Before I begin my discussion of Story Physics, Larry Brooks’ latest writer’s how-too book, I want to back up a bit and talk a bit about my favorite part of his previous life-changer, Story Engineering. Larry lays down 6 principles of novel writing. We’re familiar with them already: character, theme, concept (this section alone is worth the price of the book), scene execution, writing voice, and the section I want to get into now, story structure.
Structure is not a 4-letter word
Yes, friends and neighbors, Larry suggest we have a structure, a wireframe so so speak, for our novels. In fact, he suggests that the vast majority of successful novels contain this structure. Again, this should be nothing new to you. We’ve all heard of the 3-act play. It’s a solid structure that has supported gagillions of plays since the dawn of popcorn. Begginning, middle, and end. It doesn’t get much simpler.
Of course, whether we want to admit it or not, there’s more to the structure of both plays and novels than the simplistic 3-acts. There are milestones. Certain things must happen in a certain order, and within certain areas of the book. Put the inciting incident on page 178, and you may lose an editor to a mild case of backstory coma.
So how does Larry break it down? I’m glad you asked!
Milestones to Great and Awesome Novels
I highly recommend you get Larry’s book to fill in the details. But here’s a taste, the outline of his outline. I plan on taking it from my notes to a spreadsheet to outline my stories from now on. Remind me to make that available on this here blog. Okay, here’s the plan:
Part 1: The set up
– Opening scene. Your protag’s normal everyday existence with a bit (just a bit) of backstory.
– A hooking moment in the first 20 pages. Everyone loves the hook. It’s not, however, the first plot point. In Star Wars, we were hooked as soon as that big ol’ cruiser crossed the screen, but really it was about the time Luke was about to be turned into dust by the Sandperson (note my political correctness). However, Luke could still go back home and get on with his life after this. Shaken up and in need of a stiff drink of Gorglian punch, but life could go on.
-First plot point. This is huge. Don’t screw this up. Highlight your screen right here (now wipe that off). The first plot point occurs 20-25% into the book. Yes, placement is crucial. When you’ve got a dozen best-sellers to your name, you can screw with it. But if you’ve got a dozen best-sellers to your name, chances are you won’t want to. The first plot point is where everything changes for your protagonist. Quick, when did this happen to Luke Skykwalker? You got it, when he found Uncle and Aunty had been reduced to extra crispiness. His old life was gone. He couldn’t go back if he wanted to. His only course from this point on was to go off with Obiwan on some damn fool adventure. Your protag must have no choice at this stage but to take action and move in one direction. And what wonderful peril awaits her!
Part 2: The wandering protag
-First pinch point. This was new to me, but it made sense as I thought about the books I’d read and movies I’d seen. Simply stated, it’s where we get a glimpse of the antagonist or the antagonist forces. Shortly after the Millennium Falcon catapults into hyperspace, we get to pay a visit to the Death Star. But not just the Death Star. Who’s the antagonist here? Nothing fancy about Star Wars, it’s good guy\bad guy. We meet Darth Vader for the second time. But this time we really get to find out what he’s after. And it’s nothing more that domination of the entire universe. In Star Wars, it was kind of a long sequence, but it doesn’t have to be. Preferably, your protag can get the glimpse as well. In my current novel, my protag is up against some strong political forces, all encompassed in one man. I give him a glimpse through dialogue with another character, who knows the man personally. Nothing sinister, but ol’ Fred Starling will get a glimpse of the man he’ll face down in the last scene. The first pinch point should happen about 3/8ths into the book.
-Mid-point. Here’s another I’ve missed. The mid-point should happen in the middle, just in case you’re a little slow on the uptake. It’s nothing huge, but it kinda is. At the mid-point, the reader gets a glimpse behind the curtain. The protag may or may not get the same glimpse. Luke Skywalker does not, but we do. We get to watch the Death Star take out a planet like you would take out a housefly. Now we know what Luke’s up against. By the way, Obiwan felt the disturbance, which lead to some insight for Luke, though neither would find out for a few more minutes. So, at the mid-point, let’s get some crucial piece of information out. In my current novel…nah, you’ll have to wait and see.
Part 3: On the attack
-Second pinch point. Same as the first! Another run-in with our antagonist. About 5/8ths into the book. Now name it for Luke! Yes yes yes! The awesome light saber battler between Darth and Obiwan. Did you not love how the blast doors shut just as Luke is clamoring to get at his nemesis? Was that juicy or what? It literally was a “glimpse” of his antagonist. George, you rock.
-Second plot point. Here’s where the rubber meets the pothole. The final piece of the puzzle falls into place right about here, 75% into the book. Leah pulls up the hologram of the Death Star and reveals the weakness. Your detective gets the final clue. Don’t reveal the murderer yet! But your protag must have everything he needs. No more clues after this. No new characters. No new information.
Part 4: Resolution
-Final resolution. This, of course, is the Big Bang, quite literally in Star Wars. Your hero goes after the bad guy and takes him down. All major story lines are wrapped up. Of course, a wrap-up scene is usually required as well. Han Solo needs to get his medal, you know. But that’s just icing. The flagpole on your Empire State Building. Only if you make it ugly will anyone notice.
So that’s the basic structure. Why do I post this if it’s already in a book? The same reason you should on your blog: it helps me to learn. Once you’ve taught it, or wrote it, it helps you to think through the lesson and absorb it.
Again, I recommend you pick up Story Engineering and fill in the details.
How about you? Did you pick up anything that will help in your novel planning? For you pansters, does a structure like this help you “whittle” out your novel after the first draft?