I’m thrilled to share information from another one of Joyce Sweeney’s amazing workshops. Dialogue and humor are some of my writing strengths, but I’ve always had to work extra-hard to plot my novels well. I love brainstorming a story idea and jotting down character traits ahead of time, but have never been a fan of outlining. I was thrilled to see how well Joyce’s Plot Clock works for me—on existing manuscripts I want to rewrite and before writing new manuscripts. It’s a tool I plan to use throughout my career!
Speaking of helpful tools…don’t forget to read all the way down to the bottom of this post, to see how you can win a critique from Joyce Sweeney!
Before I describe Joyce’s plot clock, fill in this important sentence about your novel:
My book is about _____ who grapples with _______ and discovers _________.
*Make sure it’s the external main plot, not an internal one!
**If there are flashbacks, the main plot is what is happening in real time.
The Plot Clock has four acts (picture a circle divided into four equal parts). The length of the acts in your manuscript should be even, or at least close to even, if possible.
Show the ordinary world, and that something is wrong (something needs to happen). Readers need to feel a lack, a need, just before the inciting event…which is the new thing that comes into the character’s life and changes everything. The main character resists the change.
If very commercial, the inciting incident has to come up soon!
End of Act 1 is the binding point. You can push characters into it, have them trapped, or some external event can make them want to do it.
*Note: Start putting the external events you know on the Plot Clock first. Don't rush--you don't want to cram your own events in. You might find that they're missing on the clock and you have to brainstorm a new scene
~That’s what happened to me! I had trouble finding the binding point on the MG I brought with me…and it led to a huge discovery about my character that I was able to weave through the entire novel. I had a misunderstanding between my MC and her best friend, where the friend got mad that she didn’t tell her important things. It used to be that my MC was embarrassed, and just didn’t have the chance (or didn’t go out of her way) to tell her…but after looking at the Plot Clock, I now see how important it is for her to not tell her friend on purpose, for fear of losing her after having her last best friend ditched her a year ago.
Characters usually try to use their old techniques to solve this new problem. But not doing the right thing causes losses or failures that escalate in a sad way.
At the low point between Act 2 and Act 3—characters think they can’t make it through this. They change! Try something different.
You can’t go straight from the low point to the climax—this act shows progress. Things start getting better! To counteract that, you escalate the stakes. As the protagonist gets stronger, the antagonist gets stronger, too. The second half of the book should signal where the climax will be. We pretty much have a clue what will need to be fought—what's right, wrong, etc. But you still need to keep the reader in suspense!
End of Act 3 is the turning point. Joyce says most people don’t know anything about the turning point. It raises the stakes and affects the climax in really important ways. I wish I could go into more detail, but I’m trying not to give away all of Joyce’s secrets.
I feel so lucky to live close enough to attend Joyce’s weekly workshop, plus her other local events. I’m really excited that she now has a virtual class that starts on Monday, February 11th. I’m signed up and ready to take my writing to the next level, and I hope to see a lot of my online friends in the class forum!
In order to celebrate the launch of her virtual class, Joyce has offered a ten page novel critique or a picture book critique as a prize! And guess what…if this awesome giveaway receives more than 50 entries, she’ll add a grand prize, which will be revealed on Wednesday, when I post an interview of her—AND IT WILL BE A MUCH LARGER CRITIQUE THAN THE ONE ALREADY LISTED!
Enter using the Rafflecopter link below. You’ll receive one entry for:
*Leaving a comment on this post or on Joyce Sweeney's website
*Signing up for Joyce Sweeney's free monthly newsletter
*Plus one entry for each shout out on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. (Please list where you’ve shared it in the comments of this post).
CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!
Don’t forget to come back on Wednesday to read an interview with Joyce where you’ll find out more about her virtual class, plus see what advice she’d give writers who keep coming close to getting an agent or editor, but haven't received that magical ‘yes’ yet. You’ll also find out what incredibly generous grand prize could be added to the giveaway. The winner/s will be announced on Sunday, February 10th. Good luck!