NaNoWriMo Prep #11 – Plotting – Syd Field’s Paradigm


Starting today I’m going to talk about plotting your NaNoWriMo novel. Some people like to plan very elaborate, detailed diagrams for their plots, utilizing post-it-notes, colored index cards, poster boards, spreadsheets, and software that specializes in plotting. Others just sit down at the keyboard and start writing.

They’re known respectively as planners and pansters (meaning they write by the seat of their pants).

I fall in between those two extremes. I like to plan beforehand (thus my posts about pre-planning for NaNo) but I like to also leave myself some wriggle room for unexpected detours or actions by my characters.

However, having said that I also don’t like to veer too far off the path. To me a plot is like a map that Drivingyou use when you’re driving cross country. You may want to take a side trip here and there, but if you’re trying to drive from New York to Los Angeles you don’t want to wind up in Anchorage. Unless that’s your intent, of course.

In this post and the upcoming ones, I’ll share with you some of the “maps” I find useful when trying to get from point A to point B in my story.

Some you may find useful, some you have already heard of and some may seem like too much work. That’s fine. If you’re inclined, give them a try. If you’re not, you can look up others on the web or just sit down on November 1st and get to writing.

Syd Field’s Paradigm

In 1979 Syd Field, who passed away last year, wrote a book simply titled Screenplay.  A lot of what he postulated in that book is now second nature to most screenwriters and fictions writers.

What was especially noteworthy about the book was Field’s introduction of the Midpoint. Again, probably second nature to most writers these days, but at the time it wasn’t something that was generally acknowledged as being essential for a story. Field noted that between Plot Point 1 of the end of Act I and Plot Point 2 at the beginning of Act III, there was this long spell of plot which was, in fact, 50% of the story. You’ve probably heard it described as the sagging middle.

Field suggested that the writer put in an event or scene that turns the plot around. The Mid-Point is usually some kind of reversal of fortune for the character. But it can be many things and, depending on the story you’re writing, it can range from something really good happening to something really bad.

Field Paradigm

Field’s paradigm is pretty straightforward and if you’re looking for a relatively quick way to structure your plot you can’t go wrong with this.

Here are some links where you can find out more about Syd Field’s Plotting Paradigm:

A blank pdf you can use to plot your NaNo novel.

An example of the plot paradigm for the movie Shawshank Redemption.

An exercise you can do to help you become familiar with the plot paradigm.