Writing Fiction: 5 Exercises to Craft a Compelling Plot | Lisa Ko | Skillshare

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Writing Fiction: 5 Exercises to Craft a Compelling Plot

teacher avatar Lisa Ko, Author

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      The Power of Plot


    • 3.

      Reading: "Pat + Sam"


    • 4.

      Exercise 1: Generate an Idea


    • 5.

      Exercise 2: Who is Your Character?


    • 6.

      Exercise 3: When and Where


    • 7.

      Exercise 4: What and Why


    • 8.

      Exercise 5: How to Tell Your Story


    • 9.

      Revising Your Story


    • 10.

      Closing Thoughts


    • 11.

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About This Class

The key to writing stories that your readers can’t put down? It’s all about crafting a compelling plot!

Join award-winning author Lisa Ko for an approachable, actionable class on the most powerful tool in a writer’s toolkit: plot. Inspired by her own early struggles with plot, Lisa’s approach simplifies plot into a set of practical principles you can apply right away. Through five straightforward writing exercises, you’ll discover how to structure a plot from beginning to end, with just the right amount of tension to keep your readers hooked.

Key lessons include:

  • Creating conflict in any story, whether outsized or ordinary
  • Raising the stakes using character and setting
  • Structuring your scenes to create a satisfying narrative 
  • Writing for impact using different storytelling strategies

Plus, every lesson is packed with examples and excerpts from Lisa’s own writing, so you can see her process in action.

Whether you’re beginning from scratch, workshopping a draft, or simply curious to understand the mechanics of your favorite show or novel, after taking this class you’ll have the tools you need to create compelling stories your readers return to again and again.

Meet Your Teacher

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Lisa Ko



Lisa Ko is the author of The Leavers, which was a 2017 National Book Award for Fiction finalist, won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and was a finalist for the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award and the 2017 Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award. The Leavers was named a best book of the year by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, BuzzFeed, The Los Angeles Times, Electric Literature, and others. Her writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, O. Magazine, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the MacDowell Colony, among others. Born in Queens and raise... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: For many years, I felt that plot was something that I couldn't learn and then I realized that plot was simply in our everyday life. Hi, my name is Lisa Ko and I'm a writer. Today's class is about creating plot and how to use it to hook your readers in your stories. I'm the author of the novel The Leavers, and my short stories have been published in best market short stories. I've written essays that appeared in The New York Times. I'm excited to teach about plot because plot is something that a lot of us as readers and writers are really drawn to. But with writing, plot is often something that feels very mysterious, we don't know exactly how to do it. So in this class, we're going to break down what plot is and then we'll move into the various elements of storytelling, either applying exercises for developing plot to a story idea that you already have in progress, or we'll start by developing story from page 1, element by element, step-by-step. By the end of the class, you'll have all of these elements together to create a plot of your story. So I feel the biggest misconception about plot is often that it's something that can't be learned, that it's hard to learn, and that it has to be something that's really big and loud. As a writer, you have the power to control plot with decisions that you make. If you're following along, I invite you to share your completed worksheet or a draft of your story in the project gallery. I'm excited you've joined this class. Let's get started. 2. The Power of Plot: We consume plot every day in the stories that we hear, that we're drawn to, and that we tell. Plot is actually what keeps you reading as a reader. It keeps you turning the page. It's something that creates tension and a change between the beginning and the end of the story. So a lot of times, we might assume that plot is the same thing as story. But plot is actually a narrative element of its very own. I think of story as being a series of events, something that you can easily summarize. This happens, then this happens, and that happens. Well, plot is something that involves more of causality. So when we're thinking of plot, we're asking, "How does something happen or why does something happen? " As writers, we think of plot as something you do to mess with your characters, to push them towards making a certain decision or a change or confront their beliefs about something. We'll often think about plot as being something that's really action-driven or really dramatic, and that can definitely be the case. But plot can also be something that's a lot quieter, a lot more subtle, as long as there is some change or trajectory throughout. Plot is the way that you decide to arrange and develop the scenes in your story in order to reveal things about your character, and to force your character to confront some of their beliefs, make a decision, or come to a change. The keyword there is decide. You as the author get to decide and choose what you want to do to your characters, what you want to do your story, it really comes down to you and the choices you decide to make. So once you understand these elements of plot, you can then find the best way to tell your story. You can either come into this class with a story idea that you've already got in progress, or you can use these exercises to generate a new story from scratch. We'll be walking you through the different elements of storytelling from character, and setting, to perspective in order to fully create a plot-driven story. I'm going to be working on a story called Pat and and Sam. Its story about two characters and why they decided to stay together in a relationship. I chose it because it was something that I use many of these exercises to develop myself. So regardless of the genre you're interested in working in, these elements of plot and storytelling are things that can be useful across many kinds of writing. In the next step, we're going to work on generating your story idea. But before that, I'm going to read a short passage from Pat and Sam that introduces my main character Pat. The story is available in the class resources section, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. 3. Reading: "Pat + Sam": Before the party, Pat spent an hour crying in her bedroom, her and Harry's room, their old room, and used up a stick of concealer trying to hide the crinkled half-moons under her eyes. She left the girls with the neighbors. She put on lipstick. At the party, she asked Sam Kwan for a light. It was a cold October night in 1974. They smoked back then, everybody did. This was before Pat's two children became Sam's and before there were three children, before they grounded the oldest when Pat found a pack of Newports in her room. By then, they would have forgotten their own youth, or rather they would hold their children to higher standards. The children would be confident and happy. They'd feel entitled to happiness and for that, Pat and Sam would resent them. Pat told Sam she used to live in the city, but now she lived in Jersey. Some friends had invited her to the party, so she'd driven out to her old neighborhood in Queens. "Where I live," she said, "it's like the country, but there's a train to the city." Sam told Pat he lived in Brooklyn and never went to New Jersey. "It must be nice to have trees and grass." The apartment was a dump, the room too hot and crowded, the moss-green carpet balding in patches like a neglected lawn. To the right of the sunken couch was a folding table with a paper plate of pretzel crumbs, a six-pack of beer, and a plastic jug of deli gin. "What's the guy's name that lives here?" Pat asked in Cantonese. Sam recognized the words and said, "I have no idea. My friend Ben invited me." Sam's laugh was a joyful bark, and Pat thought she saw through his thick eyeglasses, the glint of a troublemaker. The music surged. Annabelle Uy leapt off the couch and started shaking her hips, rear end plump and wide like a bakery bun. "Dance Pat, dance," Annabelle shouted pointing to Pat, and Pat looked at Sam and he shrugged, why not. Even if she didn't care that much about dancing, Sam's willingness to do so made him more appealing. They danced, not terribly, but not particularly well. Their shoulders remained hunched, feet rooted to the floor. Their arms swung slowly, but they moved closer to one another. The next day Pat's mother called and said, "I don't know how you do it, all alone in that big house with two little children. All alone and nobody to help you. I don't see why you can't move back to Chicago already." "All right, ma," Pat said. "I met someone." "Who?" "He's Chinese. We're going out next Saturday." "He has a good job and he knows all about the kids and Harry." "He's still talking to you? There must be something wrong with him." "Nothing's wrong with him." "But he'll want his own house." "He likes New Jersey. He thinks it's nice." Her mother made a pleased, cooing sound. 4. Exercise 1: Generate an Idea: So there are two options for this exercise. If you're working on a draft and you feel stuck, or you're wanting to inject more plot intention elements into it, you can use these exercises to do that. There are things that I often use myself when I'm trying to work out more of these tension and plot elements in my own work. You can use these exercises to apply to a scene, or part of a short story, or even part of a novel, because these elements of storytelling exists throughout all kinds of stories. If you're looking to generate a story idea, I really believe that the materials for the stories that we want to tell are already in our existing world over there. Out there there are things that we think about every day and very often as writers, we're writing in order to figure out a mystery. We're writing to answer the question of why, does something happen? So, in this exercise we are going to be using a prompt to ask why in order to generate an idea. For this prompt, you're going to answer the question, "I want to know why". We're going to focus on something that is a human scale questions. Something like, "I want to know why my neighbor's always angry," or "I want to know why my grandfather never talks about his childhood." So feel free to use someone you know in real life or a character that it's fictionalized. But stick to a more answerable human question rather than, "I want to know why the sky is blue." When I was writing Patents Sam, I set out by wanting to know why my characters would stay in a long marriage, that might not be their version of ideal romantic love. So by asking that question, it really opened up a lot more context about my characters lives, who they were, where they came from, what they wanted, and the different ideals and compromises that they ended up making for themselves and for other people. So now it's your turn. You can sit down and answer, "I want to know why" and fill in the blank. What don't you know about what you already know. These questions can come from things that you already know and experience every day, from your commute, to your neighbors, to friends that you haven't talked to for a while. So you're going to take this question in this inquiry and build on it step-by-step. So by the end of the class, you may not even recognize that initial question. In the next step, we'll be working on the who of the story, doing a character exercise. 5. Exercise 2: Who is Your Character?: So the first element we're going to work with is the "Who" of the story, the character. Character, in defining it is important to figure out first because the more you get to know your characters the more you could figure out how to develop that plot, how to move them along through the scenes of your story. The more defined your character is, the more you can create a plot that will mess with them. In other words, to force them to reveal themselves, or a change or to make a decision. You create tension by getting to know your character more and by putting their external world and their internal world at odds. In other words, their outside world meeting the physical forces and actions that are visible on the story and their inside world, their emotional journeys. You define what these things are and then you set them at odds with one another to create tension. So the first step in this exercise is to choose and define your main character. My main character is Pat who you've just met in my reading. If you're working with a story that's already in progress, you'll probably already know who that main character is. If you're working with generating a story, be it from scratch, you'll find that the prompt might answer the question of who that main character already is. The character of course, can be somebody who is imaginary or take it for real life. As we work through this exercise, you might find that the character might change, and that's perfectly fine. This is really a process of inquiry. So now that you have your main character, the next step is to round them out, to flesh them out as a person, to define the facts that make them a unique individual. You want to focus on creating a round or more three-dimensional character rather than a flat character. Round characters are like people in real life, they are complex, they are contradictory, they do interesting things. Having a round character is important because you get to know more about who they are, what they believe in, what they're afraid of, what they want, and through knowing these things, you can then develop a plot that will be more interesting to their story. In this exercise, you're going to write 10 facts about your character to help make them rounder. These should be facts that might not be immediately obvious, things that are an addition to basic demographic facts, things that make your character unique. If you've chosen a real person from real life as your character, for these 10 facts, user your imagination. Think about things that might be made up, that you might not even know. Here there are 10 facts about my main character Pat. These facts include things that are more basic demographic facts, as well as things that might not be so readily apparent. It's a good mix about the obvious and the unique. So these 10 facts are; that her husband Harry died in a car accident about a year ago, she has two young daughters, namely Linnet and Cynthia. She wears big round glasses. She uses her smoking habit as a way to flirt and ward off social anxieties. She'd rather wear jeans than a dress. She grew up in Chicago. She's a second generation American whose parents were born in Southern China. She works as a paralegal and hates it, but she doesn't really know what else to do. She worries that she'll never find love again, but also feels strong for being alone. Finally, she loves to watch cheesy TV romance movies, but doesn't tell anyone about those. Figuring out what these facts were, for me, were a mix of both synthesizing the outside world of my story and the inside world of my characters. So I knew thinking ahead with the question of, "why did these characters want to stay in their long marriage that I would have these circumstances that they lived in?" I would have a woman who was dating after her husband died, who had two kids. So I had those facts already apparent, then I used my imagination to just think more about, what she would look like. What would she be into? What kind of work would she do? What kind of interests and secrets would she have, and these things came together to create a rounder character. Remember, there's no wrong answer for this list. The things that you include in this list may not necessarily be things that end up in your story. However, they are important because they drive your knowledge of who your character is. The next step in this exercise is to define what your character wants and what gets in their way. You're going to define their goals and obstacles. By doing that, you can then develop the plot that will best mess with them. For this exercise, you're going to define your characters outside goal and outside obstacle. In other words, what is their physical goal? Their goal that is visible to other people, and what's the thing that gets in the way of that goal. You'll then take the next step of defining their inside goal and inside obstacle. In other words, their interior or emotional goals, and what gets in the way of that. So in very large dramatic plot examples, you might use an outside goal such as, your characters house burns down and he needs to find a new place to live. So that's a very physical goal that he has on the outside world. An obstacle to that might be something like money, he needs money in order to find a new place to live. Inside goal might be for this character to remain self-sufficient and independent. He doesn't want to rely on other people. Then he has this obstacle which is that he has to ask for help because he needs help to solve his problem of finding a new place to live. Of course, that's a very outsize, a dramatic example. Examples do not have to be that large or dramatic, they can be something that are much more quieter, mundane in every day, such as a goal of getting to work, and then getting stuck on a subway as an obstacle. For my main character Pat, I defined her outside goal as; to provide for and raise her daughters well. The obstacle for that, her outside obstacle, is that it's really difficult for her to raise her daughters on her own as a single parent, especially as someone who's still grieving the death of her first husband. She's got to do it alone on a part-time salary, and she's living in the suburbs far from her family and friends. For me, defining Pat's 10 facts helped me arrive at being able to define what her outside goal and obstacles were, because I knew more about who she was, where she lived, what she was going through, I could then look at that list of facts and figure it out what exactly was getting in the way for her. What were her greatest challenges and desires? For Pat, her inside goal or emotional goal was to find love and companionship. Her emotional or inside obstacle was that she's a true romantic. She believes in true love. That's what she feels like she's had with her husband Harry, and she doesn't want to settle for less. When you're going about defining what your goal is, what your obstacle is, very often, it's quite easy to figure out what an obstacle would be for a goal. Once you've set out what that goal is, you can look closely at your character and think, "what would get in the way for her to achieve this." You can draw these clues from your 10 facts and also from your imagination, from the world that you've already created in your mind, or that you might know of in real life. Now that you've created your main character, and got to know who they are and what's getting in the way for them, what their goals are, it's time to develop a secondary character. Somebody that that main character can play off of. This gives you the opportunity to not only tighten that tension and create that plot, but give your character somebody to have a relationship with. Someone that they can interact with in the story. Choosing a secondary character, you can go with taking somebody that your main character already knows, someone who's close to them that they interact with. Can be a stranger that they happen to come across, can be somebody who's very involved in their life. They could also be an antagonist, somebody who's challenge him in a very specific way. If you'd like to, you can repeat this exercise with defining your secondary character, listing 10 facts and their goals and obstacles, but it's not necessary. For the simplicity of this exercise, we'll limit the characters to one main character, and one secondary character. My secondary character is Sam, who Pat needs at the party. Since I already defined her goals and obstacles as wanting to find a romantic love, but not wanting to settle, having this possible love interests step in is some way to create that tension and plot for a character. For you, it might not be as obvious, but feel free to use these examples as a way to guide your inquiry. Now that we've walked through this exercise together, you can go back and define your main character, your secondary character, and their goals and obstacles. Next step is when and where. The place and time where you'll situate your characters. 6. Exercise 3: When and Where: I feel that time and place are just as important as character, and as a writer, by studying parameters on the story, by situating it in a particular time or place, it can also make it less overwhelming to write, and you can reveal important things about your characters by having them interact with the people in the places around them. For instance, by interacting with particular neighbors or objects on the street, can reveal things about who they are and what their personality is. In this exercise, we're going to define the time and place of your story. We'll create a setting where your story takes place and we'll also create a time frame. By creating a time frame, you're creating a clock for your story. This can create a set of deadlines for your characters in order that they have to achieve a goal by certain time and that can increase the stakes intention. In this exercise, you're going to act as an observer or a camera. You'll write three paragraphs that describe the time and place in which your story is set, and remember to use all five senses. By including more specific details, you can then create a rounder world versus a flat world for your characters, and you can also weave in these details into your story and later revisions. This is a useful exercise for me to approach in my own writing because I start thinking about the language of the story and thinking about the place in which it's set. By writing these sentences, I can then act as an observer panning through the world of the story and seeing where my characters live and how they move around in it. As writers the key to doing this is to really use our power of inquiry and imagination by trying to pretend that we're the camera lens aimed that the street, this block, this town, and seeing what would we would look at, what would we feel. Warwick, New Jersey is located 30 miles east of Manhattan, off of the New Jersey Transit train line. It has a population of 6,000 people, it is 98 percent white. The air is clean and clear and the houses are mostly brick, a mix of two-story homes and ranch houses. There are small, compact backyards which fill with leaves in the autumn and old trees. Every afternoon, the fire siren marks noontime. At three o'clock, school buses make their way across town from the schools, dropping children off at their homes. The streets filled with the sounds of children playing jump rope, kickball, and riding their bikes. On warm nights, there's a sound of sprinklers watering the yards, summer barbecues, and crickets chirping. In a small downtown, there's a pizzeria, a barber shop, a coffee shop, a post-office, and a Pathmark grocery store. There are highways on all sides, linking Warwick to New York City and closer to the many shopping malls that clog with traffic on the weekends. It was important for me to use a mix of demographic facts such as the population or the racial makeup of the town and to mix that with other facts incorporated the five senses. What the sounds were, what smells were, what the houses looked like, in order to create a fuller picture of how my characters moved around in the world. I encourage you to think back on the characters that you've already developed, their facts, their obstacles and their goals, and to even think of ways that you can weave those in to these paragraphs. In other words, if my character is struggling with the challenges of being a single parent, having her situated in a town that's far from the city and far from her community is one way to emphasize those goals of obstacles. Depending on the story that you're telling, the role of setting and time might be different. However, it's important to know for you as a writer what those things are. In this, I chose to write about the town as a whole as a way to introduce that town into my imagination, but you could also choose to write more detailed specifically about the character's house or even the room that they live in. While I didn't specifically mentioned the time of the story in this paragraph, it's something that was already in my head as well, the setting and the time period of the mid 70s. Now that we have our character, our time and our place, we'll be working on the what and why of the story, working with exercises to develop scene and setting. So now it's your turn to go ahead and write three paragraphs that describe the time and setting your story, and remember to use all five senses and don't worry about getting it perfect. 7. Exercise 4: What and Why: So the next step is the what and the why of your story. In other words, the scene and the structure. When we're thinking about scenes, we're thinking about the self-contained sequences that make up your story by arranging scenes in a particular way, by creating scenes that will push your character to make a change or decision. You can then create a sense of tension and create an emotional impact on your reader. The more you know your characters and because you've already defined who they are, you can then figure out exactly what scenes you need to write and what your character needs to be doing in order to push them towards making a change. So the structure of the story, in other words, the order in which you choose to arrange your scenes can actually help create tension in the story. So for instance, you can choose to provide your reader with certain amounts of information. Choosing to provide them at the beginning of the story or in the middle of the story or towards the end, all of these things will evoke different responses in the reader. So for instance, taking it every day story about a character, waking up, going to work, and then coming home. You can have each individual scene taking place in a certain chunk of time, being a character getting on a subway and then getting off the subway, having a conversation with a co-worker, that kind of thing. But the order in which you choose to arrange these scenes can then reveal more about the tension involved in the story. So for instance, by starting at the end of the day versus beginning, it can introduce a mystery about what happened throughout that day. So the first part of this exercise is to work to create tension in your story. You're going to do this by helping to construct a plot for your character that will force them to confront their beliefs and make a change. So you'll take the goals of obstacles you've already defined for your character and then figure out, what does your character believe in and how you can pit their inside and outside goals against one another to force him to confront those beliefs. So the first step in this exercise is to define a key belief for your character. Something that guides their daily life, some ideal notion that they have, some definition for their worldview. In doing this, you can then better figure out how to engineer that plot, how to get them to push up against what that belief is. Some things you might want to think about while figuring out with this key belief is for your character might come from the facts that you've already written about them. So use your imagination and use it to synthesize with what you already know in real life. What might your character and somebody in their position care about? What's important to them? What guides them throughout the way they act in their daily life? For my main character Pat, I've defined one of her key beliefs as her belief and true love. It's her idea of not wanting to settle for anything less than this romantic ideal that will then force her to confront some of her goals and obstacles. The next step in this exercise is to pit your characters outside goal and inside goal against one another in a way that will make them confront their belief. So for my main character Pat, her outside goal is to be able to raise her daughters well. Her inside goal is to find love and companionship. Here's what I wrote. In order to receive the support she wants to raise her daughters, Pat can confront her romantic ideals. Either she can compromise and settle, or she can continue raising her daughters alone. This particular pitting of Pat's goals made sense for me because I knew she would have a love and trust in Sam, the secondary character. She could then confront her belief in true love through her relationship with Sam. Knowing that setup for my story, plants the seeds for scenes and structure and helps me move forward with what the plot will be. The next step in this exercise is to write a movie treatment for your story, and this is a very quick way for you to get down the external action of the story and figure out a structure that you'll then build out. So keeping in mind and incorporating all that you've already know about your character and your story, you're going to set a timer for about five to 10 minutes and quickly just get down the overarching structure of your story. We'll keep it on the exterior. So think of a camera, think of what a camera would film, what it would see. Use action verbs, physical verbs that describe the actions that take place in the story, and you'll also keep it really brief. We'll build it out later. So my one paragraph summary of my story Pat and Sam that focuses solely on external action is the following. Pat and Sam meet at a party in Queens. On their first date, Pat brings her daughters because she can't find a babysitter, and they try to get pizza, but the waitress refuses to serve them. At Pat's house, she tells Sam that her husband, the father of her daughters had died in a car accident last year. Sam and Pat stand in the backyard, look at the stars and kiss. They see each other every Sunday for six weeks. She tells him that after her husband, Harry died, she drove her car into a pond. He asked her to come stay with them for one night in New York City. She gets the sitter, they have dinner in Chinatown, and go back to his room in Brooklyn. He plays a record he loves, but she doesn't like it. They have sex and lie next to one another, not talking, and Pat smokes. When Pat ask Sam if he's awake, he doesn't answer. So in coming up with this paragraph, I was incorporating what I already had defined about my characters and their goals and obstacles. So I knew that Pat was a single parent, that her husband had died the previous year. She's trying to raise her daughters a lone, but wanted some help as well. So by introducing Sam as his love interests who would then help her confront her beliefs around romantic love and romantic ideals, I was then able to think about the physical actions that overarching big picture structure that would drive the characters in the story. I know that the setting is a suburban town in New Jersey that's mainly white and know that it's the mid 1970's. Pat and Sam are both Chinese-American. They're out of place in this new town, Sam lives in the city, Pat lives in a more rural areas. So these are ways to play with that tension, ways that I can develop then, the physical action of story. The next step in this exercise is to actually define the scenes of your story. So you're going to be taking that structure that you just wrote and breaking it out into individual scenes, forming a beginning, a middle, and an end to your story. Within each individual scene, your main character is going to have a change. Change that can be very small. But you want to think about how she feels at the beginning of each scene, and then how she feels at the end of each scene. Enduring this exercise, you're actually be mapping the characters external journey to their internal journey, and synthesizing them together. So the beginning or inciting event will introduce your character's goals and obstacles, and as well as introduced to who the character is and the setting the story takes place in. In the middle scene, we think of it as rising action. The character will try to solve the problem of their conflicting goals and in the end scene, something will happen that will force your character to make a decision and confront their beliefs. So for each scene, you'll want to note how does your character feel at the beginning of the scene? How does your character feel at the end? What decision that she makes, and how does she change? I find this to be useful in my process of writing because the clearer I am about who my characters are and what they want, the more easily I can then create the scenes that need to be in the story. The beginning or inciting events of my story, Pat and Sam is that Pat and Sam meet at a party, and they go on a first date where Pat's children are there. That's parts one through five of the story. How does my character feel at the beginning of this scene? Pat feels ambivalent about meeting someone new. She's still grieving Harry's death, but she's fearful that shall never meet anyone else. How hard did you feel at the end? She's excited about seeing Sam again, she feels hopeful. What decision does she make and how did she change? She decides to see Sam again. This beginning scene is taking up of the first few components of that movie treatment. It's taking these external actions of Pat and Sam meeting, and going on a date and looking closer into the internal or emotional decisions that Pat has to make in order to choose to do these things. I like to ask myself at the end of each scene, does my character make a decision? Or does she change in order to make sure that there is some trajectory from the beginning of the scene to the end to see that there is a change however small it might be? That change is important when you're trying to develop tension and develop plot. The second scene in this story is the middle part or the rising action. So despite her misgivings, Pat and Sam continue to date. Sam goes to visit Pat on six consecutive Sundays, Pat reveals more information about herself and her past. This is part six of the story and the first half of part seven. How does my character feel at the beginning of this scene? Well, sometimes she feels like she's falling in love, but she's still compares Sam unfavorably to her husband Harry. How did you feel at the end? She feels relieved when she reveals her own car accident to Sam, and he stays and puts her arm around her. What decision to make and how did she change? She decides to get a sitter for the following weekend and stay over at Sam's apartment. This scene incorporates the middle of that movie treatment. It's Pat and Sam continuing the scene of one other, making a series of decisions and learning more about each other. In doing so, it has Pat attempting to solve the problems of her conflicting goals, wanting to believe in this romantic love, and also wanting to have love and companionship. So she's testing out these possibilities with Sam in different ways, trying to connect with him more, trying to get closer to him, and seeing what his reactions are. Also always thinking about ways to mess with my characters which is what you get to do as a writer. One way that's being done in this scene is to have Sam actually present the ultimate of the Pat. He's saying, "I'd like you to come stay at my apartment." Pat then has to make the decision, to do it or not. The last scene is the end or the falling action of story. In this scene, Pat decides to stay over at Sam's apartment in New York City. This is the second half of part seven in the story as well as parts eight and nine. How does she feel at the beginning of the scene? Well, she's trying to convince herself that this is indeed love. This is what she wants. How does she feel at the end? Well, she feels less close to Sam but despite these differences, he's not a bad person. What decision does she make? How does she change? She decides to stay with Sam. Further defining this scene, I was looking at the physical actions in this movie treatment. Pat and Sam together in his bedroom, lying close to one another, not talking to one another, and I was thinking about what was going on internally, what was going on emotionally with my main character? In this scene, by defining how to connect those inside thoughts with the outside actions, it was one way to put together how she feels and how she comes to make that final decision. So now that we've mapped out the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story, I've effectively force my main character, Pat to confront her belief in true love by introducing a secondary character that forces her to make a decision in her life. She's made the decision that she can indeed have a sense of love and companionship that while it might not be that perfect definition of romantic ideals, it's still something that can be useful for her. So this is an exercise where you get to use your imagination and play a little bit. Don't worry about getting it wrong or right, there's no wrong or right answer. Just feel free to write the movie treatment and the scenes that you want to see. Finally, we'll be moving into the how of your story, how you choose to tell it, talking about perspective, showing and telling. 8. Exercise 5: How to Tell Your Story: So now that you have the outline and the pieces of your story defined, how you put your story together will be up to you and we'll do so by talking about various storytelling tools and strategies including perspective and showing and telling. The first storytelling tool we'll talk about is perspective. This means what point of views is your story being told from? Who is the narrator? First example of perspective is the first person perspective. This is using the 'I' voice when telling the story. In this point of view, you're entirely in the head of the narrator. There are disadvantages and advantages of course. Disadvantages are, you're very close confined and limited to only one person's thoughts and perspectives. Advantages are, you can be a more intimate relationship with the reader if feels more personal almost like a monologue in which the narrator is talking directly to the reader. I use first-person for my narrator, Poly in my novel, The Leaver. She has a very strong first-person voice and she's actually telling her life story to her son. I actually came to this conclusion by trying out all different kinds of perspectives for Poly until I found one that really worked. I tried to third-person for Poly and it actually just didn't quite work with the structure of the novel, because it didn't allow her to reveal her story at the same pace at which the reader finds out what happens to her. The next kind of perspective is the second person perspective. It's using the 'You' narrator. It's actually something that's very silenced the unique, but also kind of rare in writing. That's because it has a number of disadvantages as well as advantages. It can feel a little accusatory. It can feel like the reader is being accused of doing something. I don't often use second person in my writing I find that to be a bit of a challenge but when it does work it can be done really well. The third perspective is actually the most commonly used in fiction, it's the third person perspective. So using, 'He,' 'She' or 'They.' There are a lot of different kinds of third-person perspective actually, it can be a very vast span of being very limited where you're only inside one person's head or one character's head say, Pat's head or Sam's head or it can be either wider range of perspective and more omniscient perspective, where the narrator can kind of see into multiple people's thoughts and multiple time frames as well. This can be really useful because you're allowed to know a lot about many different things. It could also feel a little overwhelming because there's just far too many things to keep track of. Changing the perspective in which you tell your story can actually have a really big impact on the way that the story is told, what the story is and how it affects the reader. It might actually be just a question of experimenting. I often try out multiple choices of perspective and kind of see which one works better and which one doesn't work. First person might allow you to really get into your character's head and have a very close way of the reader falling there throughout their journey. Third person might again allow you to play with multiple characters or multiple points of view over a period of time. So it really ends up being what works for you as you experiment and try out different possibilities. So I'm going to read two short passages from Pat and Sam. One will be from Pat's perspective and the other will be from Sam's perspective but they'll be about the characters different reactions to the same events. Twenty minutes had passed in her stomach was growling. Sam's faced was creased and tight. He shook his head and pushed his way to the waitress. "Why are we still waiting?" He pointed to Cynthia and Lynnette. "Children are waiting." It sounded like he was shouting. The waitress had a nose like a soft banana, a small pouch of fat under her otherwise thin face. She was taller than Sam, and as he shouted at her, she took a step back. "We haven't been seated. You seated those families first, and they came in after us." Sam pointed to the family eating the pepperoni pie, then back at the waitress, jabbing a finger. The waitress looked at him as if he was speaking in another language. "Pardon me?" Pat wanted Sam to punch the waitress. She wanted to punch the waitress herself. Sam stood there, glaring, his hands shoved into his coat pockets. "Say something," Pat whispered. Sam said nothing. She felt relieved that he hadn't made a scene. How would she had explained to the girls? Maybe they had imagined everything, maybe there really weren't any tables available, maybe all the families that came in after them were close relatives of the waitress and they were just being paranoid. This is Sam's point of view of the same events. At Romeo's he wished they were in the city, where there were other Chinese, and later he would feel that he had backed down to easily, that he should've gone back and side and let the waitress know they couldn't mess with them. He wondered if, in not doing so he had let Pat down. When I was initially writing the story I thought of telling it only from one of the character's points of view, as only Pat's and then as only Sam's, but the story actually became more interesting once I decided to alternate between their your points of view, it increase the stakes for the characters. It increased the attention for the reader and it just made the story more interesting. So most stories have a balance of showing and telling, it's really up to you to figure out what balance works the best for your story. Let's break it down into what these things mean. For showing we're talking about dramatization. We're using dialogue, we're using visible scenes of action. Showing or dramatization can be very useful in moments of conflict interaction. It allows you to really show how your characters are and reveal so much about them through how they interact with themselves and one another. For telling, it's more like a summary, you can kind of sum up a piece of history around the character even how they feel just through merely saying it. Telling, is a very useful way to kind of show a bunch of information without having to get into the nitty-gritty of what it is, there's definitely information that is more effectively communicated through telling such as the history of a town or a building. So for instance, you could have a line of telling that says something like, I arrived late to work and my boss yelled at me. If you're going to tell the same information through showing, you might say my boss said, "why are you late again?" As I walked through. There's no write balance for showing versus telling. I think most stories incorporate both of them, often at times it's a very organic balanced and you think about the way that you might tell a story or lead to a friend, you're usually mixing up both of these elements of telling and showing it my own writing, I generally write a first generative drafts. Then when I go back in revisions I might look at places in which scenes can be fleshed out through showing or information can be added or trimmed down through telling by showing a more fully fleshed-out scene, you can slow down moment drawn out and through more concise telling, you can kind of turn back the time in the scene and speed it up a little more. This is section nine, the last section of the story. Pat exhaled smoke. The record player spun static. Sam was quiet, his hair sticking up and a cowlick. He curled away from her breathing. Was he sleeping or only pretending to? "You know, women sometimes take longer." She said it and knew she shouldn't have. It was only the first time. It could get better. She said his name again, and he said nothing. Outside, it was dark already. Pat heard of bus screech on the street, footsteps and voices in the next room. Four roommates, all single men. She had to use the bathroom, but she was trapped here until the roommates left. The room was cold and she missed her girls. There were nights, alone with them in the house when she thought she could do this life solo. It wasn't so bad, just the three of them. On other nights, she felt like she was the only person left in the world, with two girls and a dead husband and nowhere to go, and she was so angry she wanted to smash the walls with an ax, throw chairs through the windows. She dragged deeper on the cigarette, trying to outrun the sinking feeling. Her mother had said, "I'm so happy, I'm so relieved. I'm so happy you met a nice man." "Are you awake?" Pat asked now, in the last effort, and Sam didn't respond. The space between them, imperceptible at first, became a sudden tear, threads popping from seams in one sure stroke. But he was nice enough she thought, he was a nice man. This scene actually incorporates different balances of showing and telling. There's dialogue things that the character say to one another, what the room looks like and how the characters look like, how their bodies are arranged physically next to one another. But there's also the use of telling, going into Pat's head for instance, her thinking about her daughters, her trying to come to the decision about what to do with her life and it's kind of balancing these two different elements that in effect creates a full scene that incorporates both the outside and the inside of the characters. So incorporating everything that you've completed on your worksheet you're going to write a rough draft of a story. It can be as simple as one paragraph per scene and it'll consist of what you've already mapped out, a beginning middle and an end incorporating plot intention. Next up, I'm going to share some tips on how to put it all together and how to build out your draft and revise. 9. Revising Your Story: So now you've got a bare-bone story consisting of a beginning, middle, and an end. How can you develop the story and break it out into an even more fully developed story? Well, first, you know exactly who your character is, what they want, what their fears are and what their goals are, and you can go back and break each of the scenes that you have into further scenes, develop those scenes into further scenes. In every additional scene that you write, you can think back on the ways to increase that tension, ways to work with those elements of plot, and think about how your character changes from the beginning to the end of each scene. I encourage you to keep experimenting with different storytelling approaches as you revise. If you feel something doesn't work, try another tactic, try another point of view, try another scene, or rearrange the order of the scenes into a new structure. Revision is actually the bulk of the writing process. The generative first draft process is that first step. But most of writing actually comes through in revision. So when I revise, which I do very often, I actually go back and use a lot of these exercises and worksheets to figure out more about what scenes do I need to write? What scenes may not belong? What things do I need to develop more about my character to create that tension and to create new possibilities for that character? In revising, I tend to incorporate a lot of different strategies. I'll print out the story if I wrote it on my computer and read it out loud to get a more granular sense of how the wording sounds, how the sentences sound, and ways that I could add more material or lose some material. I'll often even cut up a story and put it up on the wall to visualize how the structure works together. Sometimes it's also very helpful to give it a little bit of rest. You might want to put the story aside for a few weeks or even a month or so and come back to it so you can have a fresh perspective. With Pat and Sam, it actually took me several years to get from that very first generative draft to the final draft. Of course, I was doing other things during that time. But a lot of it incorporated just giving the story time to breathe, and really experimenting with different approaches to point of view and structure and order. I tend to know when I'm done with the story when I could feel it in my gut, when I feel like there's not really any more work that I can do to make it better. It's often also a question of, have I achieved my goal? Have I answered that question that I set out to ask? In Pat and Sam, I set out to answer the question of why these characters might choose to stay in a relationship that felt imperfect. By the time I got to the end of the story, I realized that I had discovered more about how their histories, how their personalities, how their circumstances had led them to decisions they ultimately made. If you've come to this class with an existing draft already in mind, you can see how these worksheets and exercises can help you get your draft to a stronger place of revision. For everyone who's completing this class regardless if you're starting with a draft already in progress or starting with generating a story, idea from scratch, you can use each round of revisions to amplify these storytelling elements and strategies, and create an even stronger plot. 10. Closing Thoughts: So in this class, we've learned more about the elements of plot intention and we've built out a rough draft of the story complete with a beginning, middle, and events. I hope that you've got a better understanding of what plot is and how to break it down into different components that can then be applied to any story. I invite you to share your completed worksheets or completed story drafts in the project gallery as well as ask any questions in the discussion. Thank you so much for taking this class and I hope you've got the knowledge to plot a great story. 11. Explore More Classes on Skillshare: