Plot Structure: The Writer’s Journey and Using a Plot Board

Summer is slipping by so fast, but I’ve also been hard at work developing my story. I love this process. When I trained as an editor, developmental editing was my favorite type of editing. It appeals to my sense of structure and looking at the big picture. I’ve had some major progress in my story. It’s exciting, but gosh, I’m tired!

I did have a day off this week to spend time with the family and managed to sneak in a little beach reading.

Summer beach reading: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Summer beach reading: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

In my previous posts, I’ve been sharing my notes and reflections on lectures from Ellen Brock’s Novel Boot Camp–a summer workshop for writers. It’s been such an enlightening experience and I’ve had the opportunity to interact with such a creative bunch of writers. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Inspired by what I was learning and discussing with other writers, I was ready to put my story down to paper. I had an idea of what the story was about and I also had scenes in my mind of how it would unfold, but it was fragmented, no cohesion.

I had been researching plot structure and what came up a lot was Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. I learned that my plot was A Hero’s Journey. Christopher Vogler’s book is geared toward writers specifically screen writers, but his book takes the ideas from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and applies Campbell’s theories to screen writing which are applicable to novel writing too.

I’m working my way through both books and highly recommend them if you want to learn more about The Hero’s Journey. If you can only work through one, Vogler’s book is geared as a practical guide that’s straighforward and shows how each part of the journey relates to plot. Campbell’s book is more like the theory behind the theme of The Hero’s Journey, how it spans through different stories and how people gravitate to this type of story.

I worked through the Practical Guide of TWJ and had a break through! I created a spreadsheet to track the scenes of my story, noting the plot point and which act it would fall under. It was a light bulb moment. No, it was a Las Vegas marquee-flashing-multi-color light bulb moment! It turned out that I had the basic structure of a story cooking. I just didn’t see it. I can’t explain how exciting and inspiring it was to see my story laid out in such a way. It reassured me and also gave me the confidence that I could tell this story.

Break through moment in my book!

Break through moment in my book!

So, with my trusty TWJ outline and plot notes, I started writing! I was able to finish the first scene in the book. It was fantastic and I felt like I was making real progress. Then I hit a bit of a snag when I tried to move forward. I was having trouble with the flow. How do I connect one scene to the next?

From planning to writing, moving forward with my story.

From planning to writing, moving forward with my story.

I had bookmarked this tutorial from a different writer’s workshop (Can you tell I’m addicted to workshops?) A Novel Idea from Going Reno hosted by Shaunta Grimes. I found it through Pinterest several months ago. I was knee deep in a copyediting certificate test and really liked the simplicity of it, but couldn’t do anything with it at the time. I realized I was ready for it now and I was excited to finally try this out!

I love the simplicty of this. I don’t have room for a white board or cork board in my office. Plus, I have young children who love the game of pulling Post-its off Mommy’s Very Important Stuff. By using a display board, I can close it up and use binder clips to lock it up, so to speak, and put it away out of the reach of little hands that don’t always remember to look with eyes only.

Getting ready for creating my plot board!

Getting ready for creating my plot board!

I followed Shaunta’s tutorial and with the help of my husband (who has all the tools) helped me make even boxes and straight lines.

Yay! Thanks to husband with helping to make the lines straight for plot board.

Yay! Thanks to husband with helping to make the lines straight for plot board.

Then it was time to break out the Post-Its. I don’t know if you can tell, but I love organization and office supplies. This activity is suited to my need for structure. I selected a color to show where The Hero’s Journey plot points were in the three acts and eight sequences. It actually took me a lot longer than I thought it would because I wasn’t familiar with the structure, so I had to rely on my book and notes from Shaunta’s workshop. I also realized that some of the plot points might be moved later, depending on where tension was needed. I had to be okay with that and understand that just because I’m using this structure, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s set in stone for the whole process.

Noting which plot points fall under which acts in the story, using Post-it notes.

Noting which plot points fall under which acts in the story, using Post-it notes.

Once I finally had the plot points where I thought they should go, I was eager to see how my scenes looked on the board with them. I picked a different color Post-it to see how the plot points and my scenes fit together.

Another break through moment! I’m such a visual person and it was such a Vegas light bulb moment again to see how the first act played out. It’s just a working outline and I know it will most likely change, but it’s progress!

Coming together: The Writer's Journey Notes and plot board become a visual representation of the story.

Coming together: The Writer’s Journey Notes and plot board become a visual representation of the story.

I stopped at Act I because it was so late. I was going to pick it up again, but then Workshop 3: Peer Critiques-First page happened. I submitted the first 1,000 words of the beginning of my story for peer critiquing. To say it was a nerve-wracking experience would be an understatement. I felt like both throwing up and dancing around the room when I hit the Submit button! I’ll write more about the experience in my next post, but the feedback was valuable.

My critique partners said that they liked the voice, the character, and where the story was going, but the setting was unclear. I admit, I wasn’t clear about the setting and it came through in my writing. That was a really good lesson to learn.

I’m pausing on the writing to go back to development, but focusing this time on world building. I started last night. I’m inspired and excited to create the setting for my MC.

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6 thoughts on “Plot Structure: The Writer’s Journey and Using a Plot Board

    1. Jennifer F. Santucci Post author

      Novel Boot Camp ends next week. This activity–The Writer’s Journey outline and plot board–were inspired by participating in NBC, but it was outside the lectures and workshop activities. I guess you could say it was enrichment? 😉

      I’m trying to get as much development done before TWS starts in September. I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue working on my story while classes are in session, but if I can get the development stage mostly done, I think I’ll be in a good place to pause my project.

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  1. Pingback: World Building Part 1: Market Research | Jennifer F. Santucci

  2. theartsyfartsychick

    Vogler’s book is pretty fantastic. A couple of years ago I splurged and went to Story Expo in L.A. It was really inspiring and I got to see Vogler give a couple of talks, and seeing Syd Field present was legendary (he passed away not long afterwards, so I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to see him in person).

    It’s great to see that you’ve already made so much headway on your story! I’m visual myself but have been procrastinating on getting a better grasp of the novel that I’d started working on a while ago. I thought that stepping back from working on it would give me the distance I needed to revisit it again with fresh eyes. Since I’m sure we’ll be busy with other/new work during TWSO, it will have to wait a while longer.

    Looking forward to getting to know you and your work, Jenn! Cheers, Adriane

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    1. Jennifer F. Santucci Post author

      Hi Adriane!
      Vogler is fantastic! I thought I knew structure, but seeing it through Vogler’s book, it makes a lot more sense and is a lot easier to address during the development stage. I think it’s great you were able to hear Syd Fields talk before he past away. I started reading his book, but got sidetrack. I’ll have to take it down for further review!

      I’m trying to get as much development done before classes start. I have no idea how busy we’ll be and it’ll really be such a distraction to have this in the back of my mind. The research has been going so well and it’s provided so many ideas. I don’t want to lose momentum!

      Looking to getting to know you too, Adriane!

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  3. Pingback: World Building Part 2: Story Research | Jennifer F. Santucci

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