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Plot development help

(8 Posts)
fannyfelcher Wed 25-Oct-17 14:55:39

Hey all. I have recently started an MA in Creative Writing at Edgehill Uni. I am loving the course but I am quite miffed that there is no help / modules at all in plot development. Without blowing my own trumpet, my writing is good, my marks are excellent, I know that. But when it comes to plot development I am just useless. Most of my ideas only tend to work as short stories and while I know other people can develop them into more , I just seem to waiver at that point. This means that I a constantly falling back on life writing instead of stretching myself to write the fiction that I know I can......all because I can't seem to develop a decent plot.

How do you all do it? It feels a bit like when I tried to long division when I was 7. It just isn't happening!

GetAHaircutCarl Thu 26-Oct-17 08:20:43

I think one of the problems with MAs in CW is that they focus very much on generalised inspiration and line level analysis, when novels require a much bigger over view.

Teasing out a plot that works on a macro level is one of the main skills a writer needs ( obviously) yet remains tricky for many. So you're not alone in this smile.

My advice would be to try to forget the line level aspect of writing for now. Beautiful descriptions, snappy dialogue, voice; that can all wait.

What you need to focus on is story. What happens and perhaps more importantly to who.

Think of your favourite books and films and box sets. Ask yourself what was it about the MCs that drew you in. What happened to them and what did they do.

It might help to analyse these stories next to some classic texts on plot; The Hero's Journey, Story, The Seven Basic Plots.

Some writers are sniffy about this, feeling that analysing story like this results in formulaic work. But I think that entirely misses the point. Great cooks don't ignore the recipes of David or Roux, do they?

Once you can see how story works you can then set to making your own. Why not apply the Hero's Journey ( mostly I use the Heroine's Journey) to your MC and note down what might happen to them at each stage. Use broad brush strokes initially, then get more and more detailed. Remember you're not show horning your characters into set pieces, you're simply placing them at a plot point and asking how they would authentically react.

Eventually, you should end up with a coherent plot.

GetAHaircutCarl Thu 26-Oct-17 08:36:16

I should add that my comments are predicated on the assumption that you have an MC that you know very well.

It is very hard to work put how someone will react at a given beat, if you don't know them we'll enough. Obviously, they might surprise you in their journey but that's a different scenario to starting it with a virual stranger.

GetAHaircutCarl Thu 26-Oct-17 08:37:04

Sorry for typos I'm on a rattly train grin.

schmalex Fri 27-Oct-17 08:23:45

I completely Echo what Carl says. I’m also currently on an MA, but I’ve already published a few books. Creative writing MAs don’t seem to cover plot and structure, but screenwriting books do. Another book I’d recommend is John Yorke’s Into the Woods.
Your character needs some kind of goal and obstacles to get in his/her way.
Analysing your favourite books is a good idea - you can pick out the major turning points and use the structure to hang yours on.

GetAHaircutCarl Fri 27-Oct-17 08:45:12

Yes and JY talks a lot not just about what story points are but why they're there.

It chimes very much with my pet theory that story structure is a psychological drive to understand the world and human consciousness. Which is why the best stories touch us. They explore our deepest questions ( not necessarily providing any answers).

Zadie Smith likens writing to building a house and how too little attention is paid to the scaffolding, often because writers, like builders dismantle it when the job is finished.

And this is one of the main deficiencies in MAs. Students spend time looking at how to build the foundations ( inspiration, theme, tone) and then jump to the detailed finish of windows and doors ( line level analysis).

Where is the time spent on what will keep the house standing?

starbrightnight Mon 04-Dec-17 00:54:32

Brilliant explanation, thank you.

greyfriarskitty Fri 15-Dec-17 14:16:42

Rather than reading Joseph Campbell in the raw, The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler applies Campbell's ideas to plots - mainly in films, but it's very easy to translate to literature. He explains the basic structure and it works for everything (really, I used to work in formatted tv shows, and it describes their plot arc perfectly).

Story by Robert McKee is bigger and takes itself very seriously, but I didn't find it as revelatory.

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