Writing Tips & Tools

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lesson 16: Plot Layers

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Plot Layers.

In understanding how to build a breakout novel, you have to grasp the difference between subplot and a layer. Subplots are plot lines given to different characters. While layers are plot lines given to the same character. Breakout fiction makes extensive use of plot layers to reflect the natural complexity of our lives.

How many layers have you heaped on your protagonist in your current WIP? Just one?...Get busy!! Even two layers may be too few to build a breakout novel!

Step 1: What is the name of your protagonist?

Step 2: What is the overall problem he/she must solve?

Step 3: What additional problems can she face? Not complications to the main problem, but altogether different problems.

Note: A plot is layered when more than one thing happens simultaneously to the hero. There are levels of problems to utilize...public problems, personal problems, and secondary problems. Small mysteries, nagging questions, dangling threads....these can be woven into the plot.

Follow-up: For each plot layer that you add, work out at least four steps or scenes that you will need to bring this narrative line to its climax and resolution. Make notes for these additional steps or scenes.

Conclusion: Have you ever noticed how everything seems to happen at once? Good things come in threes. When it rains it pours. Layers give novels the rich texture of real life. Building them into your story is extra work, but the reward is a rich resonance and complexity!


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