Tag Archives: plot

Crash Landing on Plot

by Kitty Felde

I’ve been thinking a lot about plot.

A writer friend recently had a zoom performance of her play, a lovely piece about the power of grief and recovery. The last scene is a reprise of the top of the play, flashed back in time, full of the ugly and raw emotion of loss. Several “critics” urged her to expunge the scene. “It isn’t needed,” said one. “Anticlimactic,” said another. What they were saying was that the script didn’t follow the classic Greek model of rising action, climax, and denouement. Or, the penis model, as I like to call it.

Instead, the writer used a circular structure for the play. Which, some argue, is a more organic way of writing for the female storyteller. Yes, you start at point A and return there, but the protagonist hasn’t necessarily “learned something” or “changed,” which are requirements for the official “circular” plot. The writer just finished the story. Period.

The writer rejected the criticism, by the way.

Sticking to the Aristotelian structure has become even more formulaic in recent decades, something I call the “Save the Cat” effect. The popular book by Blake Snyder has become a template for most movies and far too many plays. It’s gotten to a point that I can pretty much predict exactly what will happen next – something I do, by the way, that drives my husband crazy.

Until I watched Crash Landing on You.

Crash Landing on You

It’s a South Korean episodic drama about a poor little rich girl out paragliding and gets blown across the DMZ to North Korea. It’s wonderful – funny, not too scary, full of social and political commentary, but mostly a love story. It’s also incredibly well written by veteran screenwriter Park Ji-Eun.

The show is a worldwide hit. Viewers in India are reportedly learning Korean. A fan in the Phillipines has written a song about the show. Even Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross is a fan.

And here’s the thing: I could never predict what happens next. I was continuously surprised and delighted. As a writer, I kept asking myself, “how did she do that?”

It’s not just me. A playwriting pal had exactly the same reaction. Neither of us can figure out the structure of the story, yet we couldn’t stop watching. What magic is Park Ji-Eun using? And more importantly: can we steal it?

My playwright pal and I have decided to make a formal study of the series, each of us taking one episode and dissecting it, then comparing notes. We’ll likely be applying whatever structure secrets Ji-Eun uses in our next plays.

And here’s the good news: there’s rumors of a second season!

Are you a circular writer? Have you rejected Aristotle’s triangle of plot structure? Have you gotten pushback? Is there a better way to tell a story?

And can you figure out the structure in “Crash Landing on You” on Netflix?

Kitty Felde is a playwright, podcaster, and children’s mystery writer. Her second book in The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series State of the Union comes out this summer.


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.