Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Explain Plot Points Again?????

Back Lot Office at WW House

Hello all! I’ve been in Oregon at the Willamette Writer’s house in West Linn Oregon for the last week working on my novel. While I was there my friend and mentor, Jack Remick was the Author on Duty at a Goodreads ‘Ask the author’ event. I sent him a question (below) when I was sitting alone in my quiet writing space staring out the window at the squirrels, birds, falling leaves (you get the picture) and grappling with some novel engineering specifics.  Then I remembered Jack was on duty all weekend. What a cool resource. Anyway, of course he responded. I thought I’d share the answer just in case, like me, you tend to forget the things that Jack knows by heart, recites from memory, walks, eats and breathes.

Mindy wrote: “Hi Jack, I’m down in Oregon writing at WW– As I rewrite, I’m clear on my inciting incidents, but struggling with plot points. Can you give me a quick reminder of what they are meant to achieve in a story…”

Hello Mindy. I’m glad your comment came through. Plot Points. Well, as you know that whole thing comes from Aristotle through Syd Field. The Triadics of writing: beginning, middle, end. Act 1, 2, 3. Field saw, in reading screenplays, that something happened at certain page counts along the way: p 30, page 60, so on. He called those things that happened there: Plot Points. The Three Act structure is a modern synthesis of the Classical Five Act play. What’s curious about all of that is the in the classical model you know everything by act 2.5, or, in the Three Act model: MidPoint. Wow. So Field just rediscovered what Racine, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Corneille had developed into an art form. In fiction, we look at three acts and want things to happen along the way: Plot Point 1, close to end of Act 1 you want twist. Mid Point. Plot Point 2, close to end of Act 2, another twist. Climax, Resolution (Aristotle catharsis). Look at it another way: if you’re on page 150 of a 300 page novel and your protagonist is still thinking about whether to murder her husband or not, you need a plot point–midpoint she at last unsheathes the knife…So plot points are a modern technique to keep you from writing flat. Stories are told with action and image. Our brains have been rewired by a hundred years of movies. Sure you can write a continuous narrative, interior all the way with no action, but you won’t get much traction from your readers who expect this: Open with Action; develop character through dialogue, build the story on turning points, and bring it all to a whiz-bang ending that leaves you breathless, satisfied, yet hungry for more. Oh No! Aristotle, again?

Thanks Jack who is always the teacher and who always offers a lesson.  


One comment on “Explain Plot Points Again?????

  1. Stephen Hayes
    November 13, 2012

    A handy lesson. I expect to benefit from printing this out and referring to it from time to time. Thanks.

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This entry was posted on November 13, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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