Sunday, August 7, 2011

pt 23 of "Building Better Plots", by Robert Kernen

At the end of Part 22, I said I’d be back with a clearer idea of where to end the story and what to include in what I will call the first book. I’m going to write it with enough stuff hinted at for the future that a second book will be possible.

Ending Book One is a matter of acceptance. My gut is telling me where the climax is. Trying to turn another scene into the climax will only mess things up for the reader. I still have to decide what to include in the resolution, but that can wait. I can live with that.

On to Part Two of Kernen’s book: Building the Plot. Kernen says that, over time, plot archetypes have developed. That makes sense, since there are character archetypes. I think plot archetypes are related to genre. He says that these archetypes help writers, because:

  • they offer a solid foundation with a “sub-frame” on which to build the story (there are some things the writer won’t have to make up or research exhaustively);
  • writers “can assume a certain body of knowledge on the part of the audience” (they’ve probably read similar stories and will be familiar with certain concepts).
Readers benefit from the patterns also because they can “more easily follow the story and understand the underpinnings of it.”

For the purposes of his book, he uses nine types:

The quest

Kernen offers a list of criteria and examples of stories for each archetype, in addition to an in-depth discussion of each type and why they work so well. I like this approach, but I have a problem with some of the examples he uses. Some authors of “how-to” books for writers stress classic novels as resources, but frankly, I don’t think the classics are that much help. I need to know how to apply these lessons with modern writing conventions. I don’t want to hear, “Your writing would fit right in with Shakespeare’s contemporaries. But we don’t publish that.”

Maybe this is why successful authors are often asked “What do you like to read?” The masses of unpublished writers assume that if they want to write kind of like Stephen King, and King likes another particular writer, that writer must “know how to write.” Maybe that person’s style is a bit more accessible to us than King’s.

I started to worry about seeing so many of these archetypes throughout my own WIP, but Kernen seems to imply that’s a good thing. What a relief.

Next installment talks about keeping a spotlight on without using a wash over the whole stage. Now that’s an appropriate metaphor!

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