Writing Workshop: “The Help” Part One

Check out this post to see what this is all about.

This covers chapters one through six which comprise 43 scenes.

The Storyfix Take

In case you needed more motivation to follow along as I read and learn how to deconstruct The Help, Larry Brooks says this method “is the quickest route up the learning curve that I know” and that “it’s a duplicable, transferrable skill set.”

He also says that The Help is an example of story structure so good the reader–even a writing reader–doesn’t notice it. It’s that good even though the author chose the difficult concept  of having three narrators.

The Purpose of Part One

It sets up the story so that the First Plot Point (FFP) is supported and effective. The FPP in The Help occurs at the 20 percent mark, in chapter six (Larry says this is page 104 of the paperback). By this time the reader is connected to the characters and aware of the context of the book.

According to Larry, the FFP “is when Miss Skeeter realizes that she will write the book that will change the lives of all the players in this story.”

Mastering the FPP is absolutely essential for successful writing.

Thematic Questions

“What is worth risking your job, your safety, even your life, to expose, champion and speak for?  And does your answer to that question define you?”

Lady Myers’ Take

Can you believe the manuscript for The Help was rejected 45 times?! That is a lot of disappointment and even more perseverance. I’m not sure I could deal with it. Knowing this fact adds even more meaning to what I’m reading.

Having three narrators with different dialects was a little confusing for me at first, but I was still completely drawn in to the story. I was able to orient myself quickly and developed attachments to the characters, ensuring that I was hanging with this book for as long as it took.

I’m not sure I understand where the FPP is. I have the Kindle version, so the page numbers don’t correspond to the paperback that Larry is referencing. Knowing that it happens in chapter six, I believe it’s at the very end when Skeeter says:

“I turn when I hear Pascagoula’s knock on my door. That’s when the idea comes to me. No. I couldn’t. That would be. . .crossing the line. But the idea won’t go away.”

We don’t find out exactly what that idea is until later, so this seems a little subtle as a plot point. But then, I’ve never analyzed a book for structure before. Maybe it’s just my beginner status. Oh, well. We’re here to learn, right?

I think Larry really nailed the thematic questions. From my perspective, where civil rights are a given way of life and anything else is tragic history, these questions relate a specific situation to life in general.

What is worth that kind of risk for me? I have causes I’m passionate about, from environmentalism to education, but am I willing to die for them? I think it would depend on the stakes. If loss of my safety was going to help effect real change, that’s one thing. If I die without making one bit of difference that’s another.

Does that define me? Of course. It says that I am willing to put it on the line for something meaningful, but that I won’t waste my energy unnecessarily. Where that line is changes from person to person; in The Help, that line seems to be a lot more definitive for the maids than for Skeeter.

Your Turn

What do you think about Part One? Does the FPP makes sense to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

* * *
Monday we’ll review Part Two, chapters 7-16.

The corresponding Storyfix posts are here and here.

3 Comments

  1. Okay, I’m going to re-read the help and follow along. I also had a thought–maybe when Matt and I are done with his story, you could help us ‘deconstruct it’ and then ‘reconstruct’ it so it has a good flow.

    Reply
  2. Wow! Reading along with the deconstructing posts by Larry is making a difference in this second reading of The Help for me. I think he’s right about the FPP, being where Skeeter decides to go ahead with her book idea. I’ve taken risks in the past regarding speaking out about testing and special ed things. But taking a stand about something that would risk my life? I’m not sure I’m that brave. Or rather, if it would hurt my loved ones to speak out or to not speak out, that would probably be a bigger influence. Does that make sense?

    Reply
    • That absolutely makes sense, I feel the same way!

      Reply

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