Regardless of whether you’re a discovery writer or an outliner, you need to have some understanding of how plots are structured to build a successful story.
Now, whether it’s Hollywood’s Three-Act-Format or the Mono-myth/Hero’s Journey, the basic Roadmap technique or something else entirely, you’ll find that all authors, whether consciously or instinctively, have some sort of an overarching macro plot guiding them.
As diehard Game of Thrones fans will tell you, George R R Martin – one of the most strict discovery writers in fantasy/science fiction – has had in mind from the get-go the role that certain key characters would play in the ending of his Song of Ice and Fire.
Each different plotting technique has something to offer your story, and so it is a serious writer’s duty to at least understand how each different method works.
Some of you may have read my post about Dan Wells’ Seven-Point-Plot/Story-Structure, which functions as a roadmap, taking the reader on a journey from Point A to Point G. This method, while having a specific set of destinations, is much more loose and free about the route travelled than say, the Mono-myth. You have the liberty as a writer to be as direct or circuitous as you please.
Now, having personally tried and tested this seven-point method, I’ve found it incredibly helpful in works of short fiction, but somewhat lacking for longer works. But hey, I’m just not a fully-fledged discovery writer. I enjoy a little discovery here and there in my writing process, but the excitement in a great story for me, comes not in my own discovery of the story, but in trying to tell what I think is an awesome story/twist idea. I want all the pieces to fit and make sense in my head.
So what method should an outliner like adopt to build a more cohesive plan for their novel/series?
Well, where better to turn than to another of the three biggest names in fantasy right now, one with his foot solidly in the outliner camp, Brandon Sanderson.
As some of you may know, you can find a number of Brandon’s writing lectures over the past few years on YouTube. But fear not, as someone who has seen all forty-odd of them, and listened intently to the past six years of Writing Excuses, I have at least a hundred and fifty hours of writing content from Brandon and co. under my belt, and can give you the need-to-know information without you having to listen to them all yourself.
And so, without further ado, I give you the steps of how to plot like Brandon:
- Begin by listing all the payoff moments in your story. These are, as Howard Tayler calls them, the stand up and cheer moments; the moments achieved in the story that, when correctly built up to, will provide an awesome and satisfying payoff for the reader. ie. Characters A and B get together. Hero saves the day. So-and-so is revealed to be the murderer. Protagonist overcomes big personal setback. Villain gets much deserved fate. Etc.
- Build a roadmap to each and every payoff destination. The idea is to foreshadow each of these payoff moments with stops along the way, thus giving the reader a near-constant sense of progression.Some stops might even warrant their own payoff destination to build a route towards. (Just like Gympie is an inevitable stop along the way to Bundaberg from Brisbane.)
The first stop along the way is usually a good indication of a general direction and therefore story destination. ie. Characters A and B meet. Hero gains or is shown exercising some ability that will inevitably be needed/showcased in their saving the day. Someone is killed. Protagonist is limited in situations by personal setback/made aware of it. Villain does things to deserve fate. Etc.
- Find “truckstop towns”. These are scenes that will serve as connection hubs, places where stops on different routes might coincide. Ideally, your entire story will comprise of these scenes. Build a tourist attraction (something interesting about the setting) into your little truckstop town so that every scene will therefore simultaneously build plot, character and setting, thereby enriching your story and giving it a sense of constant progression.
And there you have it! That’s how Brandon works his magic.
I have yet to utilise this method in my own works, but given my tendency to get a bit mixed up when attempting anything longer than 20,000 words, I’m really excited to try applying this to a few different first novels for series I have in the works.
If you get a chance to try this yourself, please let me know how it works for you. I’m so curious to hear about anyone else’s experience using this plotting method.
QOTB: What’s your favourite epic fantasy novel?
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