Thursday, October 21, 2010

Meet in the Middle Plotting

 NaNoWriMo is coming up fast.  For those of you that don't know what that is, it's National Novel Writing Month where you write 50,000 words in 30 days or less.  Needless to say, it's a crazy experience and one I've yet to accomplish.  This year I'm resolving to do better and finish this time.  While perusing the halls of the Muse Online Writers Conference, I came across a class that was just what I needed to help me get ready for nanowrimo.  The class was Plotting your Novel in 15 Minutes or Less by Claudia Suzanne.  Be sure to read her technique below and check out her website.  This concept blew me away because it's so simple yet very effective!  Thank you to Claudia for giving permission to post this!!!



Excerpted from Before Copy Editing by Claudia Suzanne (WCPublishing, 2010) http://wambtac.com

BTW: Before Copy Editing will be available in all the usual online and brick-and-mortar places (Amazon, B&N, Borders, Books-a-Million, etc.) for $14.95 around late November, but you can pre-order directly from the publisher at http://wambtac.com for only $9.95 and receive your copy "hot off the press," as newsmen used to say.

There is an old Hollywood trick that makes first-stage plotting a snap and leaves plenty of room for later development, character intrusion, and twists. It's so simple, it's almost absurd, but you won't think so after you've tried it a couple of times. Best of all, it's a fantastic device for brainstorming. It all comes down to this: Simply decide where the story begins and ends, and let imagination and logic fill in the gaps.

Here it is -- the whole thing:

Number a piece of paper from one to fifteen. Write a one-line blurb of where the story begins next to number one. Then jump down to the bottom and write the ending next to number fifteen. Now go back to the top and write a blurb for what happens after the opening next to number two. Scoot down to number fourteen to write what happened just before the story ends. Continue bouncing up and down from the top of the page to the bottom and in a matter of minutes—voila! Modify this basic outline of the entire novel with additional sequences, subplots, and character PMA+A to bring the story to life.

Yup, that's it. It's called Meet-in-the-Middle, and it's been used by scriptwriters for decades. It only creates a bare-bones structure, of course, but often it’s those missing middle points that cause Writer’s Block. The fifteen scenes created with Meet-in-the-Middle are the highlights, or major and secondary plot points of the story.

So let's do one to see how it works. The example below is a quick boy-girl story mapped out in eight easy steps by my friend and I over breakfast one morning. We just wanted to play with the technique. It took us about 12-13 minutes to put this together between mastication and coffee slurps. Note: for the record, my friend is ex-military/merc/cop. He writes "attack" poetry.

STEP 1

The story begins when boy meets girl. The boy is Bill; the girl is Sandy.
The story ends with Bill killing a murderer. Why? See note above.

1. Bill and Sandy meet.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15. Bill kills the murderer.

STEP 2

Back to the top. Bill and Sandy's true-love-sailing-smoothly needs some kind of interference or there is no story. What better interference than an ex-lover showing up? Whether it is Bill’s ex-wife or an ex-girlfriend does not matter right now.

1. Bill and Sandy meet.
2. Bill's ex shows up.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14. Bill finds Sandy being held/tortured by murderer.
15. Bill kills the murderer.

Back down here. There’s really no point in Bill killing a murderer unless that murderer is somehow impacting him personally. What would cause a nice, even-tempered guy like Bill to go after a murderer? Maybe he thinks the lout has hurt his girlfriend. Guess he has to find her there to know that…

STEP 3

Up here again. They’ve met; Bill’s ex has shown up. The only logical next step is for Bill and Sandy to get into a fight over the ex, eh? Welcome to Boy loses Girl.

1. Bill and Sandy meet.
2. Bill's ex shows up.
3. Sandy and Bill fight and break up.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13. The murderer tortures Sandy.
14. Bill finds Sandy being held/tortured by murderer.
15. Bill kills the murderer.

If Bill’s going to find Sandy with the murderer, the murderer must be taking his time rather simply killing her. Hence, a torture scene.

STEP 4

What’s a girl to do when she’s just broken up with her lover because his ex showed up unannounced? Probably go drown her sorrows at a local bar. She's pretty vulnerable, so it wouldn’t occur to her that the guy she meets at the bar might want more than just a goodnight kiss.

1. Bill and Sandy meet.
2. Bill's ex shows up.
3. Sandy and Bill fight and break up.
4. Sandy goes to a nightclub and meets the murderer.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12. Murderer kidnaps Sandy.
13. The murderer tortures Sandy.
14. Bill finds Sandy being held/tortured by murderer.
15. Bill kills the murderer.

If the murder is going to hold/torture Sandy, then he logically has to kidnap her first!

STEP 5

Bill loves Sandy, not his ex. Is he going to sit around and dilly-dally with an old girlfriend/lover/wife when his current heartthrob is out there somewhere, maybe meeting someone new? He is not! He’s going to go out and look for her.

1. Bill and Sandy meet.
2. Bill's ex shows up.
3. Sandy and Bill fight and break up.
4. Sandy goes to a nightclub and meets the murderer.
5. Bill heads out to look for Sandy.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11. Bill's ex sics the murderer on Sandy, and in return, he kills her.
12. Murderer kidnaps Sandy.
13. The murderer tortures Sandy.
14. Bill finds Sandy being held/tortured by murderer.
15. Bill kills the murderer.

Why did the murderer decide to pick Sandy, out off all the girls in the bars and on the streets, to kidnap and torture? Why, Bill’s ex must have sic’d him on her. So naturally, he’d turn around and kill her. Hey, he's a murderer, remember?

STEP 6

Bill has just walked out on his ex to go look for his current love. Is she going to take that? Absolutely not! If she didn’t care about him, why did she show up again in the first place? She’s still got her charms, and he’s pretty vulnerable right now since Sandy walked out. All she’s got to do is follow him and seduce him the way she used to before they broke up.

1. Bill and Sandy meet.
2. Bill's ex shows up.
3. Sandy and Bill fight and break up.
4. Sandy goes to a nightclub and meets the murderer.
5. Bill heads out to look for Sandy
6. Bill's ex follows him and brings him home to bed.
7.
8.
9.
10. Bill throws his ex out.
11. Bill's ex sics the murderer on Sandy and in return, he kills her.
12. Murderer kidnaps Sandy.
13. The murderer tortures Sandy.
14. Bill finds Sandy being held/tortured by murderer.
15. Bill kills the murderer.

How would the ex sic the murderer on Sandy if Bill hadn’t told her to leave? He does, thereby setting the rest of the action in motion.

STEP 7

Sandy still loves Bill. She’s left the bar with the mur-derer, which is why Bill and the ex don’t find her, but she doesn’t go home with the guy, she gives him a handshake and one of those “if only we’d met at another time” lines and goes home where, of course, the ex has bedded her honey-bunny.

1. Bill and Sandy meet.
2. Bill's ex shows up.
3. Sandy and Bill fight and break up.
4. Sandy goes to a nightclub and meets the murderer.
5. Bill heads out to look for Sandy
6. Bill's ex follows him and brings him home to bed.
7. After kissing the murderer goodnight, Sandy finds Bill in bed with his ex.
8.
9. Bill tells his ex he loves Sandy; she threatens to make him sorry.
10. Bill throws his ex out.
11. Bill's ex sics the murderer on Sandy and in return, he kills her
12. Murderer kidnaps Sandy.
13. The murderer tortures Sandy.
14. Bill finds Sandy being held/tortured by murderer.
15. Bill kills the murderer.

Before Bill throws his ex out, he’s got to realize he really loves Sandy, not her. And since she decides to be a creep and set Sandy up for the murderer, Bill probably tells her in such a way that she gets furious and vengeful. How would he know there’s a murderer running around out there?

STEP 8

The story has met in the middle. Right after Sandy finds Bill in bed with his ex and just before Bill tells the ex he loves Sandy, not her, Sandy has to become vulnerable to the murderer. Ergo, she logically runs out of the house.

1. Bill and Sandy meet.
2. Bill's ex shows up.
3. Sandy and Bill fight and break up.
4. Sandy goes to a nightclub and meets the murderer.
5. Bill heads out to look for Sandy
6. Bill's ex follows him and brings him home to bed.
7. After kissing the murderer goodnight, Sandy finds Bill in bed with his ex.
8. Devastated by Bill's infidelity, Sandy goes running out of the house.
9. Bill tells his ex he loves Sandy; she threatens to make him sorry.
10. Bill throws his ex out.
11. Bill's ex sics the murderer on Sandy and in return, he kills her.
12. Murderer kidnaps Sandy.
13. The murderer tortures Sandy.
14. Bill finds Sandy being held/tortured by murderer.
15. Bill kills the murderer.

There it is: a complete plot foundation with plenty of room to impose character quirks and interaction, subplots, characterization, motivation, etc., etc., etc. Continue to map out the "What happens next?" in an outline or do a seat-of-the-pants with these 15 points as your backup. Either way, this is the spinal column of the story, so to speak, to which appendages, sinew, muscle, even toenails can be added; i.e., a basic story that can now be fleshed out into chapters.

Is that easy enough?

10 comments:

  1. clever! I do something similar: I write a sentence to represent each chapter from beginning to end. that's my outline. Then I write 1-4 more sentences for each chapter. After that I start my book! I find it great for planning but also leaves lots of room for spontaneity.

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  2. This is exactly what I needed. I've been working on outlining a story and this will help.

    Thanks Nikki!

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  3. This is awesome! I'm not really an outliner and have been trying to figure out a good way to stay a new story. This is perfect! Thanks Nikki! :)

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  4. I'm super excited for NaNo. This will help tons with that and with all my other stories that I refuse to outline cause it always take too long. Thanks Nikki!!!

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  5. This is stinkin' cool!!!!! I'm so doing this. AND I'm going to the transcripts so I can read all this juicy stuff from the workshop. Wahoo!!!

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  6. Awesome! I know the first couple and #15 for my current WIP—I'll have to give this a shot!

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  7. The method is excellent. My NaNoWriMo problem is that I don't have any ideas for where the story even begins or ends. What happens when you have absolutely no ideas to even attempt to create a plot with?

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  8. P. Gersch - Hahaha, I know the feeling. I usually just write and let anything come, but I'm trying to amend my ways and actually have a plot this time. But I guess if you don't have one, you could always do a Mad Libs version! Have friends and family each give you a word or sentence and you have to build a plot around them!! LOL! That could be funny!! Good luck with Nano!

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  9. Finally have NaNo idea (only took a month) and used this method to help give it some roots. Thanks MMW!

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