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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

How to Plot Your Novel with a Movie Soundtrack


We’ve been talking a lot about plot lately. A lot of writers use music to help them find the mood of the novel they’re working on. Or they might crank up their favorite tunes to help them write the most words per writing session. Today’s idea is to help you break down the plot structure of a movie you’d like to analyze. One thing you can do to break down the plot of any movie you watch is to use the soundtrack.

The classic 1992 movie, Far and Away, directed by Ron Howard, is the movie we’ll analyze today. The basic plot is that two Irish immigrants seek their fortune in 1890s America, eventually taking part in the Oklahoma Territory Land Run of 1893.

Far and Away Soundtrack


The classic 1992 movie, Far and Away, directed by Ron Howard, is the movie we’ll analyze today. The basic plot is that two Irish immigrants seek their fortune in 1890s America, eventually taking part in the Oklahoma Territory Land Run of 1893.

The two immigrants, Joseph Donnelly and Shannon Christie, are played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, respectively. If you have never watched the movie, that’s okay. Take a look at the Soundtrack. It highlights the most important scenes. You can guess where the plot points happen. But I won’t make you do that. I’ll lay it out for you below.

  1. "County Galway, June 1892"
  2. "The Fighting Donnellys"
  3. "Joe Sr.'s Passing/The Duel Scene"
  4. "Leaving Home"
  5. "Burning the Manor House"
  6. "Blowing Off Steam"
  7. "Fighting for Dough"
  8. "Am I Beautiful?"
  9. "The Big Match"
  10. "Inside the Mansion"
  11. "Shannon is Shot"
  12. "Joseph's Dream"
  13. "The Reunion"
  14. "Oklahoma Territory"
  15. "The Land Race"
  16. "Settling with Steven/The Race to the River"
  17. "Joseph and Shannon"
  18. "Book of Days"
  19. "End Credits"

Plot Summary of Far and Away


In the sections below, I’ve laid out the entire plot of this movie and how all the songs from the soundtrack overlap and perfectly match the plot. This is especially helpful if you find a movie that seems difficult to deconstruct. Try it! Easy peasy! Who knows? You might even crank up the tunes and start dancing!

Pre-Race Life (exposition)


"County Galway, June 1892"

It’s 1892. Shannon wants to run away from her Ireland home and claim some free land in America. Joseph is suddenly homeless (his house was burned to the ground) and he promises his dying father that he would run his own land someday. Shannon is upper class and Joseph is lower class. Shannon loves to ride horses. Joseph fights in pubs.

The Signup (Plot Point 1: inciting incident)


"The Fighting Donnellys"

The Signup is when Joseph Donnelly’s house is burned to the ground. If it hadn’t, he never would have gone out looking to kill his landlord. And he never would have met Shannon. He never would have made it to America. The Signup is the ARRIVAL of the landlord’s men with torches (and the subsequent burning down of the house).

Second Thoughts (refusal of the call)


"Joe Sr.'s Passing/The Duel Scene"

Shannon rescues Joseph from a duel. Even still, he is reluctant to trust her.

The Gunshot (Plot Point 2: point of no return)


"Leaving Home"

On a ship bound for America, Shannon tells Joseph all about the race to the free land in Oklahoma. He is still reluctant to believe or trust her. Regardless, he feels a little hopeful for the prospect of some land to call his own.

Pit Stops (rising action part 1)


"Burning the Manor House"
"Blowing Off Steam"
"Fighting for Dough"
"Am I Beautiful?"

They get a job in a factory to earn money to make it to Oklahoma, but then Joseph starts fighting for money. Even though they are rooming together while pretending to be siblings, they start to feel attracted to each other.

The Halfway Point (Plot Point 3: midpoint)


"The Big Match"

The big fight puts a lot on the line as far as being able to earn enough money for the chance to get their own land. Plus, the romantic subplot adds depth to the storyline.

Runner’s High (rising action part 2)


"Inside the Mansion"
"Shannon is Shot"
"Joseph's Dream"

Shannon’s family has left Ireland to look for her. Inside an empty mansion, Joseph and Shannon share a first kiss. Soon after, Shannon is shot and when Joseph looks for help, he finds her family. They still shun him.

The Wall (Plot Point 4: rock bottom)


"The Reunion"

Shannon is reunited with her old love, Stephen Chase. Joseph feels all is lost. No hope for land and no hope for love. He joins the railroad company laying track.

Final Sprint (the final push)


"Oklahoma Territory"

Joseph realizes the wagon train parallel to the tracks and runs across the fields to join up with the land seekers, hope renewed.

The Finish Line (Plot Point 5: climax)


"The Land Race"

Joseph and all the others race on horses and wagons to claim their land. He and Shannon join hands when planting their stake into the lot of land.

After Party (falling action/resolution


"Settling with Steven/The Race to the River"
"Joseph and Shannon"
"Book of Days"
"End Credits"

Shannon finally rejects Stephen, once and for all. Joseph and Shannon kiss on their own new piece of land. ...and that’s all folks!


For more plot summaries, you can check out Wonder Woman, Comes A Wind, or My Girl 2.


What's YOUR favorite movie? Share your comment here.



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Friday, March 22, 2019

The Shape of a Story


Kurt Vonnegut is famous for his rejected master’s thesis on the shape of a story. He proposed that there are six distinct story shapes that can be applied to any story. These six shapes are the emotional arc of three types of stories (and their opposites). Two additional shapes have also been added, for a total of eight different emotional arcs for stories. Vonnegut’s thesis has since been scientifically proven.

  1. Man in Hole
  2. Boy Meets Girl
  3. From Bad to Worse
  4. Which Way is Up?
  5. Creation Story
  6. Old Testament
  7. New Testament
  8. Cinderella

While I’m not going to dive into Vonnegut’s story shapes today, I propose a different kind of story shape.

Kurt Vonnegut is famous for his rejected master’s thesis on the shape of a story. He proposed that there are six distinct story shapes that can be applied to any story. These six shapes are the emotional arc.

Story vs. Plot


The story shapes Vonnegut observed were based on emotional arcs. But story is much more than an emotional arc. Story must include characters, conflict, plot, and theme. Working together, these elements allow someone to feel emotion in the first place.

So what’s the difference between story and plot? Story is the bigger picture. To tell a story, you have to have those four main elements: character, conflict, plot, and theme. Technically, you can tell a story without theme, but no one would care. Theme is what elevates your story to make it better so that people care. It’s what someone gets out of your story and how they apply that emotion to their own lives.

Plot, on the other hand, is merely another element of story. Plot is what happens in the story, the chronological sequence of events, even if you’re dealing with flashbacks and foreshadowing. Plot is action. And plot has a very specific shape - applicable to all stories, no matter what emotional shape it takes on.

The Shape of a Plot Diagram


While there are actually several different plot diagrams, there is basically one overarching simplistic shape of a story’s plot: the witch’s hat.

The left brim is the exposition. The left slope up to the peak is the rising action. The right slope down to the right brim is the falling action. And the right brim is the resolution. But if you read my last post, What Are the Parts of a Story Arc?, then you’ll know how I feel about the simplistic witch’s hat model of story narrative.

The squashed witch’s hat is more like a beret. Kind of. The left brim and slope are the same, but the right slope and brim get merged and shortened.

To give you a better understanding of this plot diagram, I’m going to share with you three different stories to help solidify the shape.

Plot Structure of a Novel


The three examples I’m giving (aside from the already given witch’s hat imagery) to help shape plot diagram are roller coaster, road trip, and marathon. I’m saving the best for last. The marathon method is nearly a one-for-one match. Hold on tight.

Remember, the falling action includes the resolution. I’m adding in another plot point in addition to the climax. The inciting incident is the first plot point and the climax is the fifth and final plot point. There are others, but I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible.

Roller Coaster Plot Example


Exposition = standing in line
Inciting Incident = getting on the roller coaster
Rising Action = climbing to the top of the roller coaster
Climax = the initial free fall and fast-paced exhilaration
Falling Action = coming to the end of the ride and dismounting the car

Road Trip (or Vacation) Plot Example


Exposition = planning to go on a trip and getting packed
Inciting Incident = gassing up the car
Rising Action = driving to your destination (the other three plot points in the middle are stopping at the gas station)
Climax = arriving to your destination
Falling Action = enjoying your time once there

Marathon Plot Example


Exposition = living a healthy life as a runner
Inciting Incident = signing up for a marathon
Rising Action = running the race
Climax = crossing the finish line
Falling Action = enjoying the after party

I know this is a simplistic view of plot, but I hope it helped you to understand the shape of a story, or the shape of the more accurate squashed witch’s hat plot diagram. So the next time you pick up your pen (or keyboard) to write, remember to don your beret and cackle with the best of ‘em.

What do you think about a story shape being compared to a witch's hat? Share your comment here.



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Monday, March 18, 2019

What Are the Parts of a Story Arc?


What is a story arc, you ask? It’s also known as a narrative arc. The story arc is the pattern, or flow, of how the story unfolds. It’s the structure and shape of a story. A story arc is a tool used to help study literature, as well as to help you map out a story’s plot. Without the shape and structure that a story arc provides, your story will fall flat and become unsatisfying. The purpose of the narrative arc in a story is to give the characters (and the writer) a plan of chronological events to follow. There are lots of different types of story archetypes, or specific plans for different types of storylines: romance, mystery, suspense, etc. But a basic story arc will work for any plot line.

This plot diagram looks more like a flattened witch’s hat, worn like a beret. Kind of. Anyway, the blue circles represent the 5 main plot points. They are POINTS (not acts). Act one is from the very beginning up to plot point #2. Act 2 begins at plot point #2 and goes to plot point #4. Act 3, the end, begins at plot point #4 and goes to the very end, of course. So where do these 5 parts of a story arc fall on this new world view of a story shape? The diagram above still includes the exposition. Yes, that’s the beginning. It still includes the rising action. That’s the middle, the longest part of a story. It still has the climax, of course. But the ending is where I propose a new world order.


The Four-Act Story Structure?


You may have heard of the three-act structure, the five-point plot plan, the eight-point arc, the 10-point, and even the 12-point story structure. On the most basic level, you have to have 3 parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. But, there is definitely more to a story arc than just the beginning, the middle, and the end. The story arc that I use is based on the five-point plot plan. It really helps me write my novels. And it can help you too. Many teachers (and writers) explain the five parts like this.

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling action
  5. Resolution

Take a look at this image of a SUPER BASIC PLOT ARC.

simple diagram of a basic plot arc structure

The exposition, or stasis, is the beginning. It sets the stage for the coming action. The rising action is the middle. The climax is the height of the action. The falling action wraps up the plot. And finally, the resolution is the ending. In essence, it’s really a 4-act story structure because the climax isn’t considered an ACT.
  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Falling action
  4. Resolution
This image (of a witch’s hat) represents these five parts of a plot arc, but it makes it look like the climax happens in the middle of the story. That’s never the case. So it’s an inaccurate depiction of the shape of a story. I had a discussion with my 9th-grade son about story and plot. He said, “How could the state of North Carolina be wrong? All the teachers teach it that way because the state tells them to.” I mean, it’s all fine and good, but YOU try writing a novel with that structure and see what happens. You can analyze all day long and squeeze things into those areas, but I guess it’s a lot like a map that isn’t drawn to scale. I explained this to my son and he said it didn’t matter if it was drawn to scale. You can still get the gist of it. He said the rising action has like 8 or 9 major things that happen, but the falling action might only have 3 or 4. My point is this: DRAW THE MAP TO SCALE.

A More Accurate Picture of the Narrative Arc


The problem is that the climax is actually a POINT. The rest are more in-depth. If you want to keep using the basic story diagram of a witch’s hat, by all means, go right ahead. But if you begin to shift it, the story diagram starts to take on a more accurate reflection of the narrative arc. Hello to the map drawn to scale!

HERO’S JOURNEY ARCHPLOT STRUCTURE



This plot diagram looks more like a flattened witch’s hat, worn like a beret. Kind of. Anyway, the blue circles represent the 5 main plot points. They are POINTS (not acts). Act one is from the very beginning up to plot point #2. Act 2 begins at plot point #2 and goes to plot point #4. Act 3, the end, begins at plot point #4 and goes to the very end, of course. So where do these 5 parts of a story arc fall on this new world view of a story shape? The diagram above still includes the exposition. Yes, that’s the beginning. It still includes the rising action. That’s the middle, the longest part of a story. It still has the climax, of course. But the ending is where I propose a new world order.

Do You Really Need Both Falling Action and a Resolution?


Yes, and no. “No” because the resolution is not a separate part of the story arc. But “yes” because the resolution is part of the falling action. The climax, the falling action, and the resolution are actually all included as part of the ending. The falling action is not an equivalent length to the rising action. Therefore, the witch’s hat needed to be squashed. The falling action and the resolution are really one and the same. The falling action leads to a satisfying ending that resolves all the conflict and ties up any loose ends. But it’s not necessarily a separate act, or point, or component of the story. The resolution is basically the final scene in the story. It’s PART OF the falling action. And all the witch’s hat diagrams of the story arc are misleading because they aren’t drawn to scale. SQUASH. The rising action (plot point 1 to plot point 5) take up close to 70% of the story, so therefore it is impossible for the falling action to take up 50% of the story! When the diagram of a narrative arc is drawn to scale, it helps you keep the story arc in perspective. And when you can tell your story with this perspective in mind, it will less likely drag on forever. Chances are, you’ll reach a satisfying ending more quickly.

What other plot maps, diagrams, or story arcs have you tried and liked (or disliked)? Share your comment here.



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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

How to Get Published


A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me, “So, Christie, how do I get a book published?” By the way, that’s the number one question I get asked as a writer.

Well, there are several steps to getting a book published.
  1. Write something good.
  2. Decide how you want to publish it.
  3. Research your options.
  4. Start submitting.
Seems simple, but it’s much more detailed than that, so I’m going to break it down for you.

How do you get a book published? You have to have a great book, make an important decision, do lots of research, and be very, very patient.

Write Something Good


Having a good idea is not enough. It has to be well written too. Make sure it’s been critiqued, revised, and edited a LOT.

If you don’t have a critique group, look for resources online in forums or Facebook groups. If you write for children, check out the Verla Kay Blue Boards.

It’s important to write well before seeking publication because if your first book is terrible, you’ll likely never sell a second one.

What’s Your Publishing Route?


There are basically two paths to publication, or rather, two different publishing options. One option is to seek traditional publication. The other option is to self publish.

Both are great options, but not necessarily for every book. Most books will see greater results with one of the options. Some books have a better chance for success with a traditional publisher, while other books really fit the self publishing model. A few rare gems will see great success no matter which route you choose.

Traditional publishing is harder to get into. You have to find an agent, or an editor. But there are more people on your team.

Self publishing is a huge endeavor; it’s not a task for the lighthearted to take on. You either have to do everything yourself, or hire a lot of contractors: editors, cover designers, copy editors, and so much more.

Research Your Publishing Options


Once you decide whether you want to go traditional or self publish, let the research commence.

If you’re going to self publish, you need to decide who will print it. Will you go with a print-on-demand service? Will you order boxes and boxes of books and then sell them later. Or will you go digital and publish on Amazon? Honestly, the latter is the current trend. Research all the how to articles you can find and learn the ins and outs of how to publish online through Amazon.

If you’re going traditional, then keep a reading journal. Make a list of books you read (and like) and list the title, author, publisher, and date. Over time, you will see a trend of which publishers you think will be a good fit for your book. Begin to compile a list of potential publishers to approach.

Submit Your Manuscript


When you have a polished manuscript, a well-written query letter, and a list of publishers to submit to, take a leap of faith and start submitting. Be sure to keep track of where you send the manuscript, when you sent it, the required wait time, the date you hear back, and the final answer.

Waiting to hear back from an editor can feel like forever. But if you’re busy writing the next book, you’ll hardly notice after 8 months go by. These days, many guidelines will tell you that if you don’t hear back by a certain time frame (maybe 3-6 months, depending), then it’s a pass.

Once you finally get a yes - and you only need one - the last thing you need to do is sign a contract. Technically, signing the contract will begin the next leg of your publication journey. But this is how you get started with getting your book published.

Happy writing - and submitting!

Will you pursue self publishing, traditional publishing, or both? Share your comment here.



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