The Idaho Sting, chapter 2

Okay, this sounds like a whole different book–a technique I haven’t tried before.
Chapter 2.

               Kim could hardly sit in her desk.  The fifth-grade’s annual “Start a Business” assignment and  the new teacher had let them choose their own teams!  None of that careful mixing that Mrs. Snodgrass had done.  Mrs. Bailey had had the class elect five leaders and then had let the leaders take turns picking team members.  That stupid Jeff had every stupid jerk in the class on his team—and Kim had the best and brightest on hers.  All girls, of course.  Girls always ended up doing all the work, so why include any guys?
               Carefully, Kim started writing the notes.  “After school—my place, Kim.”  Anita and Wendy had cell phones, but the teachers took them if they saw them in class.  But paper notes?  Well, this was class business. 

               Kim did text her mother to tell her that Lori, Anita, Wendy and Olivia were coming to the house after school.  Her mother—a landscape architect– was probably off measuring someone’s yard.  Kim was pretty much on her own the first weeks of April—her dad wouldn’t come up for air until all his clients’ taxes were filed April 15, and half the town wanted her mom to help them get started on their yards.  Not that having classmates over was a problem—that was another advantage of having an all-girl team.
               Tonight they would decide on their project.  Once that step was out of the way, they could all get to work.

               “We could babysit,” Anita said, her big brown eyes serious.
               Wendy groaned.  “The last two years the babysitters came in dead last.”
               “Are you sure?  They were always busy,” Anita countered.
               “Yea, my sister’s friend Liz was on last year’s team.  They found out that the year before had started discounts for repeat customers.  They ended up getting nearly nothing after the fourth night’s work.”
               “Well, we won’t give discounts,” Anita suggested.
               “You know, we can’t legally babysit—not until we’re twelve,” said Lori.
               Anita and Kim laughed.  “This is Idaho,” Kim said. 
               “And teams have done it every year,” said Anita.
               Lori laughed too, but added, “But not one with our parents.”
               The girls were quiet then.  They had no doubt their parents had to be the most law-abiding in town.  When you edit the newspaper or run the local hospital or take care of other people’s money, you care about public opinion.
               After a while, Kim said, “Maybe a raffle.”
               “Team three is holding a raffle,” said Lori.
               Everyone nodded.  Lori’s twin brother was on team three.
               Kim brightened, “Yard work.  Mom could let us know who needs stuff planted.”
               “And they’d choose us?” asked Olivia. 
               Silence again.  Kim had tried to run a rototiller; it seemed to have a mind of its own.  She surveyed the girls.  Anita, with the serious eyes and long brown hair, was the smartest kid in the school.  Lori, the tomboy with the pixie cut, would try anything.  Olivia, tall and bony and blond, was practical and funny.  And Wendy, a classic beauty who used makeup already, was the richest girl in town.  How could this group not come up with a killer idea? 
               “We could hold yard sales for people,” said Lori, and all the girls started babbling at once.  Yard sales were something they knew how to do—and something they loved.

Plot Structure


There’s a saying that 90% of published stories follow “the formula”—and the other 10% are great literature.

               So what is “the formula”?  So glad you asked–I’ve taught plotting for 15 years and need spend no time researching an answer in this busy season. 

               First, let me tell you why it helps to know.  If you’re acting as a teacher, it provides you with built-in questions about a book you’ve never read.  If a student has just started a book, you ask about aspects of the opening.  If they’re halfway through, you ask about character, conflict and one point of rising action. 

               If you’re acting as a reader, using the language from plot helps you state why you like or dislike a book.  The main character was inspiring or dorky; the conflict was interesting or weak; the climax was riveting or predictable. 

               If you’re a storyteller or a writer, what you need to know is that opening and conflict get the first 20%; the rising action and climax, the next 60%; and the falling action and denouement, the final 20%.   

               This is it—the basis of the majority of the world’s literature. 

               Opening/Exposition:  Introduces the setting (time and place) and the characters.  Recently, there’s a trend to having the first scene be a life-or-death action borrowed from later in the plot, but at some time the author has to get around to who and where.  

               Conflict:  The problem that must be solved before the story can end.  By the end of the third or fourth chapter, readers need to know there is a problem, one they care about, and have some idea what direction they want the story to go. 

               Rising action:  The problem gets worse—and worse—and worse yet.  New challenges arise and possible solutions disappear. 

               Climax: The point at which the solution is revealed.  Sometimes this is a breathtaking action—the poor hero hanging from roof’s edge manages to pull himself up and knock out the villian.  But it may be two starving children lost In a blizzard stumbling into campground and finding a half loaf of bread in the garbage.

               Falling action: The handling of loose ends.  The police arrive and take the villian away or the kids to the hospital.

               Denouement/Resolution: The “new normal” is revealed.  The characters go forth with new knowledge and understanding.  

               Now take a story you know—the simpler the better—and see if you can identify the elements of the plot.  I’ll use the “The Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs” as an example.

               Opening: Each little pig goes off to seek his fortune.

               Conflict: A hungry wolf decides to eat the pigs.

               Rising action:  The house of straw disintegrates.  The house of sticks follows.  The wolf is using all his wind power to threaten the house of brick.

               Climax: The wolf goes down the chimney and lands in a vat of boiling water.

               Falling action: Everyone realizes what has happened and celebrates.

               Denouement:  All of the pigs now understand the benefits of preparation and hard work and live happily ever after.               

               Admittedly, longer stories are more complicated with subplots and character development, but we tend to get disappointed if each of these major elements is not well done.