Case Study: The Try/Fail Plot

Case Study: The Try/Fail Plot

Greetings,

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The stock images are from Pixabay because I fear using too many images from The 100. The two 100 images were taken via Google search for study and review.  (Please don’t sue me.)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a case study, and since I enjoy talking about them so much, I figured it’s been long enough.

What I’d like to do is talk about a plot type and then see it in action. This plot can be used as a side-plot or a main plot depending on what type of story you want. Because I subscribe to Brandon Sanderson’s WriteaboutDragons.  He calls it the Try/Fail plot. The idea is that when a character reaches a challenge a two-pronged series of options happens.

He fails AND the problem gets worse, or he succeeded BUT something else goes wrong.  Sanderson also calls this the “No-and, Yes-but” system.

So let’s see this in action:
I’m a huge fan of The 100. My mom turned me on to the show, and I think it’s fantastic. One thing it does better than any other show I can think of is use that plot to keep the conflict going and the tension high. The whole show is a giant “no-and, yes-but” plot, and each challenge follows the same formula. I’ll go over a short example in a part of an episode, just to avoid spoilers and any lawyers looking to take the $5 I have to my name.

The episode title is Many Happy Returns. It’s Episode 4 of Season 3: Here’s the scene. A group of teenagers are searching for one of their friends. During their search, they discover someone trapped, hanging off a cliff by a thin branch. They’re already looking for someone they lost, but they can’t leave this person to die.

One teen grabs a rope and begins to go down to help the trapped teen.  Does it work?

No! The rope breaks AND the kid who went down to save said trapped person FALLS TO HIS DEATH!

So what do they do next? Trapped person is still stuck on a branch.

They scour the area (some wreckage) for things to cobble together to get some stuff they can use as a rope. (You see they lost their rope on the first attempt.)  Down goes one of the MAIN characters.  Does it work?

Well, YES…he gets to her….BUT….

The-100-2x04-many-happy-returnsTheir hodgepodge rope breaks. One of the characters has to hold the pieces in each hand becoming a human link in the rope.  Does he hold on?

(Well, lets pause for a second.  That character holding the rope? He tried to kill the main character currently hanging by that hodgepodge rope. So it’s not hard to believe the guy would just let go. So here’s added tension.  Let’s get back to this plot though.)

Does he hold on?

Yes…BUT….a group of “grounders” (savages) starts attacking!

Do they hold on? Yes, BUT one member of their team takes an arrow in the leg.

Do they hold on? Yes, BUT while they’re being attacked by grounders a horn sounds, which symbolizes that a vaporous acid is about to blow through the area. They have moments before they’re melted.

They pull their friend up. The main character realizes the kid who tried to kill him a few episodes back was the very one who was instrumental to saving his life.

help-2444110__340What about that death mist? Turns out, that was the main character’s sister distracting the enemy.

Sanderson says in his video that he usually likes three failures before the characters reach the goal.  If you look above, you’ll notice this mini-plot works in that regard too.

The try/fail plot is a great way to build tension. The trick is to look for ways to make complicated situations even more complicated. I hope this example helps you see how this plot works and is successful. I highly recommend The 100 because it’s good fun, and it’s great for studying plot structures.   I’m a bigger fan of it now than I’ve ever been, though I like it for intense scenes like the one above. When there’s a struggle of some sort or conflict or important goal, I tend to ask myself, “Now how can I make this even more difficult.”

NOTE: Beware rage quit!  The readers tend to want resolution. And if you keep delaying the issue without some sort of reward for the reader, you’re going to abandon them.  If I had to offer you a number as advice, I’d say, don’t exceed five complications for a minor plot, especially if this is a sub plot. Readers tend to be more forgiving if you have a no-and followed by a yes-but.  So yes, they get the guy off the rope, but now their party is smaller, and they’ve been delayed in finding the friend they originally went out to save.  So the plot moves forward, and the subplot provide an added degree of complication.  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

Plotting: Where the Heck is This Book Going?

Plotting:  Where the Heck is This Book Going?

Recently I posted a blog about how I develop characters.  While doing that, I talked about how in in character files, I outline each character’s progression.  This is commonly called plotting.  You use structures to develop each character’s through-line.  In the post mentioned above, I discussed the need for each character to be their own main character.  I also mentioned they need more than one plot.

The bulk of my plotting terms come from Brandon Sanderson’s online lectures.  I may have altered some terms because they make more sense for me that way, but those have the bulk of the structures I use.

As I grow, I consider other options, but this is a solid list.  Essentially what it boils down to is asking yourself, “How are my readers going to know my character is growing.”  Reminder:  Regression is a form of growth.

I always knew about the Three Act Structure and the Hero’s Journey.  The Journals of Bob Drifter follows a three act cycle.  The “Matt breakdown” of this is:  Introduce Hero.  Make life suck.  Resolve issues established in Act Two.

Rather than rehash what is already covered brilliantly in the links above, I thought I’d do what I love best, and provide you with some examples.  I call these case studies.  I learn best by looking at what others have done and seeing how it applies to what I’m trying to accomplish.

Corey Truax covered the heroes’ journey quite well, and Star Wars is a textbook example.  Corey’s breakdown and Episode 4 are more than enough to go on.

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Covers of Redshirts, Awake in the Dark, The Eye of the World, Artemis Fowl, and Dragonflight used for educational study under Fair Use doctrine.

Mystery:  If your character is trying to learn something, you’re writing a mystery.  It could be who killed John Doe or what’s wrong with the water in Ladonis.  (I made those up to give you examples, so if you find something I accidentally touched on, I didn’t mean it.)  Now, I’ve sung Sanderson’s praises a lot, so I feel talking about Elantris would be a bit unfair here.  Let’s give someone else a little credit.  Redshirts by John Scalzi is type of mystery.  It’s hilarious.  It’s obviously a parody (I’ll track down my review and post it on the new blog soon).  The point is, the main character is trying to figure out what exactly is going on.  I loved this book, but what pushed me through it was each clue the main character had to get him to realize what was happening.    One of the main plotlines for my sixth book (New Utopia) is a mystery.  Sanderson mentions Big Problem plots.  I sort of lump this in with mystery as whatever they’re trying to do, they still have to figure out how to do it.

 

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Try Fail:  I tried to make this a sub plot as well because the character is trying to achieve something.  The mystery would be how to do it, but what makes this plot stand alone better for me is the fact that you don’t actually need a large objective.  I use this more for character than plot.  Grimm is essentially a try fail plot in The Journals of Bob Drifter.  If Grimm didn’t get closer to his ultimate objective, there’d be no tension, and his conflict with Bob would feel meaningless.   My takeaway here is that the more a person fails to do something, the more surprising it is when the character succeeds.  Now I’ve peddled my book several times over, so let’s talk about another book.  Fade to Black by Tim McBain is a more “problem” based thing, but what kept me reading was the fact that I wanted to know if the main character’s new approach was going to work.

 

wot01_theeyeoftheworldTravelog:   Sanderson mentions a few in the link I gave you, and I’ll elaborate on one of those.  The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan does a lot for me as a reader, but it also teaches me a lot.  I was 90 pages into it and wanted to shout at my brother for recommending it, but he’d ordered me to read the first 100 pages, and so I did.   If I use my analytical eye, I can find out why.  Readers want to know the story is moving.  The first 100 pages of The Eye of the World is all character introduction.  Now, when I read book 13, and Sanderson tied back to that first 100 pages, it brought tears to my eyes (I’ll talk about endings in a future blog).  So why was I so frustrated?  The Eye of the World is essentially group of people trying to get somewhere.  You have a map in the book that tells you where you are as a reader.  The destinations change as well, but you always know you’re moving because the characters are striving to get somewhere.  The first 100 pages of Eye of the World might frustrate readers because the characters don’t move.  That 100 pages sets up the other 14 books (counting the prequel).  They’re important and even cherished, but as a stand-alone novel, I wouldn’t have wanted to finish it had I not been ordered too.  I’m glad I did.  But the book moves much faster as we follow the characters and where they go.

covers_af1Relationship Plot:  I was about to sing C.L. Schneider’s praises again, but I feel if I’m too heavy handed, I’m not giving you readers enough material to read.  I want to give a lot of books some credit.  I haven’t spoken about the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, and this is a good spot to do so.  Here, you’d have to read the first three books to analyze the plot I’m talking about, the relationship is between Artemis and the magical creatures.  The most used plot is “People meet and don’t like each other; then they get to know each other and fall in love.”  There are many types of love, but the story could be about the breakdown in a relationship too.  (Remember, where I say progress, change might be a better term).

dragonflight-by-anne-mccaffreyTime Bomb:  This can be quite literal or not.  Essentially this device is in effect when you put a limit on something.  Murder mysteries do it well.  Every time you pick up a murder mystery, you want the hero to find the villain before someone else dies.  It’s subtle there.   It’s a lot more literal in Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey.  Thread is going to fall any day now, and Pern doesn’t have enough dragons.  The second part of New Utopia (which will become its own book after I revise it) has one of these.

What I wanted to do with this post is show you the types of plots that are out there and give you a few examples to study up with.  I hope it helps.

Thanks for reading,

Matt