Thursday, April 18, 2013

A to Z Challenge: P is for Plot Points + The Host Book Review


Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! This is my first year participating. Basically, we post every day except Sunday, which in April means we'll finish on the 30th. We blog about something each day which starts with the corresponding letter of the alphabet. So, day 1=A, day 2=B, etc. Visit the A to Z blog for more details.

My theme is writing and related bookish things. A pretty vague theme, I'll admit, but as this is a writing/bookish blog, I thought I'd clarify. 

Today's letter: P

P is for Plot Points.

There are lots of different versions of the plot points each story should have in order to be well-rounded and satisfying. For this post, I put together my own. Disclaimer: these are by no means my own invention. I've pillaged from several sources including Author Dan Brown, and Blake Snyder's Save the Cat which is geared toward screenplays. These are just the eight basic points I find most useful when putting together a very general outline of my story action. I've decided to use The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring as an example because I figure most people have either read the book or seen the film, or both. We will be focusing on Frodo's character/conflicts, though this can and should be done for every major character and aspect of your story. Warning: If you don't want to read spoilers of this story, skip this post. There will be some below!

1. The World Before

As in, the world before your story. This is how things stand as the book begins. Generally, this means life is sad or boring or hard. (With the rise of the dystopian genre, this doesn't always hold true anymore. Life may be very hard for characters in such dark societies, but it's still true that you have to present the world as it is before the story begins, whatever that may be.)For a great arc (see my post on this) you want the situation in plot point 1 to be the opposite of what it is in plot point 2 so that there is some obvious change going on throughout the story.

LOTR Example: Frodo lives a peaceful, benevolent life in the Shire.

2. Introduction of Conflict

The world changes in some way. This is a great place to introduce the villain, aspect of the world that is darkest, or just the most over-arching conflict your characters will be facing.

LOTR Example: Introduction to Frodo of the One Ring of Power, including what it is, it's history, and what it might mean for the future. This is the major conflict Frodo will deal with throughout the story.

3. Escalation #1/Adventure

Things get worse. Put pressure on your characters. Though this isn't a hard-and-fast rule, in my experience this is generally something that involves a lot of action. Things happen that are beyond the characters' control and they can barely keep their heads above water while reacting to it. This is also a great time to expand on details of your world, characters, and conflict.

LOTR Example: The Black Riders show up and Frodo and his friends are forced to flee for their lives.

4. Turning Point

This is the point in the story when the character(s) go from reaction to action. Up to this point, things in their world have been acting upon them and it was all they could do to keep up. The Turning Point is where they decide to act in some way. They take their fate into their own hands and move forward with a specific goal in mind. From this point on, the action in the story should pick up significantly.

LOTR Example: Frodo volunteers to take the ring to Mordor.

5. Escalation #2

Things get much worse. While trying to attain the goals from #4, things go terribly wrong and it looks like your characters won't succeed. Often a friend or mentor dies, the bad guys win a great victory, some key person or element in the plan is lost or falls into enemy hands. This causes the characters to despair in some way.

LOTR Example: Gandalf is killed by the Balrog.

6. Climax--This is the confrontation between your main characters and their major conflict/villain in the story. This MUST happen for it to be your climax!

LOTR Example: Frodo confronts the idea of whether or not he's up to taking the ring to Mordor.

7. Uber-Despair

This is what Brad Snyder calls, 'Dark Night of the Soul.' This the point where the character is sure they'll fail. Everything has gone wrong and they practically have proof that they cannot succeed. This is the most despairing moment for the character, where they're at their lowest.

LOTR Example: Frodo believes he will have to go to Mordor by himself and doesn't believe he is up to bearing the burden alone.

8. Ah Hah Moment

This is the moment when the character realizes what the solution to their problem is. They often realize that the answer is something they've already learned or some tool they already have in their possession. A common theme is that the answer is within themselves, and they just had to realize it.

LOTR Example: Due to his previous kindness to Sam, Sam is loyal and comes with him to Mordor. Also due to his own goodness, and Gandalf's wisdom, he realizes that he has to try, and may be the only person who can succeed.

9. Resolution

This just means a resolution to the major problems of this book. If it's a book in a series (like the LOTR trilogy, for example :D) then you probably won't solve the major problems (like destroying the ring) by the end of the book, but there should be a resolution of the specific conflicts the characters are dealing with in this book. If you need help deciding what it should be, try comparing to plot point 1, the two should be opposites. Where Frodo started out with a peaceful, carefree life, his life is anything but by the end of the book. It may seem counter-intuitive to call that a resolution, but think of it this way: At the beginning, evil things are going on that may bring the world into slavery under an evil dictator. By the end, that "issue" has been dealt with on Frodo's part, because he has been mobilized. He's set on a course to save the world and restore peace. Plus, it sets us up for a continuation in book 2. See! Tolkien might not have been the best novelist, but boy could he tell a story!

LOTR Example: Frodo heads into Mordor

I go through these plot points constantly while writing my stories to make sure I'm not missing any major elements. Of course, this is just a bare bones outline. This should be done for every major character, and even for the action at large. Then, you've got to flesh everything out. If you hit each of these points in some way, your story will move forward nicely and leave your readers feeling satisfied with what they've read. 

Any plot points I missed that YOU generally check for?

The Host by Stephanie Meyer
Okay, allow me a brief Stephenie Meyer rant, here. It's been five years since I've read any of the Twilight books, and more since I read the first couple. I didn't read them until after book 3 was out, and of course finished a year or two later with the 4th. While reading them, I had no problem at all with them. I found them to be interesting, fun to read, and engrossing enough that I wanted to keep reading the series. I was never a Twi-hard fanatic, but I liked them just fine. Granted, back then I was doing little writing and almost no self-editing (or any editing at all, for that matter). I always hear bookish people rant about how badly-written the series was. A few things about that argument 1) Maybe it was and I just didn't realize it because I wasn't in the mindset or know-how to pick up on it. Couldn't say, and probably won't read the series again anytime soon. 2) Even if that's true, it was un-bothersome enough for several million people, so I don't see it as a major reason to discriminate. 3) I think the main reason people hate the series is because it's so successful. While I get it, I also have a major problem with that. Never discriminate against someone on principle of their success. You'll only cripple yourself!!! Even if it's not for you (that, I can respect) that's no reason to disparage something just because it's more successful than what you've written. 4) Even if the writing was terrible, keep in mind, this is Meyers' first book series (as far as I know) and none of use sold millions of copies with our first attempt at a paranormal series, so I think it's time we all got over ourselves.

Okay, rant complete.

Now on to The Host. It was fantastic! I've heard much less complaining about the writing in The Host, which makes me think any problems with the Twilight series stemmed from it being a first-time book of the author, but again I don't really remember. If, on the other hand, the writing is relatively similar in the Host as it was in the vampire series, then I really don't know what people's problem is. The writing was great! It flowed very well and kept me turning page after page. I had no problem with it whatsoever!

This story was great. Such a classic dystopian tale. So earth has been invaded by evanescent little squid aliens who use human bodies as hosts (thus the title). Wanderer is just such an alien who has lived longer and visited more planets and host bodies than most. The problem is, her host body's personality refuses to die. Before the takeover, her host was named Melanie, and Melanie is still riding around in Wanderer's head. We learn quickly that this isn't uncommon and--if you read between the lines as you're supposed to--it's becoming a growing problem for the aliens.

The problem for Wanderer is that Melanie has strong memories revolving around a younger brother, Jaime, she doted on and cared for, and a man she was in love with, Jared. Because Melanie has such strong feelings about them, Wanderer starts to have  them too and feels compelled to seek them out.

I thought the romance in this story was just delicious! It wasn't so much a triangle as a folded-over, 4-dimensional, ridiculously complicated trapezoid. See, Melanie, who is still riding around behind Wanderer's eyes, has an intense physical reaction whenever Jared is in the room, which makes Wanderer have a similar reaction, even though she knows it's not emotional for her. Meanwhile, another guy--just as chivalrous, if not quite as hot as Jared--starts to have feelings for Wanderer, but can't do anything about it because she's in Melanie's body. Starting to feel the soap-opera-ness?

As was true in Twilight, Meyers' character are very memorable. Some of my favorites are side character. Jebb runs where most of the story takes place, and he's hilarious! Love him. The guys around Wanderer are great because they're just. Such. GUYS! The way they fight, the way they compete, their quirks. Loved all of them. Even the ones I hated. And little Jaime, a sweet kid growing up in a twisted, dystopian world, was just so lovable. I have brothers. Lots of them. So I would know.

Anyway, I'm totally rambling so suffice it to say, I loved this book. If you're looking for a great story with a classic dystopian theme, awesome characters, and a plot that just won't quit, this is the book for you. There was even a part near the end where Wanderer is kind of philosophizing about what she's learned. Almost cried. No judging!

Anyone else read The Host? What did you think of it?


  1. I've only recently got into plotting, using the 7-point story structure, and it's made writing so much easier! I have something to aim for in each section - sort of like a dot-to-dot.

  2. Popping in via the A to Z challenge.
    I'm probably the only person who hasn't read any of Stephanie Meyers books.

    Writer In Transit

  3. Excellent checkpoints.
    And saw your book at Michael's today!

  4. Wonderful post. I loved the plot points. I can't think of any you missed. :)

    I haven't read the Host yet, so I didn't read that part of your post. I'm not sure I'm going to read the book, but I prefer to dive into books with little to no fore-knowledge of what is in the book/what it's about other than the back of the book blurb.

  5. I enjoyed the Host as well! I especially liked Wanderer as a character thought she was a good 'non-human/human' character..I had a lot of sympathy for her!