by Kitty Felde

Like many writers, plot is not my strong suit.

It’s been interesting of late, seeing a lot of new or newish plays that have major problems with plot. As in: nothing happens until the end of the first act, or the second act does not satisfy the desires of the audience set up in the first act, or the entire evening is just a series of short scenes with a twist at the end of each one. I may not be able to solve my own plot problems, but I can sure spot them in others.

I’ve put aside the new play I’ve been working on because of hitting the wall on plot.

Instead, I’ve been spending every early morning working on my second chapter book. These are the books designed to wean kids off picture books – designed for age 7-11 or so. I got frustrated that most theatres producing theatre for young audiences are adapting kids books rather than choosing original scripts. So, I thought I’d fight back by adapting my play THE LUCKIEST GIRL* into a BOOK. I even found an agent who’s shopping it around.

I rejoined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attended a local conference last month.

And there I was, listening to book writers talking about … plot.  Guess what? It’s all the same damn thing.

  • Conflict: You ask yourself what does my main character want? And what will she do to get it? Who or what’s standing in her way? Her desire conflicts with that of her antagonist. And you ask yourself why the antagonist doesn’t want her to achieve her great desire?
  • You start with the present world, then something happens to upset the apple cart.
  • Creating scenes: What character flaw or bad habit creates complications? Complications intensify, more obstacles, things get worse. Is there a single, driving force through all scenes? Are the heroine’s wants in the entire story?
  • Climax: the darkest hour that allows the heroine’s truest self to emerge. She takes charge of dealing with the story problem
  • The end: have we satisfied the expectations we have given our audience for what we promised at the beginning?

It’s the same damn Aristotelian story structure we all learned in Drama 101.

And so, now I find myself starting a new book**, knowing full well I’m going to have to wrestle with story structure again.

Just maybe not tonight.

*THE LUCKIEST GIRL: A ten year old African American girl who moves to Holland with her grandmother, who’s there to prosecute accused war criminals. Tahira is homesick. The last straw is when she discovers that Santa doesn’t come to Holland; instead, it’s Sinterklaas, and his politically incorrect buddy Zwarte Piet. Much to the horror of her grandmother, Tahira likes Piet.

**UNTITLED CAPITOL HILL CAPER: The young daughter of a Congressman walks dogs on Capitol Hill and solves the mystery of the Demon Cat of the Capitol Crypt.