This week I’ve been watching the Plot Whisperer’s video series on plotting. I’m curious to see how Ms. Alderson‘s analysis of the placement of critical scenes stacks up versus a few books I have on my shelf. (She notes that not all stories can follow the same plot line, and it’s important to mention that there is a lot of information on the video series that I’m not touching on.)
I’m looking for three key scenes described in Ms. Alderson’s lectures:
- The Turning Point at the quarter mark of the page count. Ms. Alderson describes this as the point of no return that marks the end of the beginning.
- The Recommitment Scene at the half-way mark of the page count. Honestly, I’m a little hazy on this one. If the protagonist was thrust unwillingly into the story, this is the point at which the protagonist should commit to the journey. I’m fuzzy on what this scene does if the protagonist opted into the story or volunteered for the journey.
- The Crisis Point at the three-quarter mark of the page count. This is the scene where the protagonist is broken into bits that can be reassembled into a person who might actually win during the climax. (That part of the movie when Rocky gets the crap kicked out of him.)
[Beware of spoilers ahead]
- THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins runs 374 pages. (Selected because of an impressive 200,000 unit first print run.)
- The Turning Point (the quarter mark) is page 94. The Turning Point really appears on page . . . 34, if I had to place it. The point at which things will never be the same for Katniss, regardless of how events unfold, the point at which she can no longer turn away from the story is when she volunteers. (I’m not selecting page 22, because Suzanne Collins takes a few pages after the actual volunteering to introduce Peeta. Peeta is part of Katniss’s setting–part of the story that will forever be changed by the day’s events–and the end of the beginning comes after the setting has been established.)
- The Recommitment Scene, the half-way mark is page 187. The Recommitment Scene really appears on page . . . 185 when Katniss seizes her first real opportunity to fight. Until this point she’s been sullen, vaguely cooperative, and temperamental, but she’s never offered an offense. At page 185 she’s really in the game.
- The Crisis Point, the three-quarter mark is page 282. The Crisis Point really appears on page . . . 233 when the Bad Thing happens to Rue. Until this point Katniss has participated out of necessity; not understanding Peeta’s desire to maintain some semblance of his humanity. This is the point where Katniss’s gooey emotional center is cracked open for our enjoyment. The point at which she expresses real intellectual and spiritual rebellion against the institution that has set out to strip her of the humanity that she only now realizes is valuable.
- GOLDEN FLEECE by Robert J Sawyer runs 252 pages. (Selected because it launched Sawyer’s massive career while scooping up several coveted awards.)
- The Turning Point, the quarter mark is page 63. The Turning Point really appears on page . . . This one’s tricky. For JASON the Turning Point, the point at which the world has forced him down the path of the story, is the very first chapter.
- The Recommitment Scene, the half-way mark is page 126. The Recommitment Scene really appears on page . . . 127. This is the page where we find that Proposition 3 has been rejected–though not through the vote, but rather because JASON was in control of the numbers. If JASON had allowed the humans to choose their own fate, the course of the story would forever deviate from the path that JASON set it on in the first chapter. Instead, he ensures that he, and everyone else, stays moving in the forward direction of the story.
- The Crisis Point, the three-quarter mark is page 189. The Crisis Point really appears on page . . . I’m putting it on page 213. This is really the first time JASON considers that his actions may have been reprehensible. (Though I think that scene would properly fall into the realm of the climax.)
- GOBLIN QUEST by Jim C Hines runs 346 pages. (Selected because I love it(!), needed some fantasy, and Mr. Hines was one of the 1998 Writer of the Future winners.)
- The Turning Point, the quarter mark, is page 87. The Turning Point really appears on page . . . 87 is pretty spot on. When Jig goes down the whirlpool there really is no turning back.
- The Recommitment Scene, the half-way mark, is page 173. The Recommitment Scene really appears on page . . . I’m moving this over slightly to 172. Jig selecting a god goes a long way to show him making a commitment to finding a way to survive and make it home–even if it wasn’t his idea to leave home in the first place.
- The Crisis Point, the three-quarter mark, is page 260. The Crisis Point really appears on page . . . 302 when Jig is more than just figuratively broken to bits.
- OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck runs 107 pages. (Selected because it’s a classic and so we have at least one non-genre story.)
- The Turning Point, the quarter mark, is page 27. The Turning Point really appears on page . . . 27 is a good place to set the Turning Point. Here Lennie and George have signed on for the work and Curley has expressed his menace toward Lennie.
- The Recommitment Scene, the half-way mark, is page 54. The Recommitment Scene really appears on page . . . Page 54 shows that Lennie’s desire to pet fluffy things may still get him into trouble, but both Lennie and George opt out of the local drama, dead set on their goal of earning a stake.
- The Crisis Point, the three-quarter mark, is page 81. The Crisis Point really appears on page . . . Lennie doesn’t really have a Crisis Point and George’s is probably best put during the actual climax. But for the reader, page 81 makes an excellent Crisis Point. Only a few pages earlier, Steinbeck’s got us thinking that maybe all these guys really could pool their resources and buy a nice home to share. Then of course it all comes crashing back down on us as we see that Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife completely lack the necessary social components to take care of themselves or each other. While Curley’s wife serves as antagonist and wounds the fragile companionship that the three men are trying to form, it’s worth noting that her behavior is the result of their rejection. They are all lonely and hurtful to each other. As a reader, we watch as Steinbeck expertly breaks these characters to bits.
It seems the Plot Whisperer’s analysis holds for a significant portion of these examples. It will be interesting to see how these markers and their placement stack up in my own stories going forward.