Friday, May 13, 2011

Theme and Structure (Part 4 Larry Brooks notes)

You've read 

Part 1: Developing Story Concept
Part 2: Continuity in Story
Part 3: Never Rescue Your Character

Finally, I can give you Part 4 of my Larry Brooks notes, the final part. 

Part 4: Theme and Structure

Ring Lock Scaffolding picture from this site

Theme: How a reader relates the story you've told to their world view

This includes lessons or morals in children's books, and also universal truths in all books. 

Themes naturally appear with the consequences to your characters' choices.

I think that's all that needs to be said about theme. It's something we inherently understand, and the best advice I've heard about it is not to put a spotlight on it. Readers don't want to be hit over the head with the lesson, but if it happens naturally (like Dumbledore asking Harry not to go looking again for the Mirror of Erised, for "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.") well then, that's just perfect. But themes don't need to be stated in witty adages, either. They can be implied by what is not said. 

Story Structure:

(Happy/sad story: I had to leave the 2-hour presentation at this point to go to my pitch session with the phenomenal Kirk Shaw, an editor at Covenant Communications. Larry had been nice enough to help me with my pitch a bit during the snack break so he knew when I stood up to leave that I wasn't ditching his class for fun. He called out, "Good luck!" and told everyone I was going to pitch. I walked out of the room to the applause of my peers. It was a very nice send off and I was appropriately pumped for my pitch session [which went AWESOME, by the way. If you ever have the chance to talk to Kirk Shaw, I highly recommend it]. I tell this story to point out that these are not my notes, but borrowed notes taken by my lovely friends, Angie and Beckie. Here I go...)

Know Your Story's Core Essence

That's the little plan I copied down from their notes and below is a more detailed explanation for what it means. 400 pages/60 scenes is just something to shoot for, to help you break things up. In between the parts are plot points also described below. 

Part I- Set up: introduce your hero, state what's at stake, evoke empathy from your reader. Why should they keep reading?

Plot Point 1: inciting incident, first exposure to the stakes. The true nature of the journey unfolds.

Part II- Response to Plot Point 1: after the inciting incident and first exposure to the stakes, what does the character want or need? This response shouldn't be heroic yet because the character hasn't had a chance to grow past her initial flaws. About midway through this response, add even more conflict. 

Midpoint: changes the context of the story. Reader or hero learns something (maybe makes a decision) that changes the stakes.

Part III- Attack the problem: by implementing whatever decision was made during the midpoint. 

Plot Point 2: final piece of the puzzle falls into place. Your hero has learned everything she needs to know. Don't introduce new characters past this point. Internal conflict may be resolved around this time.

Part IV- Resolution: External conflict is conquered or resolved. Wrap up loose ends.

Scene Execution

Every scene must be mission driven, must move along the story in at least three ways (i.e. move plot, character development, reveal something, conflict or resolution).

Enter a scene at the last possible moment and leave as early as you can. No going to the bathroom, picking up the floss play-by-play.

That's it for Part 4 of my notes! If the little chart I made doesn't do it for you, you can always go straight to the source and check out Larry Brooks' blog, I highly recommend it. 

He also has a new book out called Story Engineering which I'm told is story plotting GOLD.

Funny and delightful interview with Lindsey Leavitt on Operation Awesome today. It's a group interview, which are my favorites because we each got a chance to ask her our itching questions about Princess for Hire and Sean Griswold's Head. She's a phenomenal author who writes in a voice teens understand about topics of import, like how to have an impact on your world. Check out that interview here.

Anne Riley reviews Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini! I love the idea of a girl getting the bizarre urge to kill someone she's just met only to find out they're children of feuding gods. Awesome!

Afterglow contributors Angie Cothran and Beckie Caverhill have a new writing blog with their critique group called Live to Write... Edit When Necessary! They're brand new and already we've got some riveting conversation about adverbs and -ing verbs going on. :) Come join.

Blogger has been haywire, as I'm sure you've noticed. I hope being able to publish this blog is a good sign and that things that appear to be lost will return someday. :) 

If you're able to comment, let me know: what did Blogger eat at your place?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting these! I was at the conference, but obviously couldn't go to all the good stuff happening.


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