At long last, promise fulfilled. BEHOLD, the secret of Story!
Moon’s SUPER SECRET #20: Employ the 7 Point Plot model.
In Algis Budrys’ WRITING TO THE POINT, he reveals the best secret I ever learned, the 7 Point Plot. I actually heard him teach it when our writing group flew him out to Eugene, Oregon, to conduct his Sarah Jane workshop. I’ve also heard Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch teach it at Surrey International Writers Con. They play parts of the movie DIE HARD as they teach the points to show you in visual format in how this story method works. I enjoyed both methods. And here it is, all seven points.
A STORY IS:
1. A character
2. In a setting
3. With a problem
4. Character must try to solve problem
5. Must fail (repeat try/fails three times)
6. Must reach a do or die CLIMAX where character succeeds (comedy) or fails (tragedy)
7. And life goes on with validation scene, also known as denouement.
So we’ve already talked about opening our stories with a character in a setting with a problem. We’ve talked about getting to that inciting incident early in the story, the real problem the protagonist must set out on an adventure to solve. What we haven’t talked about yet are try/fail cycles. These are the methods employed by your protagonist to conquer the problem. Why three tries, three fails? Well, if they solve it on the first try, it wasn’t much of a problem, was it? Even solving on the second try, the problem wasn’t very big and didn’t test them from within and without. But hit three, and just like in baseball, you’ve got three strikes or you’re out. Tension really builds when you watch a World Series baseball game and the batter has two strikes against them, the bases are loaded, and the game is in the final inning. Wrigley Field is broaster hot, the sun is in the batter’s eyes, and some lame hot dog holding fan in the stand behind the catcher just shouted that the batter might as well strike out since that’s all he’s done this season. To add insult to injury, the fans jeer him with chicken sounds, bawk, bawk, bawk. Shame engulfs the batter. And fear. Fear of failure. The pitcher winds up. The batter squints, salty sweat stinging his eyes. He cocks the bat higher, mutters a *dear god may this please connect.* The ball slices through the air like white lightning. The batter swings with power, seeing, not the ball itself, but this time a revelation, an epiphany. He sees *where* the ball will *be* when he swings his bat down in the stream of time. CRACK! The ball goes flying over the bandstand. The crowd roars. The batter heaves a sigh. This time, he didn’t fail his son watching on TV, he didn’t fail his team, and he didn’t fail his wife that had stood by him during the worst season of his life. He takes a victory lap around the bases, his girl waving at him from the rail, no shame on her face. This time, it’s pride. He knows there’s no one back at the town bars cursing his name this day. This day, he’s a hero. This day, his whole home town will come out and give him a parade.
So that’s story. Tension mounting up as the protagonist tries to solve the problem, and fails. Then mounts up again, and fails. Then takes that knowledge learned and figures out a better way, and fails. And then in a do or die climax, tries and succeeds, and learns something about himself or herself in the process. After, we see that life goes on for them. This ending is really just a new beginning with lessons learned. Validation that the protagonist returned to the tribe with respect and dignity (if it’s a comedy in the Greek sense of the term). Algis describes it through the last line you hear in THE LONE RANGER show. You see the Lone Ranger riding off into the sunset. Someone steps onto the dusty street from the town he just saved and says admiringly, “Who was that masked man?” Life goes on, but the world is better for the risks the Lone Ranger just took to save their world.
Look at your stories. Set up a format sheet with these numbered points. Leave spaces beneath each number. See if you can drop your story events into it. If you can’t, you likely just figured out why you’re not getting past an HM in the contest. And why those stories aren’t selling to pro markets elsewhere.
You’re in command. Fix the problem. Employ the 7 Point Plot. And start selling.
All the beast,