plot vs. fact

History does not fit into a tidy 3 act story structure.

Or 7 part or 9 part, for that matter. In lieu of writing tons of irrelevant junk I’ve been trying my hand at the dreaded outline, and it’s not going well. Indeed, I would say it’s the hardest and most frustrating part of this whole “I wanna write a novel” process.

Proper plots go like those above: problem, complication, midpoint, darkness before the dawn, dawn, resolution. Or some such.

Mine goes more like:

Bad thing happens to kick things off

Protagonist straggles up a notch and thinks he’s got everything under control until he abruptly doesn’t.

Then stuff gets exhausting and weird…but he gains an ally.

Then things get worse and weirder…but he gains a patron.

Then his personal relationships go to hell…but his professional efforts are spot on.

In the end he must choose between insane love or material success with uncertain personal happiness.

There are no simple troughs and peaks, which seems to be traditional story structures demand. Nor is there a single antagonist. Also there isn’t a simple One Problem(TM) – there are a couple of lies he believes that have to get resolved by different truths.

So I’m at a loss as to what to do. I’m already cutting characters and excursions that prevent the story moving forward, and I might be able to keep things on track by speeding up some episodes and stretching out others, but then my character motives don’t make sense.

I’ve signed up for an online plotting course in November, and struggling to keep my writing mojo going in the face of this frustration.

I suspect may be time for me to find a proper writing coach.

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Allison Thurman

Allison Thurman has always made stuff: out of fabric, metal, beads, even exaggerated fencing moves. Of late she makes stories out of weird history, with fragments of pop culture, unsolved mysteries, and science fiction mixed in for texture.

She lives in a galaxy far, far away (well, the DC metro area) with too many books and swords.

2 thoughts on “plot vs. fact”

  1. Oh those pesky historical facts and timelines … they can mess up one’s storytelling, can’t they?

    While the “proper plot” pattern you describe is the one many writers follow, the nice thing is that it’s not a law. And novels that break that pattern can be, IMO, a refreshing change for the reader. John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Handling the Dead” is a recent one that springs to mind … I loved it but a friend I loaned my copy to said it threw him right off mentally because he kept expecting those troughs/peaks you mention and a build to a big plot climax that didn’t happen. Something I was fine with … I found the story grabbed me more -because- it unfolded like real life, which tends to ramble and never follows narrative rules, But, like all things, mileage varies from reader to reader.

    P.S. I also love novels with multiple antagonists, multiple plot threads moving at different paces, and where not everything gets tidily resolved at the end. But then I am a little odd. 😉

  2. It is not a law, but it is a useful guide that prevents me adding a lot of stuff that doesn’t take the story forward. Which IMHO DOES get boring. Story’s got to go somewhere, even if it’s by a very circuitous route.

    There’s also the issue of “Chekov’s gun” – don’t introduce something unless you’re going to use it later (unless it’s deliberate misdirection). There is so much extraneous stuff I could include for accuracy that would just be fluff in that context.

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