15 September, 2015


Plot: verb (gerund or present participle: plotting)

1. devise the sequence of events in (a play, novel, movie, or similar work).
  2. secretly make plans to carry out (an illegal or harmful action).

When you write mysteries, plotting probably involves both definitions, but last weekend I participated in a Power Plotting workshop given by Mary Buckham to hone my craft in the first one.

I’d previously taken several of her on-line courses (Active Setting, Pacing, Body Language, First Five), but never a “live” workshop. I should have been forewarned.

The class, which is based on the book she co-wrote with Dianna Love titled: Break Into Fiction, was intensive and exhausting, but so rewarding.  The book includes eleven plotting templates and we spent two-days working through them (we’d been assigned the first two as pre-workshop homework). For each template, the book gives examples from four movies: Pretty Woman (templates for both Vivian and Edward), Finding Nemo, Casablanca, and The Bourne Identity. During the workshop Mary also included other examples such as G.I. Jane and several popular TV shows.

You might be thrown when asked “What is the character lacking internally at the beginning of your story that will change by the end of the story?” but when you read the example answers based on the  movie plots, it’s an instant "AHA" moment. I couldn’t believe  how simple plotting became, broken down into  eleven critical steps, when I had instant reference points. It was like paint-by-numbers, but adaptable to any fiction genre.

The workshop also afforded each of the ten participants one or more one-on-one meetings (in addition to 2 group lunches and dinners) with Mary to discuss our individual plots and problems. Each attendee’s reaction to these meetings was the same: Wow, why didn’t I see that before?

I am, I confess, an inveterate pantser, so I wasn’t sure that learning to plot was going to fit my writing process.

I was so wrong.

A plotter will use the templates before hitting the keyboard.  For a pantser, they are the perfect review system, highlighting plot holes, missed conflict, slow pacing, and flat characters.  

Before ending the class we also covered templates for pacing, endings and dialog, as well as a tutorial on the art of writing hooks. Did you know that there are ten types of hooks? And they can be combined to make even more powerful hooks?

So now, the world has ten more master plotters and hookers!(Pun intended) Thanks, Mary.

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