For just sheer plot "ideas", there is a book written in 1868 (yes, 1868) called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.
Georges Polti collected ideas from the predominate literature of his day and categorized it, and off shoots into thirty-six major plots.
For instance, the first situation is: SUPPLICATION:
The necessary elements:
A persecutor, a suppliant, and a power in authority. (Works great with Morgan's balance of characters.)
Then Polti breaks SUPPLICATION down into sub categories that show twists to the idea of SUPPLICATION:
1) Fugitives imploring the powerful for help against their enemies
2) Assistance implored for the performance of a pious duty which has been forbidden
3) Appeals for a refuge in which to die
4) Hospitality besought by the shipwrecked
5) Charity entreated by those cast off by their own people whom they have disgraced
6) Expiation: The seeking of pardon, healing or deliverance
7) The surrender of a corpse, or of a relic, solicited
8) Supplication of the powerful for those dear to the suppliant
9) Supplication to a relative in behalf of another relative
10) Supplication to a mother's lover in her behalf.
Don't read this expecting a lot of answers. Most of his support comes from classical Greek and French literature, but you get enough of a drift to see what he's driving at.
For instance, in number 8, he uses the Biblical example of Queen Esther. Esther risked her life several times by going to the King as asking for a favor, at a time when the King didn't see his wives or concubines unless HE called for them. Her supplication ... the King's advisor was plotting to exterminate her people and she plead her case to him to save them.
I had to order the book special order through The Writer magazine.
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I've spent a lot of time reading other writers' work. I've judged contests, been a crit partner, helped younger writers tighten their work. Two things crop up on a regular basis. First is the issue of Point of View (POV). When you do it right, you only see the story unfold through the eyes of one person in a single scene. The other problem that creeps in often undetected is that of chapter ending hooks.
Chapter ending hooks are exactly what they sound like. Some of you can relate to the analogy of fishing. You bait, toss the line in the water, and hope the hook catches you a fish.
Not into fishing? Think of a movie scene, or some story you read that you really enjoyed. You know the kind ... the one that leaves your heart pounding, and you holding your breath.
Every chapter in your book is at least one scene in length, maybe more. You arrange the setting, you place the story actors on the stage, and you have them act. They go through what they need to, and the tension builds. You can't wait to see or read what happens next.
And then, you find out.
Then chapter ends.
You look at the watch on your cell phone, or the clock in your bedroom and yawn. Time for bed. You shove a bookmark into the paperback, set it on the bedstand and go to sleep.
No. No! NO! You don't want your reader to breath easy at the end of the chapter (or a scene for that matter). You don't want to put their mind at rest.
What do you want? You want to agitate them with the question that keeps them reading on into the next chapter. You want them to ask, "What happened next?" What did s/he decide? How are they going to get out of THAT situation?
How do you do it?
Simple. Write the scene, complete with the logical consequences of the tension of that section of your work. Then reread what you've written with an eye to the tension you've built. Take it to the pinnacle, where there is no way at that particular time you can make things any worse, and then, end the chapter.
Here is a sample from my novel, 15 DEGREES OF HEAT:
Diego pointed the gun in Rob’s face as he attempted to stand. “To the desk, Doctor.”
Cold steel slapped onto his right wrist when Diego handcuffed him to the crossbar between the front and rear desk legs. Rob rattled the chains, tried to loosen them. Diego laughed and left him in the thickening smoke.
A scream followed. Cali’s. Muffled thumps, another crash, and then Rob glimpsed Diego with Cali slumped over his shoulder. The villain stopped in the doorway. With a leisurely look, he took in the conflagration that would soon consume the entire clinic. He tsked with mock sadness. “Such a shame you have to die, Doctor, but the clinic, I will make sure it is rebuilt, someday. Buenos dias, Señor.” Diego grinned and closed the door.
This scene personified "out of the frying pan into the fire."
The reader doesn't know what happens to Dr. Rob. He's trapped, handcuffed to the desk, the fire roaring around him.
Of course, I, as the author, know precisely what is going to happen next. Rob is going to escape, but my reader doesn't know how. They must read on to find the answer.
That is what a hook is supposed to do. Use them. You'll have readers up to all hours of the night racing to the end of your novel.
Anyone serious about writing eventually asks the question, “What is a critique group? Should I belong to one?” Critique groups have the ability to be the bane of our existence or the support we wish we’d had for our writing all along. Belonging to a critique group is powerful, no doubt about it.
A critique group is simply a gathering of writers who work together to improve their writing by offering criticism. The most effective groups have a limited number of participants and some simple rules.
Groups with five to seven participants seem to be the most effective. This allows for everyone to look over the other participants’ writing and make comments on what they’ve read. Much larger and it’s difficult to get through the work on a timely basis. Smaller groups run into problems when one participant is ill or takes a vacation. Many small groups don’t feel the time investment for two or three is worth the distance they must travel to meet face-to-face.
Not all groups physically meet. With the widespread use of chat loops such as Yahoo or SmartGroups, critiques can be done via the Internet. These groups tend to run a bit larger because members critique at their leisure.
Simple rules are necessary to ensure the success of a critique group. One basic rule common to many groups is setting a minimum/maximum page count to critique. Most groups don’t go lower than a five-page minimum and others set a maximum at twenty. Each critique group has to experiment and see what best fits the individuals of the group and the time constraints.
Many groups operate under the rule of “get one, give one” critiques. If you put a twenty-page chapter into a group for critique and you get four writers to comment on your work, be prepared to do four different twenty-page critiques in return.
Time allotment is another rule successful critique groups work with. Many set aside the first fifteen to thirty minutes to catch up on one another’s family news. Often a group will divide the amount of time set aside by the number of critiquers present. Others have discovered adjusting the page maximum takes care of time restrictions.
Other guidelines and patterns that vary from group to group include: reading aloud; selection of meeting place; periodic retreats; and brainstorming sessions.
Yet, the question remains, should you belong to a critique group? In order to decide if a group is a good fit for you, you need to examine a few things in your life. Can you commit to the time needed to be a valuable critique group member? In addition to meeting time, many groups send the work to be critiqued via e-mail. Are you capable of using your computer to track changes, make comments and return critiques?
Can you take the heat? Often critiques bruise our egos. We don’t like to hear/see we’ve used a word wrong, don’t have the proper tense for our words, or be accused of head hopping. It stings when you realize your baby isn’t so perfect after all.
Are you capable of leaving personal feelings out of the work you critique? Members of a critique group are diverse. Diversity can be a strength and a weakness depending on how you take the genres others write. It’s possible to have a romantic suspense author, an erotica author, and a historical author all in the same group. Just because another writer’s stories are different than yours is not a reason to go on the attack and tear the story apart. The only legitimate critique is one where the giver is helping the wordsmith hone their craft.
Leaving a critique group can be much like going through a divorce. The people in your group have gotten to know you and your writing quite intimately. Select a group with care. Attend a few sessions on a trial basis before you commit yourself “to critique or not to critique.”
Note: I am involved in three critique groups. One meets weekly, another monthly, and another is strictly via the Internet. Feel free to contact me with your questions.