darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
[personal profile] darkemeralds
Anyone want to study an amazing writing technique with me?

Every bit of writing training I've ever been exposed to has defined "good writing" as clean prose, strong characterization, dramatic conflict, lively dialogue, concise description, etc., etc., etc.

But apart from "It should have a beginning, a middle and an end," I've never had story structure broken down and explained--or even mentioned. I've never consciously observed it in my reading. I didn't really know it existed. It's been all flesh, no bones.

Larry Brooks lays out the bones, and once you see them, you can't unsee them.



Using an engineering perspective and a claim that the human mind just "works this way," Brooks presents a structural template that all good (salable, publishable, popular, memorable, critically successful) stories follow.

His theory explains why Dan Brown is a bestselling novelist without being a "writer" at all by the standards we lit majors ordinarily apply. It's the stuff that makes you forgive plot holes and suspend disbelief and let clumsy prose slide by, because you're too busy turning the pages to mind.

But lest you think it's a method for hacks only: no! the structure applies equally to The DaVinci Code and The Goldfinch, to romance novels and action flicks and long, quiet character-driven dramas. His reductionist bag of bones can be found under the beautiful flesh of most highbrow literary fiction.

In essence, Brooks's structure goes like this:

1. Setup
2. First Plot Point
3. First Pinch Point
4. Midpoint
5. Second Pinch Point
6. Second Plot Point
7. Resolution

If each of those elements, which he defines, comes at the right point, which he quantifies in exact percentages, you can write like Dan Brown and still be considered a great storyteller. If you miss those marks, you can write like [insert your most admired literary star here] and fail.

So I figure, why not write as beautifully as I can and hit the marks? Best of both worlds, right?



A lot of writers and editors no doubt intuit their way to this structure, but I'm done groping around in the dark. This guy has handed me the keys to the room where all the light switches are, and I want to share them. I need a critique/study partner or two to work the method with and get better at applying it.

So who's interested in learning more?

(no subject)

11/8/14 20:01 (UTC)
tehomet: (Eddie Izzard and the element of surprise)
Posted by [personal profile] tehomet
Even to a non-writer like me, this is fascinating stuff.

(no subject)

11/8/14 22:28 (UTC)
blueraccoon: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] blueraccoon
The story structure I remember learning about was mostly in the line of introduction, middle, climax, denouement. I always have trouble with the last two especially with my epics because I'm totally making it up as I go, and if you ask me where the climax of FF was I honestly couldn't tell you.

Mostly I'm intuiting it as I go, and I figure as long as I keep the plot semi-coherent and build characters people want to read about I'm doing okay. And with the remaining epic (and the id-fic) on my plate I don't have a lot of time to spare for new projects...but I will be interested to see what you come up with!

(no subject)

12/8/14 01:09 (UTC)
blueraccoon: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] blueraccoon
I think this is a framework that can work but I'm not sure it can work for me. I mean, with FF I had a general idea of where I was going from the beginning, it just took me 64 chapters to get there, and that story would never, ever work as a pro novel because it is so intuitive and free-flow and I made it up as I went. On the other hand, had I tried to write it as a pro novel I'd have crashed and burned long before I finished it, because what kept me going most of the time was the reader interaction.

With WC, my current epic, I have a lot more of an idea of where I'm going as I go but I'm still surprising myself every few chapters, which is also how I keep it fresh and interesting to me as well as the reader. If I know everything that's going to happen in the next five chapters, they're no longer interesting to me to write and I stop bothering.

Maybe this is a sign I'm never meant to be a professional author, I don't know. I just know that what I write has to be interesting to me to keep going with it, and for me a lot of the time that means just seeing where the story takes me rather than plotting it all out in advance.

(no subject)

13/8/14 05:06 (UTC)
greghatcher: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] greghatcher
Actually, that's more or less how we used to map it out at the old WITH workshops, and it's how I teach it in Young Authors. We used different names for it though-- it was explained to me as "the classic three-act structure," and each act had several jobs to do. Act one, introduce everyone, pose the problem, and then reveal why the obvious solution won't work. Act two is to escalate the tension, raise the stakes for the hero, make it imperative that the problem MUST be solved. Act three is where your hero has an epiphany or realization, connects the personal change that is necessary with what he or she needs to do to solve the problem and applies that-- face your fear, lose your arrogance, whatever, you know, some emotional thing like that-- then, lesson learned and out.

Of course, not every story works EXACTLY that way, but most of them do. Certainly, mine do. Offhand the only recent one of mine that doesn't strictly adhere to that structure is the Sherlock Holmes one I did for Ron and that WAS essentially fanfic, though Holmesians call it 'pastiche.' Working on a new Holmes now that pretty much falls into that structure, the stakes are more personal this time out. It's a little tougher with series characters because you want to test them, but you also can't break the toys for the person that follows you. Finding new ways to do that, to serve an audience that's paying for a specific experience while at the same time surprising them and staying ahead of them is an entertaining challenge.
Edited 13/8/14 05:09 (UTC)

(no subject)

13/8/14 05:21 (UTC)
greghatcher: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] greghatcher
Quick additional thought-- occasionally in class I'll show a movie to illustrate structure, especially how the exterior conflict has to reflect the interior one, and TV pilots are GREAT for this. They're loud and obvious enough about it that students can see how it's working, it's the cinematic equivalent of an engineer's cutaway diagram. A pair of old Gene Roddenberry pilots, THE QUESTOR TAPES and PLANET EARTH, are incredibly useful to me especially with my middle-school kids.

(no subject)

13/8/14 14:36 (UTC)
greghatcher: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] greghatcher
All of these new ones are for Ron Fortier at Airship 27 productions, one of the more established "new pulp" publishers. The Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series of anthologies are the most popular of the books that he does, and so the demand for Holmes stories there is pretty high. The mandate is straight old-school Victorian-era Holmes mysteries, no vampires or time travel or meeting Jack the Ripper or any of that sort of thing. I wrote about the challenges of doing it here, if you are interested. "The Adventure of the Infernal Inheritance" appeared in volume six and if I can get it together I hope to have "A Case of Identities" in volume seven-- deadline is December first but I can probably beat that. Both of mine are straight-up sequels-- the first follows up with Doyle's "The Empty House" and the new one is about solving the murder of James Windibank from "A Case of Identity."

Plot mechanics are the hardest thing for most people who write, which is why I was sort of shocked you'd never run across it before until I remembered that it wasn't until I got flown out for the first of the WITH workshops in '93 that no one had explained it to me either. All these things-- three-act structure, Chekov's law of the unfired gun, etc., etc., they're all predicated on the rule of rising action, constantly escalating the emotional stakes. The ramp always goes UP to the climax. Anything not on the ramp is nonessential, and though you certainly are free to wander off it-- many do; even action writers like Ian Fleming and John D. MacDonald both tend to digress-- but if you wander TOO far you'll lose people. Tom Clancy got terribly mired down in his digressions towards the end of his career: HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER is a magnificent pulpy adventure with lots of fun detailed asides, but each book after that got slower and slower, until everything after WITHOUT REMORSE is so overstuffed with irrelevant information and editorial opinion that the plot moves like a truck continually getting stuck in the mud.

But this is all hindsight-- I suddenly could see all these things after the magazine editorial retreat working with folks who do it for a living. Learned more that first weekend of workshopping stuff than in the previous decade of trying to hack out stories on my own-- something I used to luck into suddenly became something I could COMMAND. It makes a huge difference. It's why I enjoy teaching the high school Young Authors classes so much, seeing them suddenly level up the same way is great fun.

And you've never heard of QUESTOR? It is pretty obscure, certainly, but most folks in fandom know about the four failed post-original Trek Roddenberry pilots: GENESIS II, PLANET EARTH, THE QUESTOR TAPES, and SPECTRE. They are finally all out on home video of one kind or another now after being Trekkie bootlegger evergreens for decades. You used to be able to find them all on YouTube but Universal put a stop to that.

(no subject)

14/8/14 13:37 (UTC)
scribblemoose: default dw icon (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] scribblemoose
I first came across this structure from Dan Wells's presentation on YouTube. I've used it so much since - I'm a bit of a pantser, so I tend to start writing with no idea where I'm going, but then come to a stop about half way through. It's then that I fit what I have with the structure, and then I find the end just slips into place. It's especially helpful for multi-strand plots and subthemes.

Awesome stuff. Imagination + Engineering is what makes human beings great. :)

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