A couple of weeks ago I joined John Ward's Google+ group for writers and since then have enjoyed his thought provoking articles and links as well as the fabulous community he's build up.
Today John talked about a writing program I'd never heard of before, and I thought I knew them all. It's called Contour. As John points out, the great thing about Contour isn't the program itself--although that's pretty good--it's the user's guide. The guide steps you through a certain way of structuring your story.
Contour builds story structure through plot points.
A plot point is a discreet, unique and essential chunk of story information. In the hierarchy of scriptwriting it falls out above beats and scenes and just below acts. A linear breakdown is supplied below.So, following a three act structure, here's how it breaks down:
Screenplay > Act > Plot Point > Scene > Beat
The 4 basic questions behind character development:
1. Who is your main character?
2. What is he trying to accomplish?
3. Who is trying to stop him?
4. What happens if he fails?
Breaking down the 3 act structure:
Act 1: 12 plot points
Act 2, Part 1: 14 plot points
Act 2, Part 2: 14 plot points
Act 3: 4 plot points
Total: 44 plot points
Contour helps you step through these 44 plot points and in so doing develops the structure of your story. Let's go through a few.
Plot Point 1: "We need either the Hero, Victim/Stakes Character, or Antagonist"
Here we meet either the hero, the stakes character or the antagonist. The states character is "the face that represents all of the people that the bad guys are victimizing. It's usually someone the hero feels very deeply about." For instance, in Die Hard the states character was the hero's wife, in Star Wars it was the hero's romantic interest, Princess Leia.
Plot Point 2: "We see the Hero's flaw in relation to the Stakes Character"
The hero lacks something essential that he needs if he is to help the stakes character. For instance, in Star Wars, Luke is a poor farmer who doesn't know the first thing about fighting and has never had an adventure. Princess Leia needs someone to rescue her from the bad guy.
Plot Point 3: "Antagonist or someone or something symbolic of the Antagonist"
This is what I'd call: Antagonist onscreen. The antagonist or one of his/her minions enter the story. For instance, in Star Wars Leia is captured by stormtroopers who are the minions of Emperor Palpatine.
Plot Point 4: "The deflector slows the hero down. Pulls him off the path"
In Contour the minions of the antagonist are also known as "deflectors" because they deflect the hero from his goal.
In DIE HARD, Hans Gruber is the antagonist and the long-haired, high-kicking Karl is the main deflector. Almost everyone else are assistant deflectors including the other terrorists, the cops who want McClane to stop interfering, the FBI agents, and the smarmy Ellis.Plot Point 5: "Inciting Event. Hero now gets emotionally involved"
In other systems this is known as the Call To Adventure. In Star Wars, Luke hears Princess Leia say, "Help me Obi Wan Kanobi, you're my only hope." In The Firm, Mitch McDeere accepts a job offer, in Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, Indie accepts the job of finding the lost Ark of the Covenant.
The key is that there is emotion involved on the part of the hero. Either, like Indie and Mitch, the hero is excited about embarking on the adventure, or they do it more out of a sense of grudging obligation because it's what has to be done--like Bella in Twilight. Either way, the hero has to feel emotion.
If the hero feels nothing then neither with your readers and that's the point of storytelling!
Plot Point 6: "Hero's goal as it relates to the stakes character and/or love interest. The Hero's problem is made clear to the audience"
The hero has an external and internal problem. The external problem drives the story. For instance in The Firm Mitch's external problem is that he's poor and he wants to become rich through practicing law. His internal problem is that he's still running form the poverty of trailer park he grew up in and he doesn't realize that he already has everything he needs to be happy.
Plot point 6 is where someone, in The Firm it's Abby, turns to the hero and tells them what their internal problem is. This is the thing they'll have to in some way defeat/conquer before the end of the story. (Another good example is in Shrek when Donkey tells Shrek that he needs to let someone in, let someone get close to him.)
Plot Point 7: "Ally (either true or unintentional) aids Hero by propelling him out of the status quo"
For instance, in Titanic Jack Dawson wins his ticket from a someone in a game of cards. Even though they didn't intend to help Jack start his adventure, they have.
Plot Point 8: "The Hero seems ready to move forward toward his goal and/or states character, but can't"
In other systems this is called, Refusal of the Call to Adventure. The hero looks at the adventure laid out for them and says, "Thanks, but no thanks." In Star Wars Luke tells Obi-Wan that he can't help him because he has to help his uncle and aunt with their farm. He has duties, responsibilities, he can't shirk.
There are 36 more plot points! Don't worry, I won't go through them all. You can download the users guide and read the rest (I gave the link, above). I haven't covered the entire richness of how Contour helps sculpt your outline, but hopefully I've given you a taste. You can download a free trial copy of Contour. It's fully functional for a month and then you have to decide whether to buy it. Contour sells for $39.99 on Amazon.com.
My feeling is that the 44 plot points may be too fine grained and that not all of them are necessary for every story. That said, it does make interesting reading, especially if you're stuck at a certain point in your story. Let's say your hero needs to do something, something needs to happen, but you're not sure what. I find stepping through one of these schemes (see also Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler), these formulas, gives me ideas and helps me get past the conceptual block.
Other articles you might like:
- Amazon Ranks Authors In Terms Of Their Book Sales
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover
- On The Art Of Creating Believable Characters: No Mr. Nice Guy