You’re working on a novel. You’ve got boxes of material. Photos, maps, genealogical research. Books you’ve read and annotated with pages you’ve thumbed. While falling in love with the research, you’ve managed to fill a folder in your hard-drive with sub-files you think of as chapters. After putting in this extravagant amount of time and work, you still don’t have much that you would not feel ashamed to show your friends who, well meaning, encouraging, seem never to tire of asking: so, how’s that novel coming?
Where is that magic wand you can wave, that will weave that pile of straw into the golden thing of beauty that haunts your dreams?
The plot chart (see McKee’s Story for a description of how this works) you’ll see here, combined with a five-focus structure, is the closest thing I’ve found to that magic wand.
Attempts to rotate the image to horizontal have failed for me. Below is an explanation of what you’re seeing.
The plot chart details the arc of a character’s journey from the event (the inciting incident) that disturbs the balance in the character’s world, through struggles against opposition and up the slope of ever increasing risk, over the pinnacle (high point of the action) that is the Point of No Return, across the chasm of crisis (the no-action bridge that that confronts the character with a dilemma and then leads to the climax) to the final action and reversal.
Okay. But, just because you know the plot arc doesn’t mean you can organize a story. The five-focus structure, represented by the vertical bands, does that. Each band contains a part of the plot arc. When organizing your novel, place in each band the parts of the plot arc that belong there and work on each “band” or focus separately, keeping in mind the jobs each focus must accomplish.
For a clear explanation of how the five-focus way of organizing your story material works, check out Jon Franklin’s Writing For Story.
If you can organize your story arc in this way, you may not have a brilliant story, but you will have a story. If it’s brilliance you want, do the hard work in the re-writing. At least you’ll start with a story.