Structure Part 6–Getting Primal & Staying Simple

Image courtesy of Jami Gold WANA Commons

Sorry for the delay in posting. Busier than a one-legged man at a butt-kickin’ contest today. Some cool announcements, though. I am teaching a fun class called ACHOO! The Writer’s Guide to Going Viral and it’s only $25. Also have a really cool Facebook class coming up taught by FB expert Lisa Hall-Wilson, which I actually will be attending because I know that there is probably a lot about Facebook even I don’t know. Need to keep my Social Media Jedi status and all. So I hope you’ll join me. And if, after all this plot stuff we’ve been talking about, you STILL feel like your head is about to explode? I recommend Jami Gold’s Plotting for Pantsers class.

Anyway, back to structure, since that’s why y’all are here. Or it’s a condition of your parole *shrugs*

Okay, so if you have read all the blogs in this series, you should understand what makes a scene vs. a sequel, understand the three-act dramatic structure. You also understand that the antagonist—or Big Boss Troublemaker—is the engine of your story. Without the BBT, your protagonist’s world would remain unchanged. The BBT’s agenda drives the story. It is the engine. No engine, no forward motion. By this point, you should be able to decipher a good idea from a not-so-good idea and then, once decided, state what your book is about in ONE sentence. You can have up to three, but let’s shoot for one.

Welcome to part SIX of my series on novel structure–whoo-hoo! Today we are going to discuss gimmick versus fundamentals of a good story.

First, gimmick. Here is the thing. There are only so many plots. DO NOT try to get creative with plot. Everything has been done. Seriously. Remember Part One of this series? There are only so many elements on the Periodic Table, yet everything in the universe is made up of some combination of these elements. Think of core plots like the elements on the Periodic Table.

Many new writers make writing a novel way too hard in that they try to reinvent the wheel. The wheel works. Leave the wheel alone. You do not have to revinvent plot as we understand it to tell a darn good story.

I find a lot of new writers get really excited about gimmick. Gimmick is dangerous, and gimmicks can bite back. Don’t believe me? Okay…M. Night Shyamalan. He got us with The Sixth Sense, but after that? It was over. Why? Because the “magic” only worked with a naïve audience. After The Sixth Sense we were like CSI Vegas with every Shyamalan story. Short of using a swab kit and blacklight, we paid attention to every last little detail trying to figure out the twist ending.

This also limited Shyamalan in that he was doomed if he did and doomed if he didn’t. If he told a story with a twist ending, then the audience (no longer naïve) was looking for the clues, so no ending could possibly measure up to The Sixth Sense. But, if Shyamalan tried to do a movie with no twist and do something different, then the audience was ticked because there was no twist.

Shyamalan, in my opinion, is a victim of his own brilliance, and I can see how The Sixth Sense really put him in a bind…because it worked so well. Most of the time gimmicks suck, but even when they are really good…they still suck. So avoid gimmick and just focus on becoming a darn good storyteller.

Anyway, back to my original point.  There are only so many plots, so don’t try to be cute and clever and unique because it is unlikely you will discover a “new element.” Go ahead and try. I guarantee you that one of two things will happen.

One is that you will think you have this new plot no one has ever seen. All excited, you will posit this new-and-shiny-never-before-imagined-idea to your fellow writing friends, and one of them (I promise) will go, “Oh, yeah. That’s like the movie Blah.” And then you are required to drink heavily and cry and wonder why you were doomed to be born a writer. The other end-scenario is that you get so weird that you barely understand your own story, and the poor the reader will need a Dungeon Master Guide and a sherpa to navigate your plot.

So, remember. Pizza has rules. Plot has rules. Can’t get too weird. If you still want to invent the plot never seen before? Have fun storming the castle *waves and smiles*.

Moving on…

Plots, at the very core, are usually simple. Why? The plot is the foundation. Now what you construct on top of that foundation can be super-complex. Note I wrote complex NOT complicated.  Even the most complex stories can be boiled down to very simple goals. J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, James Clavell’s Shogun, and MacMurtry’s epic Lonesome Dove all have very simple forces driving very complex and dynamic stories.  Good versus evil. Struggle for power, for survival, for love. Very simple. As Blake Snyder says in his book Save the Cat: Is it primal? Would a caveman understand the core of your story?

Good storytellers connect with the audience on a basic level. So when you whittle down that idea or novel into a one-sentence log-line, step back and be honest. Does your story hinge on primal drives like survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, or fear of death? Does it have physical and or emotional stakes? Your story might seem complex, but at the core it should be very basic and connect at a visceral level.

People in China LOVED Titanic.Why? Because it is a love story. Love is basic. It is primal.

In the upcoming weeks we are going to discuss various methods of plotting, but before you start any novel, there are some fundamental questions we can use as a litmus test for our idea. Ask yourself:

Do I have a sympathetic protagonist? 

Notice I said sympathetic…not likable. Be careful here. If we are expecting readers to spend 10 hours (average time to read a novel) with our protagonist, it helps if they are rooting for him to win. If you have a rough protagonist, then you need to at least offer the reader a glimmer of hope that he can be redeemed. If he can’t be redeemed, then you must offer the reader something about your protagonist that puts the reader on his side.

For instance, Quentin Tarantino knew he had a potential problem in Pulp Fiction. His protagonists (Travolta & Jackson) happen to be a two hit men and human beings of the lowest sort. Tarantino was brilliant in how he handled introducing Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield. First, he makes them funny. They stop for a burger before the hit and get into this funny dialogue about the Big Mac vs. The Royale.

So we find them funny and we relate. But then Tarantino takes it another step and makes the bad guy badder than these two hit men so that the audience will side with the lesser of two evils. When viewed “in relation” these guys are clear heroes. They are still deplorable, but they are sympathetic.

Do I have a genuine GOAL for my protagonist?

A lot of first-time novelists get fascinated writing novels about journals, letters and buried secrets. I have a theory about this. It is called, “We-Are-Squeaky-New-and-Don’t-Know-Jack-About-How-to-Plot Syndrome.” Guess how I know this? Yes, I was visited by the Bright Idea Fairy too. Shoot her. Now. Double-tap. It’s for the best.

Novels that involve a journal or finding about a secret past usually involve the newbie author’s favorite tactic…the flashback. Since we have no big goal at the end, forward momentum is scary, so we roll back…and this makes the reader feel as if she is trapped in the car with a teenager learning to drive a stick-shift.

Journals and letters, in my opinion, are so attractive because they provide the unskilled author a contrived mechanism for stringing together unrelated vignettes. That is not a plot. Sorry. I was bummed too. That is okay, though. Everyone starts somewhere. I’m here to help :D.

Yes, you can use journals in your story, but seriously? How many best-selling novels have you seen that involve someone reading a journal? Things written in journals are in the past, which means they have already happened and the world didn’t end so who cares? It becomes a Watch out for that glacier! No rising stakes and no pressing danger. Watch out for the glacier! It’s moving at an inch a year, but watch out!

Conflict drives stories. My best advice? Journals are for self-actualization. Leave self-actualization for therapy. Want a gut-wrenching plot? Stick to the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy ;).

Stories can have a journal/letters, but they MUST ALSO have a main conflict and the journal/letters are merely a tool that drives the present conflict…which is your plot. The journal isn’t the plot. Neither are the letters.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had conflict happening real-time. Yes, the novel contained each girl’s experience with the pants, but each girl’s story was a separate plot joined in one large plot and happening real-time. Each girl was facing a different challenge and had to mature in a different way, but the group of girls (the group is actually the protagonist) had to learn to mature while finding a way to hold on to childhood friendship.

Same with The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya-Sisterhood. The Ya-Ya Journal was critical for the daughter and mother (present-day) to repair the rift in their relationship. So there was a present-day problem that the journal solved, and basically you have a Fried Green Tomatoes. Two parallel plot lines and the present-day plot relies on past-time events to drive forward momentum in the present.

Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook was the same thing. Two parallel love stories, but both had a plot arc. The love story told in the notebook drives the present-day love story in the nursing home.

Same with secrets. The secret must have something to do with the present-day story or it is just a contrivance. The secret can be a part of the story, but generally doesn’t work as the entire story. Linda Castillo executes this brilliantly in her novel Sworn to Silence. Chief of Police, Kate Burkholder, grew up Amish, but made a choice to live in the world with the English. She is the Chief of Police in a small Ohio community of both Amish and English, and she acts as a cultural bridge. When a serial killer begins butchering women, Kate leads the investigation, but a secret from her past holds clues to catching the present-day killer. Kate’s secret drives the forward momentum of the present-day plot, and adds mind-bending tension.

Is my story primal?

Beneath the empires and spaceships and unicorns, is your main plot driven by a basic human desire/need? Here is a list of some best-selling novels to illustrate my point.

Michael Crichton’s Prey—Survival. Save/protect loved ones.

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic ParkDon’t get eaten. Protect loved ones.

Lee Child’s Killing FloorVengeance. Protect loved ones.

Suzanne Collins Hunger Games—Don’t die. Survive. Protect loved ones.

Cormac McCarthy The RoadSurvive. Protect loved ones.

Linda Castillo Sworn to Silence—Fear of death. Survive. Protect loved ones.

Jennifer Chiaverini The Aloha Quilt—Love. Sex. Protect loved ones. Survival.

Bob Mayer & Jennifer Crusie’s Wild Ride—Sex. Protect loved ones. Survival.

Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island—Survival. Vengeance. Protect loved ones.

Stephenie MeyerTwilightSex. Protect loved ones. Don’t get eaten.

Dennis Lehane’s Mystic RiverVengeance.

Okay, so as you can see, I read a lot of genres. But most great books can be boiled down to a very simple driving force. New writers very frequently rush into the writing with no idea of the story they are trying to tell. I know. I’ve been there. And since deep-down we know we do not have a core goal that is simple and primal, we try to compensate by making things more and more complicated.

That’s why so many writers have a panic attack about the agent pitch session. We are forced to boil down our plot to the primal core…and we can’t because there isn’t one. So we ramble and blather and try to fit 400 pages of world-building complications into our pitch while trying not to throw up in our shoes (Been there. Done that. Got the T-Shirt).

Being complicated is like trying to use Bond-O putty to fix your plot. Won’t work. Strip that baby down and look at the bare bones. Simple. Primal. This is why gimmicks are a sticky wicket. Gimmicks make stories complicated instead of complex. Stay away.

Remember that there are no new plots. So why not take a story you really love, look at the plot, then make it your own? The award-winning novel A Thousand Acres is King Lear on an Iowa farm. In my pov, Twilight is Jane Eyre with vampires (and I am not alone in this assessment). Instead of trying to totally revinvent story and plot as we understand it, why not take a book you love so much the pages are falling out of it, and see if you can use the premise in a new and exciting way?

Utilizing another author’s plot is not plagiarism. It’s smart. Remember…the number of plots is finite. I think this is where a lot of writers get stuck. Heck, I did! We believe we have to come up with a story never told before or risk being accused of plagiarism. Not so.

Plagiarism is when someone takes the execution of another author’s plot and tries to hide that by only changing surface elements. So if I wrote a book called Evening about girl who moves from Texas to Northern California to fall in love with a vampire who merely glimmers in sunlight…. See the point? Actually, a great way to come up with story ideas is to go to the IMDB and look at log-lines, then ask yourself how could you tell that story differently? (Cool tactic I learned from the awesome Bob Mayer :D).

A timid romance author must travel to South America and join forces with a handsome opportunist to rescue her sister who’s been kidnapped by treasure-hunting thieves. (Romancing the Stone).

A shy librarian must travel to South Texas and join forces with a handsome biker to rescue her brother who has been kidnapped by desperate drug-dealers. (Kristen’s Made-Up Story).

See how you can take a story that has already been done and make it something amazing and new?

So what are some problems you guys are facing when it comes to plot? Do you have any resources to share? Have I scared the socks off you or offered you new inspiration? Share. I love hearing from you guys. Lets me know I haven’t given you a massive coronary and killed you off, :D. I appreciate your loyalty to this series.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of October I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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  1. #1 by Jane Bailey Bain ('LifeWorks') on October 15, 2012 - 5:00 pm

    People are ‘storytelling animals’ (Graham Swift) – we make sense of the world through stories. Yes, there are only a limited number of basic plots – Booker said just seven! – but we can break them up and put them back together in an almost endless kaleidoscope of new ways. As you say, the great author doesn’t have to be original, he just has to tell his story well. Look at Shakespeare, he lifted all his plots and he hasn’t exactly failed the test of time. Another great post, thanks!

  2. #2 by Rachel Funk Heller on October 15, 2012 - 5:04 pm

    Kristen, another great post. I just wanted to add that I was listening to a lecture by Joseph Campbell, Mr. Mythology, and he said that after studying the hero’s journey for so many years, he came across Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and when he looked at it, he realized that a true hero is willing to give up everything on that ladder of needs. He is willing to risk everything in order to fulfill his goal, which as you say, boils down to some combination of “survival- protect loved ones”.

  3. #3 by Amelia Loken on October 15, 2012 - 5:14 pm

    I love finding a story that pulls at me, whether it be from the Grimm brothers, or the lyrics to a song. Then I try to put a different spin on it. Or find the part that really bugs me about the story. Or find the part that makes me ask questions. Then put on my writing cap. :)

  4. #4 by annerallen on October 15, 2012 - 5:28 pm

    Brilliant! Knocked it out of the park again, KL! “Many new writers make writing a novel way too hard in that they try to reinvent the wheel” Yup. I spent about 10 years trying to re-make that wheel.. Not a good plan. Wish somebody like you had been around back then! .

  5. #5 by Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson on October 15, 2012 - 5:56 pm

    I’ve been wanting to ask you about this FOREVER! What do you think about the book LITTLE BEE? It is one of my favorite novels. But I cannot imagine plotting that sucker. It is one of the most complicated books I have ever read, and yet it is woven together so seamlessly. Multiple POVs, you never really know what the story is about until OMIGOSH! ANd then you know. If you haven’t read it, I would love to know what you think — because I don’t see it following any of these rules.

    Either that or I’m making something simple and turning it into something much bigger.

    You know how I do that?

    Anyway, I’d be curious to hear how you would break that one down. It’s about Love and protecting loved ones. But it is so complicated in terms of the WAY it gets us there. The journey is not simple at all. At least not to me.

  6. #6 by Tamara LeBlanc on October 15, 2012 - 5:59 pm

    Hey Kristen,
    First, favorite line of this post, “I was visited by the Bright Idea Fairy too. Shoot her. Now. Double-tap. It’s for the best.”
    Second, I’m loving this post for many, many other reasons as well. In your last post (visited today because I ran out of time when you first presented it) I very excitedly told you, “I’ve got an agent!!!!” Yay, I’m so thrilled, and you helped me on that journey with your unlimited wisdom.
    The topic of this post helps immensely since I am now extending one book into three related stories for her. And as you said, no plot is new. They’ve all been used. So in plotting the 2nd and 3rd books I’ve had to remember this. And looking up movie blurbs is way helpful.
    I also find your assesment of Twilight and Jane Ayre right on the money. Truthfully, it never even occurred to me, but now that you mention it…wow, you’re right.
    Thank you for all the help and support you’ve given me and all of your very loyal readers. I can’t be alone in saying, “You Rock!!”
    Have a great evening!
    Tamara

  7. #7 by Samuel Solomon on October 15, 2012 - 6:13 pm

    Rock solid. I do like the idea of scanning through log lines to get the wheels turning.

    I find tons of inspiration in music. Many songs tell stories in a sort of brief poetry, and imply so much more, and flawlessly. I often want to take something a song says and break it open, flesh it out… and often just the occasional verse will hit my switches.

    My problem at the moment is not that I can’t zero in on a good plot, its that I have too many. I have at least 8 more books I need to write! I don’t have any weird endings in mind, but I do like unexpected ones, and the fine art of foreshadowing them so that I hint at it, but still, no one sees it coming. It doesn’t click together until afterwards, or maybe even until the second reading.

    I was reading something by the guy who wrote “Sideways” and he mentioned that in the end, its all about character study. Some writers invest more than others, but a good plot will ultimately serve to develop a character or two that we feel strongly about.

    And for all the plot-weaving that I am engaged in ahead of NaNo, and all the elements and setting and people and sequence… I just can’t wait to dig into this character.

  8. #8 by Samuel Solomon on October 15, 2012 - 6:17 pm

    I also want to say that this blog prompted me to finally check out “The Village” by M Night Shyamalan, since everybody said the ending sucked.

    I thought it was pretty good, and even fascinating. It could have used a little more “pop” but I liked the premise.

  9. #9 by Melanie Marttila on October 15, 2012 - 7:02 pm

    Opening hearts, minds, and eyes :) Never thought about the Twilight/Jane Eyre connection. You’re right, of course, but I liked Bronte a heck of a lot more than Meyer.
    Loved the image of assassinating the Bright Idea Fairy. Heard it down to Samuel L. Jackson’s usual epithet. Thanks for that. Made my day :)
    Loving the series and looking forward to more. MOAR!
    Melanie

  10. #10 by susanjaymes on October 15, 2012 - 7:39 pm

    Great post. You gave me a lot to think about. I will be looking at other books log lines with more of an open mind. As you said there are no new plots.

  11. #11 by Yvette Carol on October 15, 2012 - 8:50 pm

    I absolutely laughed myself silly reading this post, Kristen. You are funny, and we all know, that’s hard to do.
    The idea of primal–would a caveman understand your plot?–that really stuck a chord. I’ll remember that. I looked down your list of primal motivations and “Don’t die. Protect loved ones. Survive.” is a rather wonderful description of my book :-)

  12. #12 by Bev Robitai on October 15, 2012 - 8:53 pm

    Love the notes about journals – have a few colleagues going down that track and I’ll pass them on. Nothing better than sound advice presented with a laugh or two! Thanks!

  13. #13 by jenniburkeyoga on October 15, 2012 - 9:00 pm

    THANK YOU- you answered something I have been struggling with for quite awhile… I’ve been purging old journals and started “The Journal Project” as a way of self-discovery… but between the lines of these journals there are great stories that I want to write, and I want to write them well. This whole plot vs. journals/letters was extremely enlightening… I can’t say it enough: thank you :)

  14. #14 by Debra Brown on October 15, 2012 - 9:20 pm

    Brilliant! Yes, my WIP has that primal, survival line, but I got that after writing the story, not before, so it was hard writing. I started with a character that appealed to me (Miss Havisham) and made her into my character and built from there. So it was work. Happy to have learned the right way to do it before prepping for Nano!

  15. #15 by amandalewisab on October 15, 2012 - 10:54 pm

    Most of my ideas come from dreams. They’re primal in a way that the consious, socialized mind tries not to be… Anyways. Dreams are always linear; especially recuring ones. So even if u think u have no new ideas, just jot down a well-remembered dream and then look up the meaning. You’ll be surprised and get those wheels turning: That’s what I do. :) Great post as usual. :)

  16. #16 by Diana Beebe on October 15, 2012 - 11:01 pm

    I love this post! In grad school, one of my professors liked to joke that there are only two plots. One is a guy sailing around the ocean forever and the other is everything else. (He said it much funnier than that.)

  17. #17 by MamaWolf on October 16, 2012 - 12:10 am

    This is something I’ve been reminding myself of in small ways lately, I think. Between my WIP and the NaNo piece thatf I’ve set it aside to plan, I *have* wondered whether “it’s been done” or is too mundane a concept at its very core. But as you’ve pointed out, those core elements are finite and appeal to our baser instincts. Only ONE on your list there did not include ‘protect loved ones’–clearly that’s not a concept people get tired of. *L* Using all that you’ve been discussing in this series and going back to my favorite Ingermanson techniques, I’m feeling very comfortable about starting this new piece for NaNo. I’ve snowflaked my way to an idea that feels very solid to me. All I am really struggling with now are my characters, which is always the hardest part for me. But I have already done more for the NaNo piece than I did with my WIP, so I’m making progress, and it’s teaching me what I need to strengthen in the WIP when I come back to it, and how exactly to go about that. Do you have any kind of standard ‘character interview’ you do with each primary or even secondary character to sort of discover who they are, or do you stick the defining the physical and allow that to reveal things about the personality?

  18. #18 by Ed on October 16, 2012 - 3:19 am

    This post was surprisingly insightful (not that you’re not usually insightful ;) but I feel like I had an epiphany reading it. My whole writing life, I have always felt this pressure to come up with something “new,” doubting the all-too-common advice that “there is nothing new under the sun.” But it occurred to me while reading this post how much more simpler and easier it would be to simply recycle plot ideas when brainstorming. In fact, I asked myself why I like reading the fantasy genre so much, and I think that beyond the romanticism and gimmicks, it is because this genre usually focuses on “the hero’s journey,” which appeals on an instinctive level to young men everywhere.

    Thanks again for the smack upside the head as only you could deliver it! ;)

  19. #19 by jadwriter on October 16, 2012 - 7:50 am

    I really like your posts about structure. Let’s think about what my current romance wip is about: Sandra wants to get her life back after divorce. Love. Magic. Romance. Happiness.

  20. #20 by Stephanie Reed on October 16, 2012 - 8:02 am

    Great series of posts, thank you. Yes, you do scare the socks off me but you’re also very funny. I eagerly await the wisdom you hinted at in your Big Boss Troublemaker post, specifically geared to writing a series. I’d love to see an expansion of that one paragraph nugget about the emissaries of the BBT.

  21. #21 by The Hook on October 16, 2012 - 8:04 am

    “Many new writers make writing a novel way too hard in that they try to reinvent the wheel. The wheel works. Leave the wheel alone. You do not have to revinvent plot as we understand it to tell a darn good story.”
    You always seem to address the very issues that I’m wrestling with RIGHT NOW. How do you do it?

  22. #22 by plaintain1 on October 16, 2012 - 8:26 am

    Regarding Shy, a bit harsh saying that ‘the magic worked with a naive audience’ when watching The Sixth Sense. I thought it was a clever film and great, if you were watching it for the first time. But of course, after watching it so many times, it loses its impact. I agree that Shy has moved to worse but it has nothing to do with the naive audience. Great article as usual

  23. #23 by Tracey on October 16, 2012 - 8:30 am

    I am trying to apply all that you say to a chapter book I’m writing for 8-10 yrs. old. Would you apply it the same way or do you find there are differences for plot for children’s books vs. adult? What about when pets play a large role in the story as well? Would love to hear you thoughts about this.

  24. #24 by David Todd on October 16, 2012 - 8:36 am

    I’m having a difficult time following this post, Kristen, mainly because I don’t understand what you mean by gimmick. I haven’t read/seen The Sixth Sense, so whatever gimmick that author used is lost on me. You’re obviously not responsible for my limited reading and movie watching, but I really don’t know what you mean by a gimmick as opposed to a legitimate plot element.

    On the other hand, I understand what you mean by a sympathetic protagonist. As an example, I offer The Sting, in which the two protags are criminals—con men (Newman and Redford), who are more sympathetic than Mafia boos Lonnegan.

    • #25 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 16, 2012 - 8:42 am

      Too many writers get fascinated with having a super surprising twist ending and usually 1) it ticks off the reader and 2) even if it doesn’t, people expect that super twist every time. Thus, what happens is no twist will ever be as good as the first twist because the audience is looking for the twist. Make sense?

  25. #26 by Jon Rieley-Goddard (@baldyblogger) on October 16, 2012 - 9:54 am

    ” …why not take a book you love so much the pages are falling out of it, and see if you can use the premise in a new and exciting way?”

    Tnx for a vivid and helpful idea. As I learned in undergrad study (English Lit.) — young writers borrow … mature writers steal.

  26. #27 by creativityorcrazy on October 16, 2012 - 10:07 am

    You’ve offered inspiration and it’s funny to see when boiled down to the basics how similar the plots are among many novels. Never thought about it that way till you pointed it out.

  27. #28 by jodenton445 on October 16, 2012 - 1:02 pm

    Another really awesome post. Thanks! I’m reading Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham and it’s all tying in together very nicely. Which means wickedly awesome for me. :)

  28. #29 by John devere-loots on October 16, 2012 - 1:52 pm

    While it may be true that there are no new plots, one has to be very careful when re-hashing an existing plot. I am reminded of that great inventor of plots- Alfred Hitchcock- and how he has been poorly copied by so many directors who have followed in his footsteps. A good example is the shower scene in Psycho. It was brilliant and frightening. The scene has subsequently been copied numerous times, but how boring is it now. Whenever I see a woman showering behind an opaque shower-curtain I start yawning long before the knife has ripped open the curtain and the blood runs down the wall. It takes a lot of creativity to make an old plot seem like new.

  29. #30 by lizacaruthersblog on October 16, 2012 - 2:05 pm

    A professor I had in grad school said there are only two plots. One is the story of a man sailing around the Mediterraneantrying to get home. The second is everything else. Thanks for all the advice. I love the idea about IMDB.

  30. #31 by Jesse Lozada on October 16, 2012 - 3:34 pm

    One quick tip – try to avoid reading/watching stories in the same genre if you are currently recycling a plot. For example, if you are writing a romance, go dive into military action for pleasure. I find this keeps me honest and I don’t recycle cliches as much in my stories.

  31. #32 by Marti Parham on October 17, 2012 - 9:06 am

    Great post! Definitely one to share (and I did). Check it out at my blog Marti Ink: http://martiink.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/writers-unite-nano-is-less-than-15-days-away/

  32. #33 by Lanette Kauten on October 17, 2012 - 12:29 pm

    Yay! The letters toward the end of my book drive the central conflict.

  33. #34 by CTW on October 20, 2012 - 8:16 pm

    Kristen — I really appreciated your insistence that all the plots have been used and that it’s pointless to try to be amazingly original with plot. I’m not blessed with a visionary imagination, so I always worry that my plots are derivative. Reassuring to know that, yes, they ARE derivative. And now I’m okay with that. :)

  34. #35 by mandyevebarnett on October 21, 2012 - 11:08 am

    As usual you have given me lots to consider and digest. Thank you.

  35. #36 by Taylor Stonely on October 23, 2012 - 9:18 am

    Thank you for posting this series about structure, especially the link to the finite plots. I am excited to use what I have learned here for NaNoWriMo in 9 days!

  36. #37 by kshante on October 26, 2012 - 12:14 pm

    Thank you so much for this Kristen! I must admit that i have had this problem and only recently have i realized that i’ve been trying to make everything way too complicated. I was also a fan of M. Night, and enjoyed the twist, but i don’t think that is what was hampering me. I was as you say trying to reinvent the wheel, thinking that in doing so it would be revolutionary when all it really ended up being was a mess. Simplicity is key when it comes to plots.

  37. #38 by Andi-Roo (@theworld4realz) on November 12, 2012 - 3:20 pm

    This series has been indispensable for my novel-writing endeavor this month. yeah, I’m reading this in November, at the same time I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, so I’m not necessarily able to apply all the lessons immediately. But I’m taking notes for my re-write sessions in January. (I’m assuming I won’t finish my novel this month, & will indeed take most of December to do so.) At any rate, thank you for compiling such helpful tips. I can’t wait till I am able to take your classes. The quality of your free material knocks my socks off! :)

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