Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The W-Plot - Heather Dyer

I’ve always been an awful plotter. I write intuitively, going down dozens of blind alleys before (sometimes) finding my way out into the sun. I’ll admit, though, that once written, my stories do all follow the generally accepted 3-Act story structure.

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:

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


Sue Purkiss said...

Will take a closer look at this - thanks, Heather!

Penny Dolan said...

I'm going it investigate these links a bit more later. Yes, "the character changes their mind" is a nice way of explaining that plot needs to be internal as much as external - not just "half way up, the storm hit with ferocity" etc etc.

A point to bear in mind on this back to WIP work day.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Seems many of us are 're-working' !!! Thanks Heather.

Savita Kalhan said...

I'll definitely look at this more closely - I'm reworking a book at the moment, and it has an annoying habit of losing its way. Thanks, Heather.

Nick Green said...

That's a remarkable diagram - it's true, you can take almost any good plot and it magically conforms to that rough sort of shape.

It's also true about characters - the biggest myth is that they have to be 'consistent'. Yeah right, and real people are so consistent, right? Well, the boring ones are. But what makes a person interesting is when they suddenly do something you never expected of them (and which yet, in hindsight, is not so big a surprise - like a previously ditzy mother suddenly proving brilliant in a crisis, if her children's safety is threatened.)

Heather Dyer said...

Good luck with your 'reworking', everyone. And yes, Nick, simple but effective isn't it? It really released me to allow my characters to behave inconsistently. And after all, how are they ever going to develop if they never change their behaviour from start to finish...