Algonkian Novel Writing and MS Revision Courses
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The "Plot Point" is sometimes defined a bit differently depending on who you read. In the Algonkian Novel Writing Program we define it as a major occurrence that emphatically changes the course of the story. In an average novel of any genre, we see three to five major plot points depending on various factors: first PP that begins the rising action, second PP defined by the first major reversal, a third PP defined by a possible second major reversal, a climax PP, and a theoretical PP residing in the denouement, i.e., we believe the story will resolve in a certain way after climax, but a surprise happens when it resolves in an unexpected manner.
Applying the Six Act Two-Goal Structure to Writing the Novel
Algonkian developed the Six Act Two-Goal novel structure for writers of book-length fiction and nonfiction. The plot-point and reversal method will be utilized by all writers in the novel writing program to effectively brainstorm and outline a competitive and suspenseful plot for the commercial novel, regardless of genre (SF/F, thriller/detective, historical, etc.). Upmarket or literary fiction work with a strong plot also benefits.
In short, the approach combines Siegal's "nine act structure - two goal" screenplay (very much like the Syd Field three act except that the "reversal" from Field's structure becomes the "Act 5" in Siegal's version) with the Field classic three act. The Two-Goal Structure, Siegal maintains, creates more dynamic plot tension due to the insertion of PLOT REVERSAL later in the story, and we concur with this.
In the opening hook, the protagonist(s) are focused on a major goal begun by the first major plot point that starts the second act (in the Field model), but by the middle of the second act, or later, they realize they have pursued the wrong goal. The protagonist(s) are forced to alter their course and struggle for a more accurate goal or means to achieve the final end (even if that doesn't happen the way they expect).
The fusion of the Siegal and Field models thus becomes a tighter six act model for the novel or narrative nonfiction.
The sample below is one part of a single module in the first half of the novel writing program. The notes are in the context of other modules which came before and defined the progress of the novel up until this point.
ACT THREE TO FIRST MAJOR REVERSAL (Page 50+ - 250+)
Plot Line Evolution: Minor Reversals - Complications - Thee Levels of Conflict - Major Reversal Time - Plot Points - The Martians are Winning
The dramatic pursuit of the protagonist's major objective evolves. Plot tension is rising.
The FIRST GOAL (a means to the final end) within the context of the bigger overall objective is pursued (as we noted in prior lessons), but this must eventually lead your protagonist to a dead end, and with potentially serious consequences. This becomes the FIRST MAJOR REVERSAL. In other words, we thought we were on the way back to Kansas until we realized the broomstick must be stolen. We thought an escape from home prison was possible in MISERY until our captor whacked our leg with ten pounds of iron. NOTE: This act pulls out all the stops to create tension, angst, conflict, and issues for the protagonist and appropriate characters to resolve:
Whether upmarket or genre, MINOR COMPLICATIONS combine with MINOR REVERSALS to continually spike the narrative and story. It can't be easy for the protagonist and/or her companions. If too easy, you inevitably build to classic mid-novel sag. Tension runs out, wheels spin, and an inexperienced writer pads the middle with lumps of dull narrative and quiet situation. Ugh. "Best Wishes" rejection letter on the way. Off to a minor eBook publisher who will publish you if you have more than 100 Facebook members.
- MINOR REVERSALS TAKE PLACE: protagonist(s) struggle, perhaps score small victories of one sort or another, but these are almost always reversed. For example, in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, McMurphy organizes the inmates and theatrically pretends to watch the World Series in defiance of the Big Nurse, but she makes her will known later and punishes him.
- MINOR COMPLICATIONS TAKE PLACE: in other words, things happen that have a notable negative physical or emotional impact on the protagonist or those he/she cares about. These are not as strong as minor reversals, but action must be taken to overcome them. McMurphy takes the inmates out for a boat ride, but conflict at the dock with the boat captain and a need to make a quick escape takes place (ONE FLEW OVER). And know that "minor complications" can be fairly serious. In WAR OF THE WORLDS the major character had to bludgeon an insane minister to death in order to prevent him from giving away their hiding place to the Martians.
Note: as a bonus, complications and reversals also assist greatly in maintaining all three levels of conflict. Also, prior to climax, we may have a smart and strong reversal or complication which serves to introduce a twist or an unexpected event in the story (sometimes called a MIDPOINT CLIMAX).
Pinch Points Reveal the Antagonist Aims Sans Filter
Pinch Points take place: an example or a reminder of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force, that is not filtered by the hero's experience. We see it for ourselves in a direct form as in a brief cut away scene that describes an impending thunderstorm, a peek into the villian's mind. There should be two and they should be at about the 3/8 mark and the 3/5 mark in the manuscript. In ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST a pinch point took place at the 3/5 mark when the Big Nurse informed the assembled hospital staff just what kind of cruel fate was in store for McMurphy.
Crisis Point or FIRST MAJOR REVERSAL = Second Major Plot Point
In Stephen King's MISERY, after the captive author protagonist has his knees sledge-hammered by Kathy Bates (God, that hurt!) to prevent him from trying to escape again, he knows he's been using the wrong means to pursue the master goal (ie, to escape). He must now reboot and choose another path, a second goal to achieve the master objective or goal (escape). To accomplish, the author conceives a new plan of theatrical cooperation with his captor, the new goal within the master goal being to trick her into passivity and lure her into a trap whereupon he can knock her senseless.
In general, at this point, backstory issues, mysterious strangers, twists and turns and events all point out that your protagonist is on the wrong track, and the antagonist graph is rising. The Martians are conquering Earth and the Big Nurse is slowly tightening a noose around McMurphy's neck.
Once more, success seems possible.
INTERNAL CONFLICT IS ON THE INCREASE ALSO. Of course, and so is interpersonal conflict. All three levels of conflict are rising! But back to the protagonist for a moment ... Why should she or he turn back now? Why doesn't he/she? What's at stake? Is there a DILEMMA? What makes your protagonist realize the unavoidable importance of her/his original goal? What gives it new meaning? Does someone die? Do the stakes raise? Does reputation suffer or threaten to diminish? We must have a answer. This is true drama. Storytelling at its finest.
MODULE ASSIGNMENT as follows:
- List at least three minor reversals and three complications that will take place in this Act (you will likely have more). Place them in the context of the story and sketch the circumstances for each--not more than 50 words each for a total of not more than 300 words.
- In 100 words or less, note how your minor reversals and complications will contribute to the three levels of conflict.
- Note your "mid-point climax" if you have one. If not, why not? See the note above. Work up a twist or unexpected event.
- In 100 words or less, sketch the nature of your antagonist pinch points. Why do they occur when they do? What are the circumstances?
- Sketch the first major plot reversal. Set the scene for us. What happens? Why? What is the aftermath?
- Finally, what is at stake for the protagonist? Why doesn't he or she turn back now? And if she or he does turn back or retreat for a short time, what remotivates them back to the struggle?