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Sanderson Lecture 4 – Plot

In Lecture four Brandon Sanderson talks about another element of fiction. Here he zeroes in on plot.

Sanderson begins by describing what he means by plot. There are two fundamental pieces to Sanderson’s idea of plot. These are: Promises and Sense of Progress. Beginning as soon as possible the author makes some promises to the reader about what the book is about.

In addition, The author provides the reader, as the story advances, a sense that the story is progressing to these promises. In addition, that the story is advancing towards the character’s goals.

Traditional Structures

How do you give this sense? Well Sanderson provides some pretty common plotting techniques, as well as some techniques that may not be as common.

The Three Act Structure is the first methodology that is provided. The three act formula is broken up into three components. There is the setup which is approximately 1/4 of the book. There is the Worsening Action phase which is approximately 1/2 the book. The final phase is a Triumph phase that is approximately 1/4 of the book.

Another approach is Heroes Journey. Here you follow a number of well defined steps as the hero goes step by step from her call to the action and finally to returning home changed.

Sanderson emphasizes that this is not a checklist, but a description of plots. You simply write the story you want to write and do not worry about these artificial structures until maybe later in the writing process.

Progress by Yes and No

Another means of progress is the yes-but and no-and structure. You take a problem and you have the character attempt to solve the problem. The solution will be yes-but or no-and. Yes-but means that the character succeeds but it unleashes another problem that is worse than the original one. No-And means that the character fails and this causes more problems.

Every scene is one or the other until you get to the final scene and simply answer yes or no.

Plot Types

PlotNow Sanderson provided a helpful mechanism for putting together a complex plot. He talks about how any story can and should consist of a number of interlocking plots. These are:

Mystery – Your story may include a mystery component. This is a plot about information. You show progress by the discovery of information and clues.

Relationship – This is the romance, or bromance component. This is a plot about two people learning to like each other. You show advancement here by showing moments together and demonstrating the changes in the relationship.

Travel-log – This is simply following points on a map. The plot is advancing simply because of the steps. You will probably have a map in the front of the book.

Big problem or heist – Generic plot where you are simply conquering a problem. Break the problem into clear components to provide the sense of progress.

Episodic – Just a number of disconnected episodes. Might be difficult to provide the sense of progress, but because it is open ended it could go on indefinitely.

Here are a couple other plots he didn’t go into, but spoke of briefly: Apprentice and Rebellion.

So How Do you Create A Story Plot?

Sanderson provides what seems like a cool method for creating a story plot. You take a number of these plots and define them step by step. You then weave each one together to create a story.

I am in the middle of using Sanderson’s method right now. It seems like it will provide a more complex plot than I usually create, which is cool. I will let you know how it goes.

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