Monday, June 10, 2013

Guy-Plots and Girl-Plots: Novel Writers Workshop #TBSU

What's the quickest way to improve your plotting? Men, try thinking like a woman! Women, try thinking like a man! It’s a cliché that men write plot and women write character, but it’s also often true. So, men writers – pay special attention to the girl-plots advice! Women writers – pay close attention to the guy-plots advice! Forgive the gender oversimplification, and write that Best Seller!

Guy Plots

One plan for a novel is what I call the guy-plot — action rather than character oriented. Here are two ways to think through a guy-plot. If you aren't working on a manuscript at the moment, think through an imaginary one. Who knows, it might become a best seller!

Plan A

As defined by Syd Field in Screenplay (fantastic book, BTW, even if you never write a screenplay), “A plot point is an incident, or event, that ‘hooks’ into the action and spins it around into another direction.” Locate the plot points of your novel. Do you have a plot point near the beginning, about half way through and near the end? (That’s the minimum!)

Opening: _________________________________ (hook)

Plot point 1: _________________________________ (flip)

optional twist: _________________________________ (flip!)

Plot point 2: _________________________________ (hook and flip!)

optional twist: _________________________________ (flip!)

Plot point 3: _________________________________ (hook, flip, and climax!)

Plan B

Construct a conflict staircase for your manuscript. Silly example: Artha loses her job as a waitress. Now she can’t afford to go to law school at night. Her best friend is arrested for shoplifting. She bails her friend out, but now has no money at all. The next afternoon, her daughter is kidnapped on her way home from school… and poor Artha can’t pay the ransom. She goes to her law professor, … [I said it was silly. Note the progression from worry about self, to worry about friend, to worry about child. Build the stakes – build the tension!]






 (start) _____________________ 

Do YOUR stakes get higher and higher as the plot progresses?? You may need more or fewer steps than in the example.

If you are reading this post with a writers' group, stop now and compare notes. Have you realized anything about your manuscript? Can you jazz it up to a best seller plot?! 

Girl Plots

Here’s a character driven way to think about plot:
  • Throughout a story, characters connect and disconnect. 
  • Disconnecting produces tension.
  • Attempting to reconnect produces plot.
  • Connection leads to resolution and reader satisfaction.

This simplified structure is most obvious in romance novels (which could explain why they sell more copies than any other kind of book). But any story can be examined through the lens of connections and disconnections. Think of the movie The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones – an action movie lifted to high drama by the growing connection between pursuer and pursued.

In Crafting Short Screenplays that Connect (another excellent resource for all writers), Claudia Hunter Johnson suggests several possible scenarios:

discovery: the character makes a discovery that makes a difference to the character

decision: the character makes a decision that makes a difference to the character

boxing match: one character wants what another character does not want to give

improbable connection: a plausible but not predictable pattern of human connection

I would add:

serial: a character tries repeatedly to connect, with anybody! [Looking for Mr. Goodbar]

interpersonal: two characters struggle through connections and disconnections

long-term: a connection slowly grows between two characters

These scenarios are all intertwined, and chances are you will use several at various times in your novel.

Ask yourself these questions about the major interactions in your novel:

Who connects? 

Who disconnects? 

Whose relationships go back and forth, 
connecting and disconnecting? 

Again, if you are working with a writers' group, you may want to stop now and discuss your various manuscripts in relation to these questions. 

Are You More a Guy-Plotter or a Girl-Plotter?

Have any of these questions sparked thoughts about your own manuscript? Do you write more plot driven or character driven novels? Do you aim for a balance of event-tension and character-tension? Could you add just that bit more guy-plot to propel readers through your story? Could you add just a bit more girl-plot to hook readers into your characters? Please share your ideas and questions in the comments. I look forward to a great discussion!


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome, Maria. I really like your blog and hope people will hop over for a visit!