Stepping Stones Blog

Writing Seminar: Writing Lessons from the Front (Angela Hunt) – Part 1

On Saturday, April 26, I was privileged to attend a six-hour writing seminar by the prolific author, Angela Hunt.

I heard her speak for the first time in November, 2013, at the HACWN writing conference.  I attended most of her breakout sessions and fell in love with her teaching style:  jam-packed with usable information delivered in an informal, conversational way.  I was excited to hear her speak again and knew that I would not be disappointed.

For those who are unfamiliar with her works, she has written numerous books  of fiction in a variety of genres.  She knows how to write – and how to write well.  She has also written a series of short non-fiction books entitled, Writing Lessons from the Front, from which she structures her seminars.

The seminar consisted of six information-rich hours, which I will review in four ongoing posts.  Today I will focus on the foundation of her teaching:  The Plot Skeleton

Plot Skeleton

Angela is a proponent that all narratives – no matter the genre, follow the same basic structure.  She apologizes the story to the human body:  we may all look different on the outside, but an x-ray reveals that we are all the same on the inside.  The basic components of story include:

  • Head:  represents the protagonist.  The head is made complete with two eyes (which represent the two NEEDS of the protagonist:  an obvious problem that must be overcome and a hidden need which is revealed over time and is the catalyst for change) and a mouth (representing the admirable traits of the protagonist which helps the reader sympathize with him or her)
  • Neck:  represents the inciting incident – the ONE event which moves the character from “ordinary” world to “story world”.  Angela suggests that the inciting incident occur within the first 20-25% of the novel; others in the audience thought it should occur sooner.  This created quite a bit of  “heated” discussion.  Angela would say that the “hook” at the beginning of the novel would not be the inciting incident, but rather the “obvious problem” that is evident in the real world.
  • Ribs: represent the complications in the novel.  There can be as many “ribs” as needed (a children’s storybook might have as few as three, whereas a longer novel might have as many as three hundred or more).  Each complication should have a “positive” outcome … and each complication should ratchet up intensity as the story progresses.  The final complication should be the “worst” and lead to the….
  • Tailbone:  represents the weakest moment … when all seems lost for our dear protagonist.  In other words, the worst fate we could imagine for this character.
  • Knees:  represent the cry for “help”
  • Tibia:  represents the lesson learned which leads to the final “decision”
  • Foot: represents the resolution which returns the protagonist to the “ordinary” world and shows how he or she will live differently from now on.

She discussed the value of this structure, whether writing a plot-driven novel (action oriented) or a character-driven novel (relationship-oriented).  It is a universal model.

I have obviously oversimplified the concept, but this gives you a general idea.  I would strongly recommend purchasing this small yet powerful booklet for your own personal writing library.

Up next week:  Point of View and Creating Extraordinary Characters.


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