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Plot Pivots and Hanging Laundry

For me, plotting is like hanging up a large load of laundry.

Picture it—a beautiful day in June. The air is fresh, the breeze is flappy, and you’ve got three loads of wash to do. But just your luck, the drier’s not working.

So get a rope and two poles.

Tie one end of the rope to the house.

Tie the other end to that maple way over there near the fence.

Prop up the rope—the storyline—with two poles.

Best to prop the rope at about the two-thirds point—roughly, the golden mean.

Place the second pole somewhere after the three-quarter mark, part three of the story, the beginning of the climax leading to the end.

That way you can hang all the light laundry on the long length of rope, scenes that introduce characters or develop core conflict and character, moving the story forward in short strokes. Clamp the heavier stuff to the smaller lengths toward the end of the rope.

Before I start to plot, I know my characters inside and out, or at least I think I do. Maybe it’s that I think I know them but in fact they know me. I also know the beginning, the end, and the two plot pivots—all subject to change, of course. I jot in the bones of these five scenes intermingled with some character sketches, perhaps the arcs of the most important players, and pretty soon, the story is writing itself.

And when I read fiction, whether it’s a short story or novella or novel, I always look for these two pivotal plot points. I stare at them, read them slowly, re-read them, because it’s around these two points that the story blossoms. Meaning clings to them, like barnacles on a ship.

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