At the latest Write Links meeting on the 8th of July, Tyrion Perkins presented a comprehensive workshop on structure and plotting novels.
She shared her considerable experience, research, notes and references. We are so lucky to have such generous members in our writing community.
While Tyrion guided us through the simple three-act structure, she was clear to point out that plotting and structure are not the first step to writing your book.
First you need to brainstorm the possibilities! Collect a folder full of ideas and use them to start brainstorming. From this explosion of creativity choose your setting, characters and themes. With these you can work out the outline of your story.
Presuming that we have an outline, Tyrion used her zoological background (and sense of humour), to show us that the next step is like constructing a dinosaur skeleton. Structure is the spine onto which we hang the head, legs, ribs and tail of our story.
Leading us through a simple three-act structure we learnt the role of each Act, the proportion of the story of each act and what should be included in each act and when.
By following the three-act structure we learnt how to;
Of course, the part we were all waiting for was how to apply this to our own work. It seems to be widely accepted that the humble corkboard is the most flexible option. Tyrion suggested that first we write down the events in our story and our character arc using the following structure list.
Tyrion says ‘While you’re finding these (events), ask yourself: Can you make any of these bigger, more interesting, and with higher stakes? These plot points define your story. If they’re not big and impressive, your story won’t be either.’
When the sheet is completed, grab your corkboard, cards, sticky notes, coloured pins and pens (or purchase Scrivener). Write your scenes on different cards. Lay them down and shuffle them about to work out which order flows best.
When you have the cards in the right order you may want to rewrite the scenes onto different colour cards to show different subplots, characters etc.
Use your structure list (above) and coloured pins and post-it notes to signal the structure points and chapters. Then bring it all together with transition scenes. Tyrion suggests working out the plot points in your favourite novels for practice.
I came away from this workshop with renewed energy for my writing. I know that I need to brainstorm and outline my story. Then plot my story using the three act structure. From there I will be able to write the story according to the (often limited) time I have.
Following this structure will give me a sense of direction and should cut down the number of rewrites. Even a pantser can benefit from using structure to iron out any problems after the first draft.
Tyrion finished by saying ‘All of these methods are open to things changing as you write but they lay a solid foundation so you know where you are going’.
I know where I’m going! Off to the shops for a corkboard, sticky notes, pins …
Report by Lucy McGinley
Lucy lives in a house where dinosaurs roam the bathroom, chess pieces invade the dinner table and bikes, tennis racquets and AFL balls fill the boot of her car. Words wrap around her like possums clinging to telecom lines, plop onto pages steadily like koala droppings and dart into the grass like blue tongue lizards! She spends her days captivating kindergarten children and her afternoons marvelling over bird’s feathers, seedpods and occasionally snake skins, with her son.
Lucy blogs on lucymcginley.wordpress.com and followthatchild.wordpress.com