How to find practical application power for your writing? Plot Busters.

What is Plot Busters?

Plot Busters is my attempt to strengthen my writing by studying the structure of published novels.

But I have a secret.

Some of you may think I created Plot Busters because I felt the innate desire to share all my expertise.

Not really. I’m not an expert. I don’t pretend to be.

In fact, looking back on my earlier Plot Buster posts, I realize I might break them down differently today. That’s how much I’ve learned doing this.

I am on a journey to become a better writer, and I knew I needed to study published novels to do it. I’d read the craft books, but I found them hard to apply. I had too much head knowledge and not enough practical application power.

My first attempts at it over a year ago were pretty pitiful. I had some turning points and the climax but I wasn’t sure how to break down each act. I’d written a middle grade ghost story that I absolutely loved. I wanted to rewrite it but I knew it was lacking structure.

Then I read Save the Cat and I loved how Blake Snyder broke down structure. So I started breaking down books. You can use many different methods to break down stories. The nine point grid (didn’t work for me), five acts, four acts, 8 sequences, three acts, hero’s journey – just to name a few. Find one that works for you.

My studies provided answers but also raised questions.

  • Do books have to follow structure?
  • When’s the best time to be flexible with structure?
  • Is it only high concept stories fit for film that work with structure?
  • Is there a difference in structure with middle grade and young adult books?
  • Is there a difference in structure with character driven vs plot driven books?
  • Do my favorite books follow structure or not?
  • Could some best sellers possibly have been even better with stronger structure?
  • Can strong writing, voice or a compelling hook make up for a weak structure?

So many questions. And I wanted answers.

Want to learn with me? Every Monday. Here. Plot Busters. Some books we’ll spend a month with and others one day.

Starting next week, we’re looking at THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, a young adult novel by Jandy Nelson. Because I was pretty sure a character driven book like that wouldn’t have a strong structure.

What do you think? Do character driven more literary books have strong structure?

, , , , , , , ,

45 Responses to How to find practical application power for your writing? Plot Busters.

  1. Andrea October 17, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Laura, I think structure is an area where I need to learn more too, so I’ve appreciated your plot break downs. I always have so many questions, and I see that some of them are the same as yours!

  2. Jessica Bell October 17, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    They still have structure, but it’s not as clear cut :o) Looking forward to your posts!

    • Laura October 17, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      Jessica – You’re the expert on those more literary novels! 🙂

      Andrea – I appreciate them too b/c I really do learn a lot from breaking them down!

  3. Natalie Aguirre October 17, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    I loved Save the Cat. I agree studying books can help us to learn. I’ve never read THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE but Casey raves about it. I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say.

    Congrats on the shout out for you on The Bookshelf Muse.

  4. Miranda Hardy October 17, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Good question. I’m not really sure of the answer. Like you, I enjoy reading to learn, too. I study text and styles, trying to get the good from everything. Great post. Can’t wait till next week.

  5. Sarah October 17, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Save The Cat is one of the few “craft” books I’ve purchased. I was really fascinated by it. I don’t pay a lot of attention to structure in my own work, and could probably stand to do more of it–I have a lot to learn, so I look forward to next Monday!

  6. Matthew MacNish October 17, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    This is a great question, and timely for me, because my own novel has both an internal and an external struggle, and I worry that the internal struggle does not follow the proper structure of a story.

    I’m looking forward to learning from this series.

  7. Susan Sipal October 17, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Laura, let me add my congratulations to your recognition from The Bookshelf Muse. You are indeed one of my writing heroines!

    And your plot buster series is just one of the reasons. I also love the way you present what’s happening in publishing today from such a fair and honest perspective.

    Thank you!

  8. mooderino October 17, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    I ask these sorts of questions too, and often break down entire books looking for answers.

    I think the problem with trying to find a universal plot structure is it only works on a very basic level (stories have a beginning, middle and end, but how helpful is that on your third rewrite?) and there’s a level of sophistication above that you need to employ. Much harder to summarize in a nice easy 12 step list or whatever.

    Ultimately you have to understand what your story is about and what your trying to say, something a lot of writers try to avoid pinning down.

    Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.


    Moody Writing

    • Laura October 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

      Thanks everyone! And Mooderino – I think you’re right. Structure is not a rigid thing that will fit every book. But I do think we can find aspects of structure that will strengthen our writing. I have. 🙂

  9. Carole Anne Carr October 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Hi, Laura, if there is no structure then is seems to come under the stream of consciousness genre – e g Virginia Woolf, James Joyce – a very difficult thing to pull off.

    And what is meant by structure…

    Perhaps the person who is an authority on this would say that without a worked out premise the book, play won’t work..

    The Art of Dramatic Writing – Lajos Egri

  10. Stina Lindenblatt October 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    My wip is stronger because you pointed out the weaknesses in it’s structure (which is didn’t have because I really didn’t under the concept at the time).

    I’ve read The Sky is Everywhere and can’t wait to see your breakdown, Laura. Especially since I don’t remember the story very well. All I remember is the bed in the woods. 😀

  11. terri tiffany October 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I’m not as detailed as you are– I wish I was. I read books and try to discover their structure and then do the same but I know I still lack the real way to do it:(

  12. Ava Jae October 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    First–congrats on your mention on The Bookshelf Muse! You definitely deserve it. 🙂

    Second, I’m looking forward to future Monday plot busters. I haven’t read The Sky is Everywhere but I look forward to seeing what you think!

  13. Sheri Larsen October 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I need to revisit Save the Cat. Thanks for that guidance.

    When I decided to write seriously about three years ago, I broke down 6 novels–scene by scene–and studied them. This is a fantastic exercise. I think I might do it again. Maybe I’ll find that I, too, break them down differently now that I’ve been writing a while.

    • Laura October 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      Well, truthfully, all books have some kind of structure. When I say they have weak structure, I mean the author didn’t take advantage of the tools of structure to deepen the emotion and keep the pacing interesting. Down to the bare bones, yes, there is usually a beginning, middle, and end. But there is so much more than that. 🙂

  14. Charissa Weaks October 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Hi Laura! So glad I’m not alone 🙂 I break down every book I read. But…that’s how I learn. It’s an amazing process once you start doing it. I will definitely be back on Mondays to check out your posts!

  15. Patti October 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    In the past when I’ve thought of structure it’s been mostly related to plot, and since a lot of literary books don’t have a definite (fast pace) plot, I would say their structure is different than say a murder mystery, or a thriller. I’ll be interested in your post next Monday and to see what other people have to say.

  16. Melissa Hurst October 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    I loved Save the Cat! It helped me take my writing to the next level, but I know I can always learn more. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say about The Sky in Everywhere. I haven’t read it but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.

  17. Loree Huebner October 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Look forward to your posts.

    I’ve read some awesome writing with terrible story structure that falls flat…and the other way around – good story structure, bad writing.

  18. Lisa Green October 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Still think you’re amazing no matter how much you deny it. 😛 I’m also guessing by that tease that there WAS a solid structure to that book. Guess I’ll find out…

  19. Marcia October 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Re ways to break down stories, I’m glad you said, “Find one that works for you.” We don’t have to go nuts trying to use them all. I personally like the 9-box grid.

    A character-driven book needs a journey, too, so I’d expect a strong emotional plot structure in it, even if it’s a quieter book.

  20. Angela Ackerman October 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    Save the Cat is one of my favorite books on writing. So helpful, as are your structure posts! Looking forward to the one on The Sky is Everywhere!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • Laura October 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

      Yes! I don’t think there is one way or only one method to break down a book. In fact different books might work better with different method that differ slightly! Of course, we all know, there is never one way to do something. As soon as we hear that, we’ll find fifty others who do it a different way. The same applies to plotting, outlining, and the whole writing process! In fact, if breaking down novels don’t help you grow as a writer – then don’t do it. But for me, it’s been worth the bit of extra time.

  21. Elle Strauss October 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    Love this idea! I will be here on Monday’s with bells on!!

  22. Jennifer Hoffine October 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Ahh! That’s a trick question as…now that I think about it…THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE does have strong structure, though not all character driven/literary books do.

  23. becca puglisi October 17, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    *jumps up and down*

    I read Save the Cat. I love Save the Cat. I applied it to my wip and it’s looking MUCH better, but I know I’ve got more to learn. Since structure is always an issue of mine, I can’t WAIT to see these posts.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  24. Martha Ramirez October 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    I am a HUGE Save the Cat fan! Love that you are too:)
    Nice to meet you, Laura. I found you on the Booksehelf Muse.

  25. Margo Berendsen October 17, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    Ah, the character-driven book! I just picked up a fabulous insight on these, yes I believe they are structure driven too, just a different type of structure.

  26. Kelly Polark October 17, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    I have used one of your breakdowns to help outline my latest book. So thank you!!!

  27. Leigh Moore October 17, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    I don’t know. I would think that plot-driven novels would have more structure. Just b/c they’re not you know, studying characters. 😀 I’ll be interested to hear what you think of The Sky is Everywhere. I’m curious about that one~

  28. Karen Lange October 18, 2011 at 12:38 am #

    Plot busters – love it! I’m in. Looking forward to reading your posts. 🙂

  29. Karen Strong October 18, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    Looking forward to your Monday posts. I think character driven stories can have structure. But it just depends.

  30. Anne R. Allen October 18, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    I look forward to this series. Structure is the hardest thing for new writers. I think that’s why “formula” genres like mysteries and romances seem less intimidating to tackle first thing. There’s an old screenwriters rule that says “Act 1–get your guy up a tree; Act 2–throw rocks at him; Act 3–Get him down again.” Simplistic, but it’s amazing how my first couple of books didn’t do that. 🙂

    • Laura October 18, 2011 at 2:46 am #

      And lately, my reading habits have changed. Give me a good character driven, well written book and I’m in! I still love plot and I’ll love this literary book more if there’s a good hook. But I’ve been amazed at the books I’ve been putting down lately b/c they’re just okay! And I think it all started after reading The Sky Is Everywhere!

      Thanks for stopping by everyone!

  31. Deb Marshall October 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    What and excellent idea! Looking forward to following along and learn…thanks for taking the lead!

  32. Deb Marshall October 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Aaaand…back to answer the question. Yes, I think character driven still have structure, maybe a little more subtle but they will follow a character and story arc like a plot driven novel. I will try and get The Sky is Everywhere read…been on my to read list for a while now!

  33. Susan Kaye Quinn October 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Yay for the return of Plot Busters! And I honestly can’t say about character driven stories and structure – I know the stories I like BEST are well structured, but then I don’t read a lot of literary stuff either. I’m curious to see what you find!

  34. Southpaw October 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    I have found that rereading and analyzing my favorite books has helped me understand how to apply all the information from craft books.

    I’m looking forward to reading this series.

  35. Julie Musil October 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Ok, I’m glad you’re tacking SKY, because I’ve been reading up on and studying structure, and for me, it didn’t pop out in that one. I do think it’s different for literary and commercial, and maybe that’s why it wasn’t obvious for me. I felt like that story was more literary. I’ll eagerly wait the Great Laura Pauling Structure Breakdown!

  36. Ghenet Myrthil October 18, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    Looking forward to this series of posts! I loved The Sky is Everywhere and I’m excited to see how you break down the structure.

  37. Lynda R Young October 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    I can’t read a book or watch a movie without breaking it down and analysing it. I think that’s why reading is especially important for writers.

  38. Pam Torres October 19, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    Funny! I’ve been doing the same thing and have many of the same questions, Looking forward to your posts,

  39. Alison Miller October 19, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Great post! And I loved Save the Cat. I find myself looking for B stories and catalysts and midpoints in every book I read.

    I’m definitely coming back next Monday. LOVE Sky and very interested to see what you have to say!

  40. Leslie Rose October 20, 2011 at 1:12 am #

    Fascinating topic to me. I’ve always been a Joseph Campbell hero journey gal, but I just finished SAVE THE CAT and I’m jazzed to try his “beat sheet.”

Leave a Reply