The following is an excerpt from my new book due out later this year called, “How To Write a Book Book: For the 1st Time Writer”.
In studying literature and masters of teaching literature, I understand there are many books about plot and story structure. You will find most on the internet when you look up the word plots. One author of classic literature offered a list of 69 plots (Kipling), and a master of literary dialogue states there are only two types (Aristotle): simple and complex. A plot is really just a fancy way of describing the details of characters and action inside the beginning, middle and end [also Aristotle] of the story.
In my opinion, there are three ways divide these plots under story structure headings so they encompass all of the plots mentioned by the masters while simplifying them for the beginning writer.
- Global Plot Structure
- Character Plot Structure
- The One Motivator Structure
The Global story structure deals with a global event that acts upon the characters abiding within an environment. Examples of these types of stories would include:
Apocalyptic Themes; Countries at War or in Conflict; a New World Order; Alien Invasion; A part of the country after an earthquake; Global Warming; Worldwide shut down of Internet; Pandemic or Mass Epidemic.
These stories usually have a cast of characters who live or try to survive an event effecting everyone in their environment. The best of these types of books have been adapted to movies. Those writers include: Stephen King (Under the Dome) ; George Orwell (1984); George Stewart (Earth Abides); Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities); and John Jakes (North and South). The characters are motivated by the event in some way to meet a challenge, find someone or something missing, or proceed from one point to another in order to survive or thrive. The event has shifted character’s focus and changes ordinary activities of daily living, forcing all the characters to adapt.
Global novels usually have lead characters that hold more central action but they share the challenges of the environment with all the characters. Global stories are usually filled with complicated character archetypes we will study later.
Structures of the Global story will often lean towards opening the book with the action of a global event within the first few chapters by narration or through dialogue. We will cover the methods of plotting of these types of stories in my chapter called Plots and Plants.
The Global story will involve many characters but include snippets of their past and focus on their participation with others to meet the challenges of the global event. The character driven structure may seem close in description, but in itself is set apart by the depth of the character description and invention.
The Character driven story will revolve around one or two central characters trying to meet a challenge. The challenge can be complicated, and seem insurmountable, but the writer will add motivations to keep the reader involved and the story moving forward.
This type of story will see a change in the main character’s attitude in some way. His growth or change may be mental, physical, or emotional through interaction with other characters or the environment. The story is most often written in first person, with little to no omniscient narration. It is more focused on the characters than a larger event or environmental change.
The specific difference in this story type is a focus on how the main character responds to challenges or events and how their lives change because of them. The Global event story has a larger focus of effect on a cast of characters resulting in changes rippling out to change a social order.
While the character driven story can take place in any genre (romance, thriller, science fiction, mystery, adventure, adolescent, non-fiction, and erotica), the global story often can fit into many of these genres at one time. Example: Under the Dome by Stephen King could be considered a global story within a genre of science fiction, thriller, mystery, or adventure.
The character driven story is the most common plot structure for book writing. Most classical literature reflects fictional stories of characters that face specific challenges that test the moral or mental tenacity of him or her. While the main character is a central focus in character writing, there is another type of character offered in the next division called The One Motivator.
The One Motivator structure (most often adventure genre) focuses all supporting characters to interaction with a thing, animal, or inanimate object. The thing or object is often hidden, or creates havoc. If it’s an animal, it will be the primary focus in the adventure or it creates the motivation for all events and characters actions within the story.
Examples of the this type of story would be Jack London’s Into the Wild [one of my favorite books as a teenager]. This story is told by the narrator from the point of view of the dog and his masters through the book. The environment becomes a character along with the dog to create a challenge of survival for both the dog and the characters around him. Most people would place this book in the characters structure, and under the adventure genre, however I disagree because the narrative is omniscient and the environment plays a major role in the action of all the characters second only to the dog. The story only partially falls into the character story and partially under global, so it fits better into the One Motivator story.
Another old story that resembles this structure is that of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (Published in 1929). It was later to be a movie staring Humphrey Bogart. This is a mystery with a slick detective and the thing focused on in the story becomes a falcon statue of some value. All the characters actions revolve around this treasure and their quest to obtain it. The greed it creates thus creates the desire, deceit and changes the moral character of each player in the story. The story is told in a narrative voice with description of the character’s actions and dialogue. The falcon is the One Motivator of this story structure.
The One Motivator structure can be delineated from character and global stories in one way…the thing, animal, alien, or object takes on a life of its own. There are always several characters involved who rotate around this motivator for all action. The motivator is on the page at all times in some form. It is worth saying for future reference in plotting that the One Motivator structure will be more commonly seen in writing screenplays for film and stage than in book writing. [This is probably why The Maltese Falcon was easily adapted to the movie screen.]
Knowing about structure is important to help you define the limits of your story and the voice you want the reader to hear on page one. It forces you to focus on what story you are going to tell, and how it will unfold from the beginning to the end. Setting up structure is part of plotting your work. For the beginner, this is often intimidating but with key elements for structure, style and hints on plotting options, it becomes much easier.
Plotting can be helpful to some people but hinder other writers. Stephen King states in his book, On Writing, that he does not develop plots but instead just tells a story. He goes onto express that you either tell a story or you don’t, so just tell it. I must agree that any plot is simply a beginning, a middle and an end with interesting stuff in between to keep the reader turning pages. Some writers go to great depths to plan every moment, a lot of the dialogue, and even page numbers and chapters into programs that keep track of plotted sections of the work. However, this kind of detail can be a daunting task to undertake when you are trying to develop your first novel. Instead, I will offer a list of plot points that should be included in planning, a few ways to use diagrams or software to help, and basic ways to use plot points that fit into the three structures I have described in this chapter.
I will address what kind of writer you are in the next chapter to help you define your inner writer and style. Knowing this will help you decide the best way to approach your book project and how to finish it!