Today we have another post from the eminent Paul Davis. So, sit back and enjoy his work.
You’ve all heard this before: there are as many ways to write as there are people writing. Very rarely will you find the gem that tells you the exact best way you write. However, the more you read about what works for others, the more you come to understand what does work well for you. I came up with this way of writing when I mixed and matched writing styles with and without structure. I found it focused me enough to move forward while not restraining the story.
A quick lesson, though. When I first started writing I was a control freak. Everything was planned out, the story was cemented with only minor details able to change. For me, this angered my characters, caused the world to eventually become untrue to itself, and left me quitting the writing process halfway through. Then I tried with no structure at all, and there was nothing good which came of that. There are people working well in both camps, but I would bet most of us are an in between.
The way I have preferred to write is what I like to call a knot approach. Your story is a rope capable of moving as it wishes, swaying and kinking in the most unimaginable areas. Let’s be honest, some days our characters hate us, eventually our plot line doesn’t make sense, at times our setting rebels. The rope can flex with these moments, allowing for change. However, one still has to know where the rope is going to have some idea how to get there.
I plan out three knots. The knots are moments I know will happen, points of the rope that are fairly unmoving. Each knot has a plan, a plot point which changes the story, characters, and/or setting. Everything which happens to the rope on the way can move freely, as long as it eventually prepares for that one plot point.
My first knot is the inciting action. There is a background which must lead up to it, which I generally plan out. The background must move events and characters towards that inciting action and prepare them for it. Sometimes preparation means they have a certain flaw, and other times it means they have the magical gem needed to open the portal to bad places.
The second knot is the game changer. There are always several game changers, but this one must happen or nothing else matters. It’s discovering the weakness in a castle, overcoming a fear of snakes, or learning a great spell which might be able to take down the evil wizard. It should challenge the character and reveal either growth or a lack there of. Everything leading up to it is preparing the character for the knot.
Finally, there is the climax. The final knot is the true test of if the protagonist learned anything, overcame any flaws, and became a better character for it. Everything between the second and third knot leads up to this final struggle. It is setting the stage for a great or tragic moment. The antagonist could suddenly show new vigor. A friend of the protagonist could die. Maybe the super weapon was lost or stolen and it needs to be recovered. Just throw in some spice to really shoot off the climax.
As I said when starting this, every writer has a style. The knots might not work out for you, or maybe they’re the piece of advice you’ve been waiting for all your writing days. I find it gives me enough structure while still allowing unstructured side stories. I’ve also had my knots change drastically. I had one knot where I was able to get all the characters needed together, but then they just decided to do what they wanted. People slated to die survived, while my survivors were shot down. Why? Because when the rope reached the knot, with the position of the characters and the way events had been playing it, it made more sense.
In short, play around with it. Give the knots a chance. Come up with three knots for a story, as short or long as you want, and try out a new method. I find it good practice to find new methods and practice them in my own works to see what I like or don’t like. I hope this helped and happy writing.