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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Plotting Systems

I came away with mixed feelings about this last conference. They had some big name agencies represented, and those agents I met were quite congenial and informative, but the panels didn't meet my expectations. Last year's panels seemed more instructive and faster paced. There was also more to choose from.

There was a definite issue with the various levels of publishing experience among attendees. I'm at a point right now where I understand more than I did last year. But there were an awful lot of new writers still grappling with the ropes and much of the panels were taken up with their questions as they tried to come to terms with an entire industry. I don't blame them at all. This is why we go to conferences. But the speakers took an inordinate amount of time trying to get their message across, losing the attention and attendance of many of the more seasoned writers.

One speaker, whose panel I was very anxious to hear, spent nearly the first half of the session explaining internet basics. He had a lot of good information judging by the points he was going to cover in his handout, but we never got to them.

My other disappointment was that the conference was so overbooked I never found any of my online or live workshop friends. And the panels were packed to capacity. If you found a seat, you were lucky.

I did make new friends though, so all was not lost.

One of my favorite speakers this year was Linda Rohrbough. I liked her no nonsense approach to writing. She spoke on the various systems available for novel development. I was familiar with each one she mentioned but it was nice to get an encapsulated explanation for all of them.

She discussed storyboarding, which I've never been comfortable using. A storyboard can be created electronically or with index cards. The basic idea is that you have to pinpoint every turning point in the plot. Storyboards are good for people who need a visual medium in order to see their story.

We also covered the Hero's Journey by Chris Vogler. I've taken a previous workshop on Vogler's work and I'm also a big fan of Joseph Campbell so I already knew the steps for the hero's journey. Basically, we have: 1. The call to adventure, 2. The hero is tested within an unfamiliar world, 3. He faces the supreme ordeal, 4. He is rewarded, 5. He returns and is reintegrated into society.

Then there is plotting using the 4-act play. I learned this one from a friend of mine and it's what I use most often in creating my plots. I find it helps my pace and focuses on the turning points within the plot. Using the 4-act play system, you divide the story into quarters, escalating the conflict as you move forward until you reach the black moment when it looks like our heroes aren't going to make it.

Since this is a system I like using the most, I'll discuss this at length in a later post. But I do recommend reading scripts and analyzing successful movies as a means of deconstructing a plot.

Another plotting system that was brought up was the snowflake method. I have to admit, I've never warmed up to this one, but Ingermanson is pretty successful with it, and it's pretty simple. Check out his website for more details.

The snowflake method starts out with a one-sentence summary of the story and then expands on it. I think what turns me off is that he gives you timelines to do everything. I may be a slow writer, but it doesn't take me a week (or more) to figure out plot. Other than that, I do follow this technique to some degree.

I start out with a blurb, build on the plot points and then on the kind of characters that need to carry this particular plot. "Pantsers" won't like this system, but if you tend to be kind of structured (like me) you might reap some benefit from Ingermanson's website.

We also discussed Character Grids. This is something I do once my outline is established. This system reinforces the goal, motivation and conflict of each of your characters. The reason I like this is because it forces me to make each character accountable for what they do (or don't do). It also shows me the end result of each of their actions.

Debra Dixon is the author that is often credited with this formula. I have yet to get her book, but I plan to.

There was a lot more that was covered but I think I hit the highlights.

Tomorrow: Editing