Apr 24 2008
This article will help you organize the plotline of your story or novel.
1. Personal Growth. This story focuses on the gradual transformation of the main character.
- Strengths: readers hate flat (non-changing) characters. Personal growth is usually a coherent and effective way to organize a story.
- Weaknesses: sometimes this plot-structure is too simple and linear. If the character stumbles occasionally, it will be a bit less predictable.
2. Self-Discovery. This story focuses on the protagonist realizing something about himself and/or his relationships. Its most simple theme is the banal “be yourself!”, but it can handle more complex and dark themes– for example, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is an excellent story of self-discovery gone wrong.
Strengths: this frame lends itself well to character studies. Also, complex self-discovery stories usually create an intimate reader-author connection.
- Weaknesses: These stories are unusually vulnerable to overwrought, rambling narration. Also, this sort of story relies on an interesting character-voice more than a P.G. story. If your character’s voice isn’t right, this may sound like a sob-story rather than an intriguing character study. Finally, the plot may be too predictable if we know early on what the character will eventually discover about himself (“be yourself!”).
3. Single Goal. This story focuses on a character setting out to accomplish one great goal. For example, the Harry Potter series is about Harry’s quest to avenge his parents by destroying Voldemort. (How disappointing would book seven have been if it had ended without Voldemort dead?)
- Strengths: usually extremely focused and relatively easy to write. Works particularly well for first-novels.
- Weaknesses: Usually a predictable ending.
4. Geographic Quest/Journey. These are stories where a geographic journey is either the main character’s overriding objective (Westward, Ho!) or closely linked to the main character’s developmental arc, like any of the many stories about a farmboy trying to make it in The Big City.
- Strengths: compared to the first three arcs, this one makes better use of the milieu. Geographic motion frequently gives the story a sense of energy and occasionally epicness.
- Weaknesses: Focusing on the milieu is risky, particularly if your style is conventional and your content is not particularly innovative. For every Grapes of Wrath, you get 100 Eragons.
5. Chronicling an Epic Downfall. This is a story where the narrator is telling a story about another character’s downfall (like Great Gatsby or All The King’s Men). This epic character usually fails because of his own flaws, particularly hubris or blindness.
- Strengths: Freshness. Parable potential—if you enjoy writing stories with morals, this arc is probably a solid choice. This is one of the few arcs where it’s acceptable to use a minor character as a narrator or point-of-view.
- Weaknesses: This story has to accomplish something difficult, taking a character that’s usually off-screen and making him both engaging and epically messed-up.