An Author's Best Friend: Syd Field's Paradigm
It's been awhile since I wrote about prewriting. I've introduced you to using a story arc and three act structure. This week I want to show you how you can put these two together into a simple format that works well with novels and screenplays.
Syd Field was highly respected in the film industry for teaching the world that screenwriting is a craft. He spent years analyzing screenplays and devised a formula that when used properly helps the screenwriter to create a blockbuster hit. In fact, many of the movies who use his paradigm have gone on to do very well in the theaters. So why am I telling you about a screenwriting technique when you want to write a novel? Because you can use his paradigm to create a bestselling novel.
WARNING: You can only do this if you have already compiled your three act structure and your story arc. If you haven't done so then please go back to the *story arc* and *three act structure* then return to this step.
Step 1: Print off this worksheet. You will need it. http://www.sydfield.com/paradigm.pdf
Grab a pencil and let's take a look at that chart. You will always want to work in pencil when you are plotting your story on a paradigm because you will make changes.
Did you notice that your worksheet is split off into three acts? Since you already know what is going to happen in each act it should be easy to think of your story in each section. Don't write anything yet. We're going to go through this worksheet step by step. We will be working from top to bottom, left to right.
Step 2) In the top box you will want to write a sentence (ONLY ONE) that explains where your protagonist's life is at the start of your story. This is their normal life. Their beginning. The exposition part of your story.
Step 3) Now right below that we want to place the inciting incident. The inciting incident is what happens to the character that disrupts their world. We talk a little bit about this event in my posting about the story arc. You should by now what the inciting incident for your story is. Remember: The inciting incident will create a problem for your character that can not be easily solved and the antagonist will always confront the protagonist in their efforts to gain what they need to solve the problem.
Step 4) Now that we have identified our inciting incident it's time to enter the conflict stage of our story arc. This will start in ACT 1 and not come to a conclusion until the top of ACT 3. Let's talk about plot points for a moment. Readers love plot twists and these are the places to put those.
Plot Point one occurs towards the end of ACT 1. It is the first plot twist of your story. This is the point of no return for your protagonist and is the true starting point of their journey. It is here where they leave their old world behind and set off on their adventure. At the end of their journey they will have a new beginning because the journey will change them. So you need to decide what that one event is that will send your character on his or her way. Once you know what that is write it down in ONE sentence at the bottom of ACT 1.
Step 5) The longest part of your novel will be ACT 2 and is often time the hardest part to write. You want to keep your audience actively engaged with your story. In order to do so you need make certain your every challenge your protagonist faces increases in difficulty. Draw the pinch lines shown in this graphic onto your paradigm. You will be writing a sentence at each step below.
Step 6: Pinch 1
By now the reader clearly knows who your protagonist and antagonist are. The protagonist has a plan to overcome their adversary but we haven't had much of conflict between them since the 1st plot point. Pinch Point 1 is the place where you want to remind the reader that there is an opposing force out there. You want to create an event where the reader and the protagonist are reminded of their struggle. Both pinch and plot points are great for plot twist. Just make certain that they don't completely change your protagonist's goal. If you need a reminder of what your protagonist wants and how it conflicts with the antagonist goals go ahead and write them down. I keep mine next to me while I'm writing so I don't stray too far. Your twist could be a betrayal, the character's path has been cut off, anything. As long as the character's goal never changes. So go ahead and make life a little harder for your protagonist. Make sure it is an obstacle that was harder than Plot Point 1.
Step 7: The Midpoint
You're protagonist has made it to the halfway point of their journey and the stakes have been getting harder for them. Two things should happen at this point of your story.
1) The protagonist should be forced to face their flaws. This could be done in several different ways but it must have the same effect. Usually the protagonist is confronted by the antagonist. The protagonist must come to the realization that they CANNOT continue in their quest without correcting their flaws.
It's a very emotional part of the story.
2) The protagonist breaks down. Their perceived world is shattered and their true essence is exposed. They are venerable and they hate it. But they decide to change for the better so they can defeat the antagonist.
Step 8: Pinch 2
We're getting closer to the climax. The stakes have raised higher and your protagonist is really struggling to meet his or her goal. Just when we are busy watching the protagonist overcome their flaws we are once again reminded of the antagonist. The antagonist will throw the strongest obstacle the protagonist has yet to face at this point. It's another great place for a plot twist.
Step 9: Plot Point 2
You've come along way since the reader was first introduced to your character.
We're finally at the end of Act 2. It's time for another plot twist. Your antagonist is going to create an even harder obstacle for your protagonist but the protagonist will not defeat them. Instead, they will recognize how he or she can ultimately defeat the antagonist after they overcome the obstacle.
Step 10: The Climax
This is where the final battle happens between your protagonist and antagonist. It is the hardest battle your protagonist has ever faced in their life but they are determined to defeat the antagonist. Readers usually do not like to read tragedies so you will need the protagonist to defeat the antagonist once and for all. You don't have to kill the antagonist but you do have to have something happen to him or her in order for the reader to know the entire ordeal is over. You will want to think about this part very carefully because if you plan for your book to be part of a series you don't want to kill the antagonist unless you plan to bring him or her back from the dead.
Step 11: Resolution
We've finally made it to Act 3. The battle is over but the protagonist still has some minor obstacles to face. You generally want three obstacles for them to face in Act 3 as they make their way to their new beginning. Make certain to tie up any loose ends that you have created with your supporting characters. The obstacles you create should be lessening. This is the place of the story where the reader gains closure. Make it a good one and don't leave them hanging.
Step 12: New Beginning
This is the lower box on Act 3. Your protagonist's life has changed and they can never go back to where they started their journey. Sure it may be the same house or the same town but they have changed from the experience. You want to show the readers how the character's world has changed and what their new life looks like. This doesn't need to be too long. Just long enough that your readers feel they can leave the character in a safe place. The world is well and your character life is at new normal.
GREAT JOB ON CREATING YOUR PARADIGM. YOU WILL WANT TO KEEP THIS AS WE WILL BE REFERRING BACK TO IT NEXT TIME WHEN WE EXPLORE THE HERO'S JOURNEY.