There are many different ways to approach plotting and I have studied and tried a bunch. Most plots, and thus outlines, follow a form of Three Act Structure and I have found that this is true for short form as well as long form.
I’ll start with The Hero’s Journey. Using ideas from Arwen Lynch’s book Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot: 33 Days To Finish Your Book, I’m going to continue plotting with tarot to see what fresh ideas come to mind.
The Hero’s Journey
- The Ordinary World:Three of Coins
- Call to adventure:Five of Coins
- Refusal of the call:The Moon
- Meeting the mentor:Ten of Swords
- Crossing the Threshold:Judgement
- Test, Allies & Enemies: Four of Wands
- Approach the Inmost Cave:The Hermit
- The Ordeal:Five of Wands
- Reward: Nine of Wands
- Road Back:Ten of Coins
- Resurrection:King of Cups
- Return with Elixer:The Fool
My interpretation: My MC (main character) is finally seeing some reward for his gritty determination. He has been through really hard times and feels the extra pressure of trying to raise a child alone now that he’s lost his job and his wife took the house. But he’s making the best the small house and property he inherited from his grandfather and his child is happy and healthy, so he finally feels that there’s hope until he gets in a spat with an herbalist who trespasses on his land which leads to child protective services at his door.
The judgement he sees in her eyes in the last straw. Shattered, he feels he’s come to the end of the road, but when he thinks further about the meeting, he has clearer judgement and can see the positive decisions he has made for himself and his son. He sees what is wrong with how they see him, that their judgements are biased. He prepares for the next visit feeling he has the power to liberate himself from the situation. He feels that the time alone, away from society and social norms is very important as he reflects on his life journey so far. When the women return, his hope is shattered again by proposed unsettling changes, and opposition. Top-heavy egos lead to a lack of coordination and team spirit, but plenty of adrenaline and racing pulses. Everyone has their own idea of how things should be done.
After the meeting goes badly, my MC expects trouble on the horizon, his biggest fear: separation from his son, so he debates his next moves, trying to be honest with himself about what is best for his child. He doesn’t want his son to ever be hurt like he has been hurt, he doesn’t want him to feel abandoned, but he doesn’t want him to feel hunger, or thirst, or cold, or have limited opportunities due to his own selfishness. My MC doesn’t want to face his fear, but he feels weary of a constant cycle of conflict in his life. While he awaits next steps with social services, he works the land. He wants to have a sustainable garden, to provide enough food. While working, he rests under the green ash and notices a carving in the bark that leads to a remarkable discovery. Though he no longer has to stay at the property, he and his son decide to stay, happy to be different and unique. He finds compassion and kindness deep inside himself and hires the herbalist, the person whose snap judgement started this trouble to help him create a beautiful garden of his land.
A New Plot!!
This Morning, I stumbled on a new (to me) plotting approach “The Virgin’s Promise.” Unlike the Hero’s Journey in which the main character leaves the comfort of home to learn and change, the main character of the Virgin’s Promise goes on an internal journey of discovery, finding her authentic self, breaking with tradition and sharing a new way of thinking. Let’s see what the cards have to say about my story as a Virgin’s Promise. My understanding of this plot form is from diyMFA.
The original work to research the structure can be found in Kate Hudson’s book The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual and Sexual Awakening
- Dependent World: Six of Coins
- Price of Conformity: Two of Swords
- Opportunity to Shine: Queen of Swords
- Dresses the Part: The Tower
- Secret World: The Magician
- No Longer Fits Her World: The Fool
- Caught Shining: The Hermit
- Gives Up What Kept Her stuck: Ace of Pentacles
- Kingdom in Chaos: Eight of Swords
- Wanders in the Wilderness: The Moon
- Chooses Her Light: Three of Wands
- Re-order (Rescue): Temperance
- Kingdom is Brighter: Five of Swords
My interpretation: After a very tough time my MC is offered a lifeline. He knows that there are expectations for his son’s living situation and is doing his best. He finds that being honest with his son is proving him a good parent. He also discovers that he is good at living off the land, and building/carpentry, things he never expected and that nature provides a learning experience for his son. My MC begins to let go of all the hurt and anger of his hateful divorce and see the potential of what he has been given.
But then there’s a knock at the door and the trespasser from last week is there with another woman, a woman who is there to check on his son’s welfare and he is shaken to the core. This sudden wake-up call of the world he feels happy in versus expectations of society leaves him confused and worried about whether this really is best for his son. Everything suddenly feels immediate when before he felt like he had time to figure things out. He knows he has everything he needs to succeed, but how will he showcase those talents under CPS guidelines?
The judgement of the people who arrived at his door makes him doubt himself and whether he is doing the best he can for his son. He finds a way to invest in the future that he never would have done before, giving up a belief that kept him stuck. He refuses to go along with the social worker and herbalist’s wants and demands escalating the conflict with “the system,” leading to threats of removing his son from the home. After bucking the system, he feels unsure. He starts wondering if he and his son should run, but where would they go. He feels his greatest fear, their separation, but he knows he has to face it.
Once he decides that he has made the right decisions for his son and will continue to work his land and create a home, he builds momentum and feels self-confidence and enthusiasm though he risks separation and failure. When the herbalist sneaks back on the property, she is shocked by the change. She completely changes her mind about the father and son living there and brings the community to his side, working to take back the damage she has done. My MC wins his battle with CPS and with the help of the herbalist, the social worker and other neighbors creates a lively, nurturing environment for his son.
That was fun. I’m glad I found the Virgin’s Promise. I found it interesting that even though I shuffled and cut the cards three times before and after the first layout, some of the same cards and some of the cards from the celtic cross from the other day came up in the second. Though the over-all ideas stayed mostly the same, the conflict started later in the Virgin’s Promise and the ending completely changed. It’ll be interesting to see how the story plays out once the characters start interacting. Plus, it gives me another way to go if the ending needs to change during revision.
Other fun plotting tools:
Even though my plot is pretty clear, I did a few of these just for fun.
The plot-o-matic inspired by John Dufresne’s Is Life Like This?
- A florist, who wants to be a hermit, irons clothes at 2 am.
- A tollbooth attendant, who wants to make a discovery, saves someone’s life then dies in a freak accident. (That was the first time I drew more than one card from a stack. I liked the result, so I tried it some more)
- An exterminator and a butterfly collector want to be in the news. They go to a medium then fin baby bunnies in a nest and meet a woman who wants to die.
- A conspiracy junky sasquatch hunter, who wants to be happy again, pretends to be blind.
- A left-handed drama teacher tries to fix the set of a castle using a flashlight because the power went out. S/he disturbs a sleeping bee that doesn’t die after stinging and then seems magnetically attached and won’t leave him/her alone.
- A child with a monster shadow sees shadow footprints that s/he follows to a small house. S/he finds a phone number written on the wall inside and calls it. The CEO of a huge company answers and after speaking with the child parachutes to the house in the moonlight and has a key to free the child from the shadow monster.
- A detective meets an alien in the forest at 4 am. The alien apologizes for accidentally crashing a plane which solves the detective’s case, but that causes drama for the detective because s/he can’t tell anyone. The detective is so conflicted that the alien locks his/her mind with magic.
The Writer’s Emergency Pack
Both cards I randomly drew were “Zombie attack (there are two cards that go with each prompt),” so I’ll think on that. Is doesn’t have to be literal zombies. The prompt question is: What would my hero do if confronted by a mindless, unstoppable horde? He may see the women who come to his door as just that since they represent a government agency and the larger community. The other prompts are:
- Does the horde have a leader? Will my hero try to confront, take over as leader?
- What does the horde want? If they get it will they go away or grow stronger and refuse to leave?
These are good questions to ask Eugene as I journal today.
Oblique Strategies (the cards created by Brian Eno)
- Listen to the quiet voices
- Turn it upside down
- Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
- Question the heroic approach
I love that last one. Serendipity of finding The Virgin’s Promise.
Each of the plots I came up with today were in a mostly linear order of events. I’ll want to play around with the plot points and think about non-linear story possibilities. Next, I’ll use everything I’ve done so far to fill in some quick outlines, then start the draft.