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Old 04-08-2011, 08:11 AM   #3
nickmarino
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Join Date: May 2008
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I used to struggle with long-term plotting when I first began writing and I think it was because I was either over-thinking things or suffering from indecision. As I started to read Robert McKee's "Story" (scriptwriting book), it began to click for me, and I think the solution is simpler than it seems.

To me, plotting a story arc is all about identifying the points in the story where you want to create tension. For example, let's say I'm writing a story about the man who builds the world's largest skyscraper.

Where do I want the story to start? When he's a child. I want to show him playing with LEGOs and other architectural toys as a kid. So there's the first part of my story.

I want him to go on to graduate from a great school and have a promising future ahead of him. That's a major turning point in his life, so let's make that the end of Act I.

From here, I can do one of two things for the end of Act II -- 1) I could have a major reversal that ends on a down note, or 2) I could have an even bigger victory that ends on an up note. The problem with 2 is that only way to top it emotionally is to have Act III end with a big reversal, because little success to big success to huge success wouldn't be a very exciting story arc. I'm trying to plot out ups and downs for my character to create a back-and-forth tension.

So I'll go with with option 1. Act II will end with the character suffering from a massive car accident that cripples him and puts him in the hospital. How's he ever going to build that skyscraper now?

That's what Act III is all about. I already know my ending -- man builds world's largest skyscraper. So now all I have to do is fill in the other parts. How does he go from crippled in the hospital to huge architectural success? When he's in the hospital, he begins study new architecture techniques. For two years, he's in his bed learning everything he can learn. And when he emerges, he designs the building.

So there's my basic plot. There are holes in there and lots of opportunities to create little spots of mini tension along the way. For example, as a kid, he should probably be taunted for being so obsessed with his architectural toys. And in the beginning of Act II, I need tension to follow the success of his graduation, so maybe he should have a failed romantic relationship as he begins his career.

AND... now that I look back on it, Act II might be even stronger if it ends with him falling from a tall building... a building that he designed! That way, the skyscraper isn't just about accomplishing his goal -- it's about overcoming his new fear of heights and putting his accident behind him.

Sorry, I kinda got carried away there. Anyway, hopefully that helps!

EDIT: I liked this response so much that I turned it into a blog post! I also added a little more to it, describing how I would plot out the rest of the story if I decided I wanted to end Act II on an up note instead of a down note. (HINT = Ending Act III with a big tragedy)
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