Sunday, August 5, 2012

Plot and Conflict: How to Structure Your Story

With so many ways of deconstructing--or, because we're writers, constructing--stories (novels, short stories, or movies), which one should you choose as your blueprint? I'll explain a few and you can decide which to use.


In school you may have learned about the three conflict archetypes: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Himself. Within any story you'll see one or more of these at play.

A man against man conflict would be any story in which the protagonist has a human (or something equal to human within the story's universe) antagonist. Some examples are as follows: Harry Potter versus Voldemort, Luke versus Darth Vader, Iron Man verses Jeff Bridges (I can't recall his character's name).

Man against nature might be survival stories, such as "Swiss Family Robinson," or even alien or zombie stories, such as The Omega Man (the novel)/"I Am Legend" (the film adaptation).

Man against himself is often found as a co-conflict alongside "man vs. man" or "man vs. nature." "Finding Nemo," in which Marlin must find the hero within himself, is a good example of "man (or fish, in this case) vs. himself" as well as "man/fish vs. nature."


Orson Scott Card's MICE quotient is another way of viewing a story. I've written on this before, so I'll be brief.

M- Milieu stories focus mainly on exploring the setting.

I- Idea stories are about answering a question, solving a mystery, or learning some piece of information.

C- Character stories focus on character growth and change.

E- Event stories are about how characters deal with a catastrophe. (Man vs. Nature stories would probably fit in here.)

Most stories will have more than one of these conflict types.


Dan Wells' video series on The Seven Point Plot Structure (see the first video here) is, another way to look at/write about stories. This is the one I'm using as a framework for my WIP. I didn't start writing with this structure in mind, but it helped enormously when I started putting the loose idea and disjointed scenes into a coherent structure. I'll give you a brief rundown of the seven point structure, but see the videos to get a complete explanation.

1-Start with a hook, or starting state of the protagonist. (Harry Potter, in The Sorcerer's Stone, is an orphan living under the stairs. This is the opposite from his state at the end of the book.)

2- Plot turn #1- Introduce conflict, the world changes, and the hero is called to adventure. (Harry learns he's a wizard and starts learning magic.)

3- Pinch #1- Hero must solve a big problem. (In Harry Potter, this is the troll attack.)

4- Midpoint- Shift from reaction to action. (Harry vows to protect the sorcerer's stone.)

5- Pinch #2 - Hero faces a bigger problem than in pinch 1. (Harry loses Ron and Hermione's help in the dungeon.)

6- Plot turn #2 - Hero obtains the last thing or information needed to get to the resolution. (Harry discovers the stone in his pocket because of his pure motive.)

7- Resolution- This is the climax. Harry faces Voldemort and defeats him... at least until the following book/film. (Man, that guy was hard to kill!)


The last way to view story structure that I'll mention is the Hollywood Formula, as explained by Lou Anders. I'll let you check out the Writing Excusespodcast to learn about it. I don't think I can do it justice here. The nuances of the antagonist are fascinating.


DL Hammons said...

Interesting. I don't belief I've consciously thought of this before. :)

Amanda Borenstadt said...

I think a lot of writers haven't, but we tend to write with logical plot structure anyway. I guess it's built into us.

Kara Hartz said...

Maybe that's why they say that you should read a lot, and outside your genre. Helps you pick up some structure more instinctively?

Amanda Borenstadt said...

I think you're right. That makes perfect sense!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

This is great, Amanda. I also love the "Once upon a time" scenario. Once upon a time there was a mother who while visiting the United States witnessed a horrific crime. She finally agreed to testify knowing that it would put her family in danger. Her greatest fears were answered.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

I like that, Joylene. It's also an awesome hook. Such a quick description that you grabs a reader's attention.

I tend to say more words with less meaning. "The book is about a girl, well it's also about this guy, they they aren't romantically involved. There's a time thing going on and adventure, danger. Oh, and there's a unicorn and a magic pocket watch." That's what I pretty much said recently when somebody asked me what I'm writing these days. It won't do much on a book jacket. LOL

lbdiamond said...

LOVE this post!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thanks, Laura. :)

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