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Story Pieces

Cheryl's Musings: Story Pieces

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Story Pieces

I'm cooking up a new story idea right now, and I've been having trouble getting a handle on whether the story problem(s) are enough to carry a novel. You see, usually I write fantasy--tales with lots and lots of plot twists and turns--rather than contemporary books about kids dealing with contemporary problems. So I tried a little exercise on some of my favorite contemporary YA novels: I listed the pieces of the story, all the things that the main character has to deal with during the course of the book. It's a valuable thing to do, because then, when I return to my own work, I can apply the same exercise and see if I'm getting the same kinds of results.

Here's what I mean (WARNING: SPOILERS):

Fact of Life #31, by Denise Vega.

Plot: Kat is trying to figure out where she fits in her world, where her mother is the Perfect Midwife and Kat is...not. Her "plot pieces" include:

  1. Her sense of identity and self-worth (as seen in her artwork, her work as an assistant at a midwifery, and her relationships with others)

  2. Boys: moving from a crush, to a boy who is embarrassed about their relationship, and making up again.

  3. Triathlon training

  4. Friendship: dealing with a falling-out with best friend

  5. Mother: feelings that the mother doesn't value her, feelings that mother is controlling, etc.

Click Here, by Denise Vega

Plot: Erin is starting middle school--in a different track from her best friend. She has to step out on her own to find her niche; but she's used to doing everything with her best friend. Her "plot pieces" include:

  1. Starting middle school

  2. Bossy friend

  3. Boys

  4. Finding a niche for herself in the school computer club

  5. Learning to speak up for herself

  6. Dealing with a mean girl

  7. And, of course, the embarrassment of having her private web journal posted for the entire school to see

The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot

Plot: Mia is a smart ninth grader who is 1) flunking algebra, 2) stressing because she has no discernible chest, and 3) about to discover that Princess of a small principality--making her life even more complicated. Her "plot pieces" include:

  1. Mother who's dating her algebra teacher

  2. Failing algebra

  3. Bossy, unyielding friend

  4. Learning to be a princess (with her unpleasant grandmother as teacher)

  5. Boys

  6. Body image

  7. Learning to speak up for herself

Breathe My Name, by R.A.Nelson

Plot: Frances comes from a terrible past, one that makes people want to protect her; but now it's time for her to face her demons.

  1. Past trauma

  2. Search for her mother

  3. A new boyfriend

  4. Overprotective parents

  5. Inability to speak for herself

Some of these books have big plot concepts. Erin's life is hugely complicated about halfway through the novel because her personal blog--detailing her opinions of everyone in her class--gets published to the school. Frances is propelled forward when a sinister message comes from her mother, who's been imprisoned for the past ten years. Mia learns that she's a princess. At the same time, though, Erin's story is primarily about her relationships with the other kids. Kat's story is about figuring out who she is and what she's good at doing. Mia's story is about learning to speak for herself.

Plot...I guess it doesn't always have to be high-concept, although an intriguing twist is never a bad thing. But the thing that hooks me is a great character. That's my goal....




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