by John Peragine
For NaNoWriMo, I decided it was time to write book two of my trilogy, The Secrets of the Twilight Djinn. I learned volumes by just finishing the first book of the series. Book one was a bit of a fluke (I wrote about it here and here) and I had to make a decision on how to approach book two.
I had no real plans for publishing the first book, as I had written a chapter a day for my son's bedtime story. He has a chronic serious illness and the original story was created to soothe all of the emotions connected long hospital stays. It was not until a couple years later that my son insisted that I publish his book, now titled Max and the Spice Thieves.
Book one was definitely a pantser book. It took several rewrites and edits before I could honestly say it is done. As I worked on it, I realized that the book was going to be a trilogy. (Since a fourth book has formulated in my head, it might end up being a bigger series than originally expected.)
However, for book two, I'm switching sides and plotting it out. Step one: Gaining direction by reviewing my first book to see where I had been. The Hero's Journey is embedded in my brain since I used it with many of my ghostwriting projects so it was no surprise to find it was the underpinning of Max and the Spice Thieves.
Excellent! A structure I could re-use. Tolkien and Rowling did, so why can't I? Then doubt crept in and I wondered: Are there other tried and true plot structures I could be using?
Let's explore those...
This structure is used a lot in epic tales and epic movies like Star Wars, Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and so much more. Joseph Campbell is probably the most well-known person to discuss the Hero's Journey and its relation to myths. It centers around a hero who is torn from their ordinary life and is pushed into a world they never imagined to complete a hero's quest.
My favorite book describing this structure is The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. Here are the 12 steps:
The link in the first paragraph gives a really good layout of how the Hero's Journey works, using diagrams and examples from two movies (Star Wars and The Matrix).
For Agatha Christie fans, this is a formula that creates the pace, subplots, and red-herrings and reveals a great mystery novel. Click here for an excellent in-depth description of this plot formula. This link also includes "Raymond Chandler's 10 commandments for writing a detective novel" and "Frank Gruber's Fool-proof 11-Point Formula for Mystery Short Stories."
Here are the components of Agatha Christie's method:
Mysteries often have at least one or more subplots. Work on these first before breaking them into scenes.
You can organize your book further into 4 acts.
Dan Wells is a well-known, best-selling horror book series writer. His very nice set of videos describing his structure, based on one of his conference presentations, can be found here.
Ever imagine your book as a screenplay? The 8 sequences Method is often used to plot out screenplays and can also be used for writing novels. Click here for a solid description of this method, which involves the following:
Just like the plot outline for mysteries, you will want to work out you plot and subplots first.
You can organize your sequences into acts. Acts are like chapters in that they contain a sequence of events, that need to be resolved in the next act.
This plot structure uses elements of the Hero's Journey and screenplay writing. Click here to explore this method.
This structure, detailed by Michael Hockney, is for the When Harry Met Sally fans, as it works well with romantic comedies. Mernit organizes his beats (sequences) as follows:
For those that like a more traditional romance formula- Jami Gold offers a nine beat structure.
These beats represent inciting incidents and pinch points for the characters.
These acts are similar to other plot structures as a way organize sequences. The acts also represent main plot points in the story.
I've recently started using Plottr to build my book. It is simple and relatively inexpensive. My two favorite features are that you can export your plot into Scrivener and that some of the plots I have described in this article are available as templates. Several WITS bloggers also use OneStop for Writers for help with plotting and characters.
There are many more plot structures, and perhaps I will do a follow-up blog with some more ideas. I like to take these structures and use them as a foundation, and then make changes that suit my style and my story. There is no right or wrong plot structure or strategy for writing your book! Whatever works for YOU is the best method.
Do you use a specific plot structure in your books? Do you think they help or hinder the creative process? Are you a plotter, pantser, or a combination of the two? We want to hear about it down in the comments!
John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine Enthusiast, Grapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.
John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, Max and the Spice Thieves, will be released on April 20, 2021. JohnPeragineBooks.com. Click here for a free first chapter. (The new cover is below!)
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