Saturday, May 4, 2013

Revising (Part One) Tent Poles and Mile Markers

You may have noticed a lack of blog posts lately. That's in part to the structural edits I'm slogging through at the moment. In fact, I'm taking an online course from a fantastic up and coming author, Lydia Sharp. Her blog posts on structure are what got me started on this long road, and even in the midst of edits, I am thankful to her for sharing knowledge gleaned from her own writing journey. You can read all of her related blog posts on the topic right here. Study these posts, writers. They're fantastic advice for editing your MSS. For further study, check out SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder.

Lydia Sharp doesn't simply regurgitate everything Blake Snyder lays out in his book, which is actually a tool used for screenwriters, not novel writers. That said, Sharp adapts what she has learned from StC and adds her own flair, such as "pinch points," which is a term I am totally in love with. You'll have to go to her blog to find out what that means. Trust me, it's totally worth stalking Lydia's blog. Understanding these points is what led me to this blog post Revising (Part One) and the upcoming blog post (Part Two) By the Numbers.
Which brings me to the point of this blog post: When writing your first draft, and while revising afterwards, imagine the process as pitching a tent. That probably sounds crazy at first, but hear me out. The points within your plot that most help the reader to keep from getting lost along the way are like tent poles when setting up a tent. Without them, all you've got is a bag of crazy and your reader will feel trapped, want to find the zipper door, and climb out as soon as possible. With these tent poles framed into your plot, you'll have a lovely shady spot to sit, read, and enjoy the journey.
Act One's tent poles look like this:
  • Log Line
One sentence that focuses on the main premise of the story. Should contain both the Inciting Incident and Catalyst (both have different roles), and be related to the main plot.
  • Inciting Incident
Introduces the MC prior to the point of change, then forces the MC to make an initial decision and move forward.
  • Set Up
Gives the reader everything she needs before the MC is hit with the Catalyst midway through Act One. Not an info dump.
  • Catalyst
Major turning point that forces the MC toward the point of no return immediately after the Debate.  The MC is forced to make a real decision having processed the after effects of the Inciting Incident and the Set Up. Without the Catalyst, the plot would fail.
  • Debate
Just like it sounds, the MC must weigh the pros and cons of the Catalyst and everything driving the MC toward the point of no return. This is usually an internal struggle where he or she will avoid change (end of story) or choose to move forward (they always choose this option or there would be no story) into the Promise of the Premise and the Break Into Act Two.
  • Break Into Act Two
This is the meat and potatoes of your story. The story pushes forward into the main premise and drives forward with increased momentum toward the climax.
I'm going to stop there, but just wanted to give you a glimpse at all the good information you need to go learn from Lydia Sharp's blog and Blake Snyder's StC. You'll need both to get a more detailed look at Acts 1, 2 and 3.
Knowing myself, my manuscript (MS) probably looks more like an epic tent fail such as the one pictured below (from
Another way to look at plot points are like mile markers along the road. If you know you've got 7 more miles (pages) to go before you take the next exit (finish the chapter), you're much more likely to feel comfortable driving (reading) through those last few miles (pages) to get there. Make sense? I hope so.
Without the structural edit, all I've got is a bag of crazy and an angry reader. No way are they sticking around to read any more of my book in this condition. By taking the time to work through a structural edit (which is a lot of gouging and deleting), as painful as it is, my reader will thank me for it on the other side.
Where are you at with your current MS? Experiencing Tent Fail with your plot? Let's discuss this in the comments below, and look for more in my next blog post, Revising (Part Two) By the Numbers.

1 comment: