Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Week 16: Bring out the Loom!

Last week we discussed plot layers, which Donald Maass, in his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, explains are “when more than one thing is happening simultaneously to the hero.” We counted the layers or problems facing the hero and heroine in our stories and looked at ways to increase that number. Maass hinted that this week’s lesson would introduce the pivotal points intersecting the layers, or what he calls the nodes of conjunction.

How are the problems intertwined? Does the secondary character’s back story play into the hero’s current struggle? What about the heroine’s internal need? Does that shed light on the hero’s external goal? Maass provides examples of how to weave the layers together so they impact a resolution that reveals each character’s relevance to the story in a satisfying conclusion.

Perhaps this meshing of plots and characters more than anything else—at least in my humble opinion--defines the breakout novel. Harlan Coben and Jodie Picoult are two favorite authors who have mastered the technique. Each time I read their books, I am amazed at the intricate way they weave their stories, sprinkling in pertinent facts that intersect (nodes of conjunction) and lead to a climax that always takes me by surprise.

How do we accomplish that in our books? Get out a paper and pencil and note anything in your story that can overlap—characters, conflict, subplots. Now combine these smaller units into larger groups. The villain’s sister was the heroine’s best friend all during high school. The hero worked construction for the company where the murdered man was last seen. The high school best friend was dating the hero and didn’t tell him the murdered man had been stalking her for two months prior to his death. See how the story builds and the reader is drawn more deeply into each layer of the action?

Let’s re-look our current work-in-progress to determine nodes of conjuncture that weave the plot layers together. Maass has given us another blockbuster technique. Our job is to incorporate what we’ve learned into our own stories.

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings!
Debby Giusti

PS: This week's Love Inspired Suspense, KILLER CARGO, by Dana Mentink, shows how plot layers can be woven together into a great story! Be sure to get Dana's book and the other exciting stories available this month from Steeple Hill.


Jessica said...

Ouch. Layering sounds like there's lots of thinking involved. Hurts my SOP mentality. Thanks for the post. I think it's something important to make the story well-rounded and deeper.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Jessica! Always good to see your comments on the blog! SOP doesn't mean you don't layer. In fact, I bet your hero and heroine face a number of problems in their lives -- those are the plot layers.

Now consider weaving them together. Already have? Great! Maass would probably say to make the problems/situations/conflicts overlap even more.

Dianne said...

Wow! Debby, that's a lot to take in LOL.... I've been out of it on Benadryl all day... I guess that is why you are the one writing...I'm not sure I could keep up with my own layers :o) if I was writing. I had always hoped to write a childrens book and illustrate it...but maybe I should just stick to my painting. Lots of luv!

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Dianne! Sorry you've been laying low! Hope you feel better tomorrow. Probably good ole Alabama pollen, right?

You're so talented. You can paint and write!

Jessica said...

Thanks for the info Debby. BTW, I enjoyed your MIA story!

Debby Giusti said...

So glad you liked MIA! You've made my day! :)