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Plotting: The Paradigm – Deeper

Originally published at Joely Sue Burkhart. You can comment here or there.

As I mentioned, I found Syd Field’s paradigm outlined in his Screenplay and The Screenwriter’s Workbook very helpful in finalizing my vision for the Mayan fantasy. Several people wanted more information, so I’ll go into more depth on what the paradigm is and how I used it. Just personal preference: I use the Workbook more than the original Screenplay. It’s worded a little different and it just clicks better for me personally, although I have both books.

Okay, so I’ll assume you have a story idea, which includes a subject, a character, and some action. The example Syd uses is: a visitor from outer space misses his spaceship home and is found and befriended by some children, who help him escape. (E.T.) Skimming off the uber-sekrit details of NSR, I have: Epigrapher Dr. Jaid Merritt may be known as the Un-Indiana Jones on campus, but she goes on the dig of her life in Guatemala in order to rescue her father.

The paradigm is sort of a timeline that graphs the major events of your story. Draw a line on your paper. You’ve heard me rambling about the Three Act Structure before. Act I and Act III are each roughly a quarter of your timeline; Act II is the middle half. Mark them off. Then toward the end of Act I, place an X or circle to represent the major turning point that moves your story from setup (the Ordinary World, if you’re more comfortable with the hero’s journey) into confrontation (Accept the Call and Cross the First Threshold). Place another X or mark at the end of Act II, another turning point that moves your story from confrontation to resolution (Return with the Elixir). This is the major turning point in or near your Dark Moment.

That’s it!! See how easy it is?

Where I got hung up was taking the existing paradigm for NSR and figuring out how to place the new, more complex story around/on top of it. It was so large, so overwhelming, I just couldn’t figure it out. Is the new story entirely new? Does it overlap part of NSR? Or encompass it entirely? Was NSR all backstory — or concurrent?

Pulling threads helped me get a grasp on each new story element. Once I got an idea of each thread’s beginning and end, I started to feel where it lay on the paradigm for NSR. The key here is to forget perfectionism. I used pencil and eraser and was determined not to stress out about getting this right from the very first try. I jotted. I doodled ideas. I marked possible places I thought certain events might begin to fall, and then moved it if it felt better somewhere else. I drew arrows, scribbled thoughts on the back and down the margins, all very loose and comfortable. I didn’t stress about balance or symmetry yet. Just flow and feel.

I did this for all the threads and there, on four (** see below) messy sheets of paper, I saw the story laid out in enough detail to see exactly how to start and where to end up.

I finished going thorugh the notecards last night and outlined the current draft of NSR, where I think I need changes, and where the new threads may fall. I’m going to start with clean legal sized paper, the timeline and Jaid’s paradigm (NSR). Then I’ll lay out each story thread (whether the character has a POV or not) on top. I want to be able to see each major player at a glance, where he/she is (I’m spanning Texas, Mexico, and Guatemala at any given moment), and what that means.

I’m sure this will take several drafts. I’ll also go into detail about each thread and make sure it has a solid beginning, middle, end, with a clear goal. I’m a big fan of “every character is the star of his/her own story”, so there will truly be several major mini-stories unfolding. It’ll be a @&#* to manage.

So does it sound crazy when I say I can’t wait to dig in? :D

** why four pages when there are only three acts? Personally, I like to break Act II into two pieces and have another turning point somewhere around 150-225 pages or so, depending on length. A major crisis in Act II helps break up the sagging middle. It gives me a “candybar” scene to write to, as Holly Lisle calls it. I put this extra turning point on the second page, so each page has a turning point except the last (Act III), which actually has one or two big climaxes.

Ironically, the first time I drew the NSR paradigm, I messed up the first turning point, which certainly didn’t help me see the story I was trying to add. I had the midpoint turning point listed in Act I instead of my true “accept the call” turning point. Big difference! Once I got that straight in my head, it was much easier to lay down the other threads.

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