HALLIEEPHRON: There’s a terrific new book out there, PLOT PERFECT, for writers who are as at sea as I once was when it comes to plot. Written by prolific writer and former acquiring editor for F&W Media, literary agent Paula Munier, it reveals and dissects the invisible scaffolding of plot, from theme to organizing principle to structure to scenes.
I only wish I’d had it when I started writing.
Today we're happy to have Paula Munier on Jungle Red! Paula, what was one of frequent plot problem you were seeing in queries and manuscripts that you address in the book?
PAULA MUNIER: There are two big problems that I see over and over again:
- Pacing. Typically, the beginning is too slow, the middle is too boring, and the end is too rushed.
- The protagonist does not drive the action from beginning to end.
HALLIE: Writing this down, because as many books as one writes, these are still fundamental problems. I'd add a third one for me: Stakes. Creating a situation in which the protagonist is FORCED to drive the action.
Since I’m such a visual learner, I love all of your diagrams that offer fantastic insights. Like your dissection of “THE THREE-ACT STRUCTURE: Sixty scenes.”
PAULA: Sure. The three-act structure can be intimidating—until you realize that it’s just the beginning, the middle, and the end, broken down into scenes.
HALLIE: I get into arguments (who me?) with writers who insist that they can write a book from an omniscient viewpoint. Do you think these days that flies?
PAULA: Omniscient POV is considered very old-fashioned these days. It’s a red flag for editors; they assume that you don’t know your craft well if you are using omniscient POV. It can mark you as an amateur. I won’t even try to sell a project written in omniscient POV—even in SF/fantasy, which is the only place you really ever see it these days.
HALLIE: Wow! Well, next time I have to defend my position, I'm going to quote you.
What about “write scenes.” Is that a rule you can slide by without these days?
PAULA: If you’re writing commercial fiction, you really need to focus on scenes. (This is especially true in crime fiction, where pacing is everything.) Write those scenes in an original voice and you’re golden—because you’re giving the reader the best of both worlds, literary and cinematic.
HALLIE: I love the examples you use throughout the book, in particular The Maltese Falcon. What can someone learn about writing a novel from reading it?
PAULA: The Maltese Falcon is a jewel of plotting. Hammett created the iconic private detective in Sam Spade, and the quintessential femme fatale in Brigid O’Shaughnessy–and he puts them through their paces in this story. The action never stops, and yet the world in which the action takes place is morally complex. The main plot and sub-plots mirror the themes and variations on theme—and these threads are all tightly woven together in a seamless tapestry.
HALLIE: What’s your favorite author who breaks all the “rules”?
PAULA: Alice Hoffman breaks a lot of rules in her books. She writes what she calls “Yankee magic realism,” stories that are modern-day fairytales. Readers love fairytales; they know the form and that form allows Hoffman to break the rules. Of course she’s a splendid writer—and that helps!
HALLIE: So, Red Readers, if you’re looking for a gift for a writer on your holiday list, think of Plot Perfect. Hot off the presses at Writers Digest Books.
Paula will be dropping by today to field your questions about writing. I’ll start with: what makes a great title?