I have to Give a Presentation :-(

Not sure if I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I’m a part of the local chapter of the Maryland Writer’s Association.

[Pause:  Let me go ahead and encourage any writer reading this to join up with writer organizations.  They’re great for gaining invaluable information and resources and for the one thing we NEVER get tired of, networking].

Anyway, as I wanted to increase my level of activity with them and give back to a group that’s given me so much, I was asked to give a presentation at our November meeting.  Definitely not what I had in mind, but I can deal.

My presentation will be on plot development.

I’ve read several books on plot, including Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.  In fact, use of those readings are what made Communion a candidate for self-publishing while Lamia’s Dream (my Succubus story) is only available on Wattpad.

In addition to referring to what I’ve learned from those books, I was also asked to compare the plot structures of several books by the same author.  For example, I’ve heard that bestselling authors like Stephen King and James Patterson use the same plot structure in a lot of their books.

With that being said, I’d like to ask for your help.  Can you tell me 3-4 titles by Stephen King or James Patterson that use similar plot structures?  How about for a different author?

The point of this presentation is NOT to encourage writers to “steal” the formula used by another author, but to teach them such formulas exist and open their mind up to possibilities.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

About B. Patterson

Avid Reader. Relentless Writer. Lover of Wisdom. Author of Communion.

Posted on August 20, 2013, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hello 🙂
    This is a complex subject which is so often mistaken as simple and the use of that little word “formula” is the main mistake people make when discussing it and it’s one of my pet peeves so you’re getting my help! 😀

    Speaking of King, first, though: he makes it clear in “On Writing” that despises planning and calls writers who plot lazy. Of course, you can see a certain structure to his work (through all the rambling which comes when you ignore structure lol) but if it’s there it’s not because he means it to be, so you probably shouldn’t use him as an example. One of the reasons King’s stories are so popular on the big and small screen is because his fabulous stories have been put into the hands of the masters of structure: screenwriters.

    I don’t know how long you have till your presentation but even it’s tomorrow, as a writer you should read the following anyway:

    Noah Lukeman’s “The Plot Thickens” – it’s one of the best books on plot development I’ve ever read.
    “Beginnings, Middles, and Ends”, by Nancy Kress explains the basics of structure in a way that is incredibly easy to absorb while not treating it lightly (it’s part of the Elements of Fiction Writing series)

    If you want to understand the deeper meanings of storytelling and myth then:
    Chris Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” is a necessity (and it wouldn’t hurt to read Joseph Campbells “Hero with a thousand faces”, too, since it’s based in that.)

    “Wired for Story” explains the neuroscience behind why story structures play a part in moving us.
    Ack! I could name so many more!

    In case you don’t have a lot of time for more reading, then let me address the “formula” issue because it’s obviously at the top of your mind and it will also address exactly what “plot” and “structure” are (and are not).

    “a plot” is the chain of events, the cause and effect, the “what happens” of a specific story.
    Note: If the plan a writer has for a story is so vague as to be able to apply to another, or many other stories, then it’s not a plot (despite the confusing misuse of the word by many), it’s a story structure which they have not yet fleshed out and they have a LOT of work to do! For example, “the hero’s journey” is a structure, not a plot.

    “to plot” is to plan out, or develop, the chain of events of a specific story – applying cause and effect to the various elements the writer has chosen to use: the characters, setting, time, etc…
    Note: plot development is NOT planning out how that plot/story will be told, that’s a style issue which needs to happen after the plot has been worked out. Writing a story in a non-linear way does not change its structure, it simply presents it in a different way – the time of the tale does not change just because we fiddle with the time of the telling.

    “Structure” has no different meaning in story craft than any other – it is the skeleton of a creature, the frame of a building – it determines what species, or what kind of building we have.

    If the structure is beginning, middle, end then the creature we have is a story – what kind of story can be adjusted by adding to that basic structure but all stories must have those three things, or they are not stories (again, they need not be presented in that order).

    So, if a structure can be applied to many stories, is a structure a formula? No. Not at all.

    A formula is both a complete description of its subject and a recipe thereof – if you apply the recipe you will create whatever it describes. A human skeleton by no means describes a complete being, a soup bowl promises a meal that will require a spoon, but by no means defines the soup.

    So is a plot – fully formed, detailed and specific – a formula? Again, no, but with qualifications.

    In as much as a plot is descriptive of its story, perhaps it is a formula, but it’s still not descriptive of the complete work because the work is not just the story – each writer would take that detailed plot and turn out different beasts – in my mind a formula or a recipe should be transferable to another cook or writer and still turn out the same object.

    So if a writer takes the plot of his last work, replaces all the relevant characters with new characters and the settings with new settings – is that a formula?

    Maybe, but only if he uses exactly the same kind of characters and the same kind of happenings (which those who have series about the same character can do.)

    If the writer uses characters which are even slightly different from the previous ones then the cause and effect is going to change the story quite a bit and all he’s done is use the structure of the previous novel to help him work out a whole new plot/story.

    Okay, that’s plenty long enough (almost should be my own blog post!) I hope that helps – let us know how the presentation goes 🙂


    • My blog post! You’ve destroyed it!

      Haha, just kidding.

      Thanks A LOT for your insightful comment. There’s certainly a lot more to plot and than I previously considered.

      In the sense that a formula turns out the same thing every single time regardless of who the author is, then you’re right, there’s no such thing. But there are certain plot elements or techniques that show up over and over again, especially among stories in the same genre.

      For example, a lot of paranormal/urban fantasy YA books start off with a protag who gets powers, but doesn’t want to use those powers, then is forced to use them… etc.

      Or, maybe in chapter one of “so-and-so’s” thriller novels, the body is first discovered. Think of a Law and Order episode. The first two or three minutes is some random person finding the body. The rest of the episode varies, but you know that body will be found in those first few minutes.

      Most of our members are inexperienced writers, so the presentation will be simple in its content. Your clarification on what plot ease vs. what it isn’t will be very handy.

      I won’t be giving the presentation until November, so I have a lot of time to get it together. I read A Hero with 1000 Faces in college and loved it! I’ll check out a few of the others you mentioned and let you know what I think.

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