists and plot points explained. This should tell us everything regarding your novel. No secrets. Problem is you need this anyway, so I suggest using one of the more in depth — ‘formulaic’ — structures below.

The Snowflake Method — Here we have a combination of free writing and defined structure. You begin with a sentence that describes the main gist of your novel (remember GMC!) followed by a paragraph expanding upon said sentence. For example, “Michael Stone, a disgruntled NASA astronaut, steals a newly designed spaceship and sets course for Mars to be the first person to reach the Red Planet”. Then comes character creation, etc. There’s about ten steps to this process, too many to address here, but you can find more information at this site.

The Hero’s Journey —Similar in some respects to the Three-Act Structure, this method is arranged in three main sections divided into more ‘steps’. Joseph Campbell, writer and scholar, designed this method according to the idea all world myths contain similar elements. For more information, check out this site here.

Panstering — Free for all. Write as you go. I used this method once and it was a pain in the tukhus. If it works for you it works. But, I don’t suggest it.

Freytag’s Method — Designed by German novelist Gustav Freytag, using the five-part structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement (the end of resolution). You can find more here.

Three-Act Structure — No one’s developed this better than legendary screenwriter Blake Snyder. If you’re a writer, you should have read and own a copy of his SAVE THE CAT. Period. There's also a FANTASTIC site with numerous beat sheets — break downs using Synder's method — of famous movies. 

As I read novels or even watch movies and plays I do so closely in order to break down the plot structure. This is how you can hone your craft. Learn the above methods and apply them in your real life — movies, theatre, reading for fun.

Sure, not every writer uses the same method of plot structure but this doesn’t really matter. Why? Because — save panstering — they are interchangeable. If an author has used the Freytag Method to writer his or her novel, I can break it down using the Three-Act Structure and vice versa.

Okay, I think that’s enough rambling for today. Happy Tuesday, happy holidays and have a happy New Years! And remember to write on!

Lane Heymont is an associate agent at The Seymour Agency, representing science fiction, fantasy, romance, nonfiction, and attempts to write his own stuff under a wonderful pseudonym. You can follow him on Twitter at @LaneHeymont. 

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