Thursday, August 25, 2022

Book Review: The Foundation of Plot by Elena Hartwell

Beginning writers. Accomplished writers. Writers looking to brush up on your skills or seeking motivation. If any of these apply to you, The Foundation of Plot by Elena Hartwell might be just the thing. 

Hartwell's The Foundation of Plot appears to be part of the planned A Wait, Wait, Don't Query (Yet!) series. If so, I can't wait to see what the future brings. 

In The Foundation of Plot, the reader opens to find they are back to basics--which I find is often good and inspiring--followed by a writing exercise. The book continues along with solid, engaging information followed by writing exercises. (Side note: This is one of the first writing craft books where I actually performed the exercises as I read.) 

Some covered topics:

  • Multiple Points of View
  • Dropping Readers into Action
  • World-Building 
  • Building a Scene
  • Common Elements of Structure
I said in my First Chapter Review of this book, I like the format of The Foundation of Plot and how concisely it is written. This encouraged me to work through the exercises and complete them. 

Writers at many levels will find great value in The Foundation of Plot.

Highly recommended!

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0B2TY6JY2
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Elena Hartwell (June 6, 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 93 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986020600
  • Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound

Section of Chapter One: The Foundation of Plot

Raw doesn’t mean terrible. It’s just not ready for prime time.

Foundation—story structure—underlies everything that writers produce. No matter how avant-garde a literary work might appear on the surface, dig deep enough and a skeleton lies underneath.

Solidifying that underlying foundation can come at any point during the writing process. It could be in an outline before writing a single sentence, much as a carpenter uses a blueprint to build a house. Or it could be during a rough draft, determining the foundation through trial and error with character and action, like a dancer experimenting with choreography while the music plays.

What’s important is that the process suits the writer for each individual project. For one project, a writer might benefit from building an outline first, while another project might evolve better with an organic method, discovering the foundation during a first draft. 

There’s no right or wrong about writing from an outline or relying on an organic process—only that the writer finishes that often stubborn first draft. Some writers mix and match, starting by writing organically, then creating an outline partway through, or changing the original outline completely as scenes begin to unfold. Or writers might create a simple outline, then figure out the bulk of the project while building the scenes on the page. 

It’s never too late to make repairs. Even after multiple drafts, a writer can still improve a manuscript’s foundation. 

Regardless of when the writer pays attention to foundation, the manuscript will continue to evolve through each rewrite. From the first inklings of an idea to the final, polished manuscript, writers—whether they know it or not—shape and reshape the foundation of their work. 

One concept that will be useful before going deeper into foundation is the difference between story and plot. Once that concept is clear, it may be easier to identify what does or doesn’t work in a current project.

Story Versus Plot

As used in this guide, story is all-encompassing. It includes what happens before a book starts, everything in all the scenes, and everything that occurs off the page. It even includes what happens after the manuscript is finished, when the reader’s imagination runs wild after “the end.”

Plot, on the other hand, is made up solely of the events on the page.

One error writers make in their early—and sometimes even late—drafts is to include parts of the story that aren’t necessary for the plot or leave out scenes a reader most needs on the page. This comes back to foundation. Those errors would be like using either too many joists to hold up a floor—making it heavy, cumbersome, and expensive—or not enough joists—causing the floor to fail the first time it bears weight.

In both of those instances, the writer has confused story and plot. 

Falling in love with our own words, our characters, and the scenes that play out in our heads are constant dangers for writers. We want to include everything we research and invent. Sometimes this causes us to start too early in the lives of the characters and include scenes that are potentially beautifully written and explore behavior, motivation, and backstory but don’t move the plot forward. We love our characters and believe a reader will be just as curious as we are about every aspect of their lives.

Readers, for the most part, want to follow a series of connected events leading to a satisfying conclusion. They don’t want to read a series of unconnected events that send them in circles or down alleys that ultimately lead nowhere. 

That is not the same as sending a reader down a wrong path for dramatic effect, as in a mystery where the detective follows the wrong lead. That experience can add to the plot, as a wrong lead can increase suspense. But it can be a problem if a detective goes down a wrong path and learns nothing from it.

Readers want each road the writer takes them down to add to the overall story—even when that road teaches the protagonist what they don’t want or what won’t solve the problem at hand.

A detective determining who isn’t the culprit can be just as important—and satisfying in its own way—as when the detective catches the killer. 

Readers may not be able to put this concept into words, but we’ve all heard comments like, “it took several chapters before I got into it” or “the writing was fine, but nothing happened at the beginning” or “I lost interest halfway through.” Those are instances when a writer likely included material the reader didn’t need—no matter how good the quality of the writing.

Don’t confuse well-written sentences with a well-written book. High quality paints and canvases and excellent brushstrokes can still turn out an unsuccessful painting. A solid manuscript is more than just well-written sentences, beautifully crafted paragraphs, or even interesting chapters. A solid manuscript has a clear story arc, with each scene in each chapter adding to the whole and building a solid foundation.

Find Elena Hartwell Online:
Writing Blog: The Mystery of Writing
As Elena Taylor:
BookBub - @elenahartwell
Instagram - @elenataylorauthor
Twitter - @Elena_TaylorAut
Facebook - @ElenaTaylorAuthor   

I received a paperback copy from the author through Providence Book Promotions. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.


Wall-to-wall books said...

Great review! And I love how you also did a 1st chapter review! This one is on my wish list. Sounds like a good insightful book!

Elena Taylor said...

Thank you! What a wonderful review. I'm so grateful for your support (and glad you found the exercises helpful!)

Cheryl said...

Thanks so much for stopping by. Glad you liked the review and first chapter review, Wall-to-wall books.

Elena, thanks for visiting today. I look forward to other books in the series.