The Two Pillars Of Plot Progression

story-mountain-plotJust read this FANTASTIC article on Writer’s Digest with regards to plot in a story. For the past few days, I’ve been kind of confused about the ebb and flow of a story. There always seems to be a method to it, a certain fixed structure, but why are so many famous authors able to do it in their own ways without being seen as boring or repetitive. Heck, Michael Crichton uses the same thing in ALL his books but they still hit you like a truck when you read them.

It’s also so amusing to me, because i just read and reblogged this article yesterday about Plotter vs Pantser. To me, I always thought the optimal point was somewhere in the middle but closer to the Pantser. Creativity should always be more important than the presentation, after all that’s why you’re a Writer right?

This article nails it on the day, by objectively stating out the two main things you need in a plot, namely the 2 pillars needed for every story. These are your scene separators, and unless you’re writing a seven novel epic, they serve to divide your story into the three essential parts – Introduction, Conflict, Resolution, the arrangement of everything else is arbitrary as long as you hit these two checkpoints!

The First Pillar

The beginning of a novel tells us who the main characters are and introduces the situation at hand (the story world). It sets the tone and the stakes. But the novel does not take off or become “the story” until that first pillar is passed. Think of it as a Doorway of No Return. The feeling must be that your lead character, once
she passes through, cannot go home again until the major problem of the plot is solved.

The Second Pillar

The second pillar is another kind of Doorway of No Return: It makes possible or inevitable the final battle and resolution.

The article gives a lot of examples of this in actual books, so please read it if you want to go into more detail on them. I highly encourage you to read it and maybe subscribe to them. They have a lot of great stuff.

My attitude on writing and plot outlining has changed a lot after reading this. In the past, I believe you should have an point by point outline of how you should proceed before you even start writing. Hey, that’s what most writers guides say right, failing to plan is planning to fail. The first article I’ve read that actually changed this perception somewhat, was some advice from dear Ernest Hemingway. And thanks to him…..

I call bullshit on over plotting now due to 2 main reasons:

(1) As you write and get immersed into your work, you get a TON of “Ah-Ha! This will be awesome!” moments where you bring the story totally off tangent and is miles better than what you wanted to write. I’m up to 7,000 words on a plot outline I randomly generated on Monday, and frankly I ditched the outline and just went balls to the wall on what I felt is best for the story. Taking short time outs to rethink where I wanted to go, but that’s it. it was only after reading this article that I knew why I was able to just keep writing. I hit the milestones, I gave the story a reason to carry on! Something that had frankly been a big issue for me in the last few weeks. Now, I knew what I wanted in the story in the most basic of sense. Not a blow by blow, this must happen then that plot line.

(2) By setting too many checkpoints, you are literally forcing your story along a path, blocking out a lot of potential. Some add these in later as sub-plots or meaningless drivel in their book (because its too good to pass up), but honestly, you’re doing that to make your story better and more readable because your main plot sucks. If your subplot and other ideas are that good to be incorporated, use them, make them part of the whole. Personally I feel a lot of fantasy / superhero and science fiction stories are guilty of this. Just because you have a unique setting shouldn’t stop you from going off tangent, a lot of them are guilty of reading like a point A to point B storyline. Whereas contemporary works tend to be more whimsical and flutter all over the place, but mostly relegated to the side plot or love story inside.

Note of course, if you’re so creative, you can come up with a totally awesome plot just by sitting there and think through your entire story in one sitting, please ignore me. I’m clearly someone who lives for the moment, and get all excited whenever I start writing and my creative juices just start spurting out. 

From now on, just go with the flow

While the article uses a suspension bridge analogy, I prefer to think of writing as driving through a desert. You have certain checkpoints you need to reach to refuel and recharge, and you also want to get out of there sooner or later. But that is ALL YOU NEED. Anything else is an arbitrary limitation. If you found a short cut or a more scenic route, why not just take it!  If nothing else, hey it sure is more fun and enjoyable!

This will be my approach to writing from now on. And I shouldn’t have to replan my plot or story that often anymore. The pillars should be transferrable from one story to another, and by changing the setting and characters, i should be able to write a brand new story by letting the desert sands take me wherever they want.

I might expand on this concept a little in future, in conjunction with my changing thoughts of how characters should be made to fit into a story. Slowly but surely, I feel like I’m learning, not to write, but how to craft. And in this aspect, I’m learning that LESS is more, it’s just how you wrap your head around it.

Have a great day ahead.

Sighhh, I really need to learn to write shorter posts. 


7 thoughts on “The Two Pillars Of Plot Progression

  1. Reblogged this on DLFwriting and commented:
    Good stuff here people!

  2. Before writing my novel, I had five major moments along the story line. I viewed the writing process and five separate mountains and my job as a writer was to fill in the gaps. I found that filling in those gaps was the real fun. Those are my favorite sections where some really cool concepts were created.

    Hope that helps. By the way, I love long posts that are full of great information. Keep up the great work.

    • Yea that’s the typical structure for planning a full plot, but as mentioned, I was going for a more free-flowing kind of approach. If you’re like me and prefer to write off the seat of your pants, maybe this would be a good compromise.

      But personally, I think in either case, the 2 pillar strategy fits, since the pillars is about making sure the plot move ahead instead of the ebb and flow of it. Glad you like it. Remember to check out the full article.

  3. I have to go with the free flowing approach personally…I’m aware, dimly at least lol, that there are methods and structures to “crafting” a story but mostly I find that just suffocates the creative juices and I end up with something that really is nothing but at all…just a dried up husk trying to follow particular rules until nothing unique or spontaneous remains…that said I’ve never got anything into print, and I’m not at all disciplined in the way I write…or don’t! As the case may be at the time. This post made for some very encouraging reading thanks 🙂

    • Hey, if you’re searching Google or WordPress for writing advice, it’s most likely you’ve never been published (discounting self-publishing) like the rest of us! Live and learn, there’s more to life then just becoming and famous and leaving us in your dust.

  4. Quite right! Never been published or even self published to date! I have no desire to become famous and leave anyone in my dust though! I would, however, like to think that I could produce something of publishable quality regardless of whether it actually got published along the way or not. Personal satisfaction would be a great enough reward there. I would also like to think that what I wrote would appeal to and engage those who chose to view it just as much as it would have done moi – if it didn’t do that for myself I would have no interest in writing it 🙂 Fame/publishing, whilst it would of course be very nice in it’s own way, is in my mind a bonus extra but not the be all and end all of everything. It would however add weight to the notion you might have written something good!

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