Monday, July 2, 2012

Rising Action Plots

Plotting is a mystery to many of us. In some ways, although writing an easy reader isn't easier than writing an adult story (they may be shorter, but that doesn't make them easier!), plotting one IS easier than than plotting an adult story. Adults expect things to be complicated -- they expect it. When you write easy readers for children, they're so busy learning the mechanics of how to read that the plots have to be simpler. Otherwise you're just making their job harder.

But that doesn't mean that easy reader plots necessarily come easily to writers. Even though the plots are simpler, they still have to make sense... and logical structures don't always come to mind so easily.

I don't remember when I found it, but a poet and picture book writer named Shutta Crum put some neat writing helps on her blog, one of which is this PDF about picture book story skeletons. When I read it, I thought it would be really helpful when it came to plotting easy readers. After all, easy readers are the next step up from picture books; these are plots that the kids are already familiar with!

I thought I'd take a few posts to look at some of these structures and apply them to easy readers. The one I'll mention first is actually the last one on her list. She calls it the Traditional Rising Action Structure, and I'm starting there because most people would associate it with the plotting basics I've already written about. In addition, it's probably the most common approach to adult story plotting.

In a rising action plot, things start to happen one after the other, and each new action makes the reader ask, "Oh my gosh! How is the hero going to get out of this now?" Then, when it looks like everything is just going to fall apart because the problem has gotten so big, the hero figures out an answer and solves the problem.

While it's always desirable, in an easy reader it's really important that the hero figures out the answer and actually solves the problem himself. It's no good if someone else comes in and solves it for the hero or if things just solve themselves, like an accident. The hero has to save himself, not get rescued. And, depending on the story, the hero may have to solve each problem as he finds it or the problems may just keep getting worse until he has only one big mess to clean up.

This may sound complicated, but it's not. Bear in mind that a picture book writer is going to exploit this plot in only 500 to 1000 words. If they can do it, an easy reader author can do it. In an easy reader you don't need more than three or maybe four complications at most. Three is the traditional number for a lot of things in writing, regardless of whether it's a child's story or an adult's story. (It could be the religious connotations, but I suspect it has something to do with tripods being generally stable structures regardless of how uneven the ground is. Threes just seem more solid.)

So those are the keys to applying a rising action plot to an easy reader story:
  • Don't over-complicate things -- it's a short kid's story, not a long adult's story
  • Things must happen logically
  • There are typically three events in the "rising action" sequence
  • The hero has to figure out how to solve the problem, then do it himself
If you do that, you've got a good chance to create a memorable story with a rising action plot.

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