Borrowing Plot Structure as a Stand-In for Outlining

I’m rewatching Moana, because I think its structure may be useful for the fantasy novel outline I’m trying to refine.

I find working with models for story structure really helpful, especially because I struggle so much with outlining.

Hanging a novel on the plot structure of a pre-existing work is not so different from artists drawing from models.

I have trouble thinking in terms of abstract outlines with bullet points, but I have no trouble thinking in terms of “the shape of The Hobbit.”

I’ve based a lot of my works on plot structures I was already familiar with elsewhere. It gives me a road map to follow, even though the final result may seem like it has very little to do with the model it was based on.

When I started writing my first novel, Otters In Space, I’d recently read Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, and I was enamored of its plot structure.

I liked how the hero found a note left behind by a missing friend and chased after her, following cryptic clues, to a hidden haven.

So I gave Otters In Space the same plot structure as Uglies.

The next two Otters In Space books were much harder to write, largely because I wasn’t consciously basing their structure on something else. No road map. So when I got lost, I was just lost.

In a Dog’s World was much easier to write (and I won NaNoWriMo for the first time with it) because I based its structure on my own experience of my last summer at home before going away to college.

This made me realize how valuable using a model to structure a novel could be.

So when I set out to write The Snake’s Song, I was interested in practicing writing novels with the goal of learning to do it faster, and I figured it would help to choose a simple, familiar plot structure…

There and back again. In other words, The Hobbit.

My favorite part of The Hobbit is the riddles with Gollum, so for The Snake’s Song, I basically just repeated that part over and over again, in different permutations, for the middle of the book, because… why not?

It made me happy. And your own books should make you happy.

Basing the plot structure of The Snake’s Song on The Hobbit worked so well for me that when I set out to write an epic space opera next… I based it on Lord of the Rings.

Gather the team; carry the maguffin to the scary place to destroy it.

That book is Entanglement Bound.

After that, I started getting more ambitious in terms of picking weird plot structures.

Nexus Nine condenses the plot structure of seven seasons of DS9 down to 60k words. The Entropy Fountain is Tuck Everlasting + Camelot from Guinevere’s PoV (good luck puzzling that out).

As best as I can tell, the plot structure for Starwhal In Flight is based on… Otters In Space 3. Yes, I started cannibalizing my own works for plot structures.

I have definite themes and patterns in my works.

I wrote a sequel to The Snake’s Song last fall and based its structure heavily on Fairy Tale Theatre’s The Snow Queen, because it’s such a beautiful journey.

And now I’m about to start writing the final book in that trilogy, and I think its structure will be based on Moana.

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