As a reminder, dear readers, I work in theater and I write mysteries. And dramatic structure rules my worlds.
What, some of you are asking, is dramatic structure? Basically, it is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement/resolution. In theater, dramatic structure keeps the audience coming back for the second act. I found this diagram, which lays it out very well.
Mysteries are structured in much the same way, though the inciting incident (the event that launches the story) doesn’t have to come at the beginning. Remember, plays are stories told aloud, with no voice overs or flashbacks (usually). Novels and fiction can shake it up a bit.
In mysteries, dramatic structure includes plot point one, plot point two, climax, denouement. Plot points are where the stories take a hard pivot. Crudely put, it is where you drop the body. Or you arrest someone. Or the prime suspect gets killed. The climax is where it all comes together. And the denouement is a short bit at the end, where the reader (or audience) catches her breath. Or the sleuth explains what just happened.
I am a plotter, and I use Scrivener. What that means is as I am outlining the book, I am trying to keep the balance in check, and can visually see what is happening by having the scenes on separate cards, and the plot points tagged. Spacing (pacing) between the plot point one, plot point two, and the climax need to be fairly equal. Which makes sense–you don’t want to build up tension, change it up on the reader, and then take forever to drop the other shoe. And you also don’t want to rush the end. The tension/action is constantly moving upward, with brief respites between scenes.
I write this post because I am working on a new book, and realized that my pacing was WAY off. Unless I was writing a novella. And while I am a plotter, I do have to adjust as the muse strikes. Every scene serves the structure in some way, so I need to add some, move others, and maybe rethink the plot a bit. Never mind the sub-plot (which has its own arc). If it gets lopsided, I need to adjust. I’ve been doing a lot of adjusting, and also been rethinking what my pivot points are. I haven’t always used dramatic structure so literally in my writing, but it has turned out to be a really helpful tool.
How do you plot your stories? Do you plot your stories? Any other structure thoughts/hints?
J.A. (Julie) Hennrikus writes short stories that have appeared in the award winning Level Best Books and is the current president of Sisters in Crime New England. As Executive Director for StageSource her vast knowledge of the theater brings a unique perspective to her writing.