The Lesson

February 13, 2018

 

I've been having epiphanies all over the place of late, but maybe the biggest one deals with how I separate my book outlines into parts. Up until recently, I was following the idea that a book can be divided into three parts: the beginning, middle, and end. And while this is true, it didn't work very well for me in terms of plotting and pacing. I mean, I thought I knew how to put a beginning, middle, and end into play, but when it came time to write, I always went too long at the beginning of the story and then hit a wall in the middle that would take me months to climb over. I had no real sense of what each part of the story needed to do. AND THEN I found Larry Brooks's books. 

 

 

 

And WOW.

Just WOW.

 

I had a major, angels singing, earth-shattering breakthrough. According to Larry, there are four parts to a story. He splits the middle bit into two! 

 

Now, I get that this doesn't sound like earth shattering news, but for me it was because of the way he described those parts. I'm going to give you an ultra quick overview here, but I highly recommend you get his books for all of the in depth explanations. I mean this seriously, go out right now and get them. Then follow his blog. I keep his books on my desk at all times and have read Story Engineering twice, this is how much I love them and I check the blog as often as I'm able. 

 

Anyway, his story structure looks like this:

Part One: The Set Up--Where you set up your world, the protagonist as she is before things change with the inciting incident. First 20% of the novel

Part Two: The Reaction--Where your protagonist is reacting to the inciting incident and embarking on his journey. Second 20%

Part Three: The Attack--Happens after the midpoint of the story. Where the protagonist begins to fight back and really transforms. Third 20%

Part Four: The Resolution--The protagonist completes her character arc and defeats the antagonist. Fourth 20%

 

It seems really simple and practical and it is, but what I found really helpful is the breaking up of the middle. I never really understood the first part of that section until I saw how Larry broke it up. The reaction bit stumped me every time. I didn't understand how to show this, or even that this is what the character needed to do: react, but not necessarily triumph. Hit obstacles and not have all the answers or even a clear path just yet to follow. 

 

And the pacing bit, the dividing the word count/pages into quarters made so much sense as well. Now, I think there is a lot of leeway here, but it is helpful to go into my writing time with a general sense of how many words should be in each section so I am aware of when I deviate and I can determine if it's necessary to do so. Up until now, I've been outlining, sure, but not giving myself boundaries in terms of word count for the beginning, middle, and end, and as a result, my beginnings tend to run way over. Now, when I see myself taking too long, I go back and readdress, rework the scenes/my writing of them to make sure I keep the pacing tight which keeps me from veering hopelessly off course in that dreaded middle section. I find the guidelines strangely freeing both during the brainstorming/outlining process and during the actual drafting. 

 

What about you? Are you a Larry Brooks fan? Or do you have another plot structure that you use that blows your mind and helps you write? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear all about it!

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