Monday, July 17, 2006

Lesson 16: Plot Layers

Is it Monday already...wake me up when it's Tuesday...No, huh...alright! Hi, everybody! Let's start a new week!

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel. This is a fabulous book and I encourage each of you to buy it. What I'm presenting here is by no means a full lesson and there is a wealth of insight and additional info that will help you.

In case your just joining us...What I am attempting to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. We're done with Character Development, now we're moving on to Plot Development! Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Plot Layers.

In understanding how to build a breakout novel, you have to grasp the difference between subplot and a layer. Subplots are plot lines given to different characters. While layers are plot lines given to the same character. Breakout fiction makes extensive use of plot layers to reflect the natural complexity of our lives.

How many layers have you heaped on your protagonist in your current WIP? Just one?...Get busy!! Even two layers may be too few to build a breakout novel!

Step 1: What is the name of your protagonist?

Step 2: What is the overall problem he/she must solve?

Step 3: What additional problems can she face? Not complications to the main problem, but altogether different problems.

Note: A plot is layered when more than one thing happens simultaneously to the hero. There are levels of problems to utilize...public problems, personal problems, and secondary problems. Small mysteries, nagging questions, dangling threads....these can be woven into the plot.

Follow-up: For each plot layer that you add, work out at least four steps or scenes that you will need to bring this narrative line to its climax and resolution. Make notes for these additional steps or scenes.

Conclusion: Have you ever noticed how everything seems to happen at once? Good things come in threes. When it rains it pours. Layers give novels the rich texture of real life. Building them into your story is extra work, but the reward is a rich resonance and complexity!

And this little story, my friends...I have voted...


A man was sick and tired of going to work every day while his wife stayed home.
He wanted her to see what he went through so he prayed:

"Dear Lord, I go to work every day and put in 8 hours while my wife merely stays at home. I want her to know what I go through, so please allow her body to switch with mine for a day. Amen."

God, in his infinite wisdom, granted the man's wish.

The next morning, sure enough, the man awoke as a woman.

He arose, cooked breakfast for his mate, awakened the kids, set out their school clothes, fed them breakfast, packed their lunches, drove them to school, came home and picked up the dry cleaning, took it to the cleaners and stopped at the bank to make a deposit, went grocery shopping, then drove home to put away the groceries, paid the bills and balanced the checkbook.

He cleaned the cat's litter box and bathed the dog.

Then it was already 1 P.M. and he hurried to make the beds, do the laundry, vacuum, dust, and sweep and mop the kitchen floor.

He ran to the school to pick up the kids and got into an argument with them on the way home.

Set out milk and cookies and got the kids organized to do their homework, then set up the ironing board and watched TV while he did the ironing.

At 4:30 he began peeling potatoes and washing vegetables for salad, breaded the pork chops and snapped fresh beans for supper.

After supper, he cleaned the kitchen, ran the dishwasher, folded laundry, bathed the kids, and put them to bed.

At 9 P.M. he was exhausted and, though his daily chores weren't finished, he went to bed where he was expected to make love, which he managed to get through without complaint.

The next morning, he awoke and immediately knelt by the bed and said: Lord, I don't know what I was thinking. I was so wrong to envy my wife's being able to stay home all day. Please, oh please, let us trade back."

The Lord, in his infinite wisdom, replied: "My son, I feel you have learned your lesson and I will be happy to change things back to the way they were."

You'll just have to wait nine months, though. You got pregnant last night!"


Voted Women's Favorite E-mail of the Year


  1. Rulan said...
    Great timing with this lesson, my dear. I'm working on an outline. :) Muahahaha This is gonna be fun. Let's see if I can make my mc squirm...
    Rulan said...
    Oh boy, I just read that email joke. Very, very good. he he he
    David Meigs said...
    Everything comes in threes? In terms of subplot, it would be two steps forward and one step back.

    New hurdles appear as the characters overcome old ones, and all the while, the main conflict grows ever more impossible.
    Denise McDonald said...
    LOL - every man should have to go through that at least once!
    Bernita said...
    Dennie, They. Just. Couldn't. Handle. It.

    Hmmm, I've layered my heroine's problems, but don't think I have any sub-plots.
    Have to think about this.
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    I would love for a man...any go through it just once....ROFLOL

    I know how you feel Curm...been there, done that
    M. C. Pearson said...
    I loved making sub-problems for my protag. It is fun to see it all work out.

    Good things come in threes huh? Well, #1, you and I go to Philly in August!

    Can't wait to see #'s 2 & 3! Hee hee!
    Ballpoint Wren said...
    Heh! This is a great joke, Bonnie!

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