But I never found looking at the 3-Act structure helpful while I was writing. That is, until I came across Mary Caroll Moore’s ‘W-plot’ structure.
Mary has written 13 books – most of them non-fiction – and, interestingly, the W-plot structure applies to both fiction and non-fiction. I’m using it myself now with books of both types. Mary has also published her own book called Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book, available in print and on Kindle:
Mary has also made a YouTube video about her W-plot here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMhLvMJ_r0Y
Mary’s W-plot structure is ingenious because it shows how the action in a story ascends or descends at different times. I interpret this as being the way a character is swept down by events on the descending leg of the W – then moves upwards with new purpose on the ascending stroke.The W-plot structure also nicely illustrates how characters change their minds as a result of things that happen to them, and consequently change the trajectory of the plot. The two major ‘turning points’ are represented by the two bottom points of the W. These turning points occur in the 3-Act plot structure as well. However, it was never clear to me (due to the linear way that the 3-Act structure is usually presented) that the turning points are not so much a turning point in the action of the story but a turning point in the character’s own motivation. In other words, your characters can change their minds.
Surprisingly – after five books – this came as a revelation to me. I knew that my characters needed to change and develop over the course of the story, but I had always been so concerned about knowing who my characters were and keeping them ‘in character’ that I had not given them enough freedom to do a complete about-turn and take the plot off in a new direction.So, although I still write my first drafts intuitively (as, indeed, Mary Caroll Moore still advocates), I keep in mind the W-plot structure and ask myself what it would take to make a character change their mind at a turning point – and how it would affect things if they did.
Heather Dyer - children's author and Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow
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