I recently had the wonderful opportunity to take a class from author Bonnie Ramthun at the Northern Colorado Writers. I had always known I wanted to return to fiction when my nonfiction project was completed, so taking Bonnie’s class was exactly what I needed.
The author of 8 successful novels, Bonnie knows a thing or two about plot structure. She dissected bestsellers and found that they all follow the same plot line structure. She showed us that The Silence of the Lambs, The Hunger Games, The Da Vinci Code, and even children’s books like Where the Wild Things Are, all have this plot structure.
“Every great story contains a great beginning, some sort of a turn around, or catalyst, a number of pinch points, a second turn around or catalyst that leads to a climax, and then a final wrap up of the plot.”
“Each one of these elements is balanced, like a see-saw, on the strong midpoint element of the plot. The exciting beginning is matched by the exciting ending; and each element doesn’t overwhelm the others. In stories as short as children’s picture books or as long as a complicated thriller, a strong skeleton supports a great novel.”
Bang!: Obviously, a strong opening is critical.
First Turn Around: A big event or catalyst that’s not only going to propel your story along, but your main character as well. What’s at stake? What challenges is your hero facing?
Pinch Points: You can have several pinch points, but you must have at least 2 major ones AND they must relate to one another. Oftentimes, these two pinch points involve the protagonist and antagonist. For example, in the Harry Potter books, the first pinch point usually is a confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, and again before the Second Turn Around.
Midpoint: This is what keeps everything in balance, like Bonnie said, “like a see-saw.”
The Second Turn Around: Also called the “Hero’s Choice.” This is where your hero has to make a decision and whatever he/she decides, it leads to the climax of the story.
Bang! (#2): Is the climax of the story, such as a battle scene. Typically, this is between the protagonist and antagonist.
Wrap up: Tie up all those loose ends. Make sure everything you’ve brought up, has a resolution.
After seeing this structure, I now know why the first manuscript I wrote has pacing issues. I didn’t use an outline. Now, I can’t imagine trying to tackle a novel without implementing a plot structure like this. Now that my nonfiction manuscript is in the hands of the publisher, I can finally start something new and the process isn’t as daunting as before. A bestselling novel can only be supported by a strong skeleton; once you have that, it’s a matter of adding the meat of the story.