Plotting – The Basics

So you are at work, in the car, or making dinner when suddenly an idea strikes you. It could be something simple as “wouldn’t it be neat if” or something more complex like an entire concept for a fictional nation. Maybe you start with a character idea or perhaps just a system of magic or technology. The real question from here is, now what?

Now comes the hard part, development. Any idea can build into the story, but whether or not it is successful all hinges on the development. Characters need to be made and named, worlds need to be built, and systems need to be set up to allow this idea to flow into something that not only makes sense, but captures a reader’s interest and keeps it.

But firstly, everyone writes differently. What may work for some may not work for others. This is an insight into how I write, so take it with a grain of salt. You may find that how I develop my stories just is not your cup of tea. =) Hopefully though you will learn something at least.

Now back to that idea of yours. For me, ideas tend to strike at odd times, but usually when music is involved. Often it’s the song that I am listening to when I first think of an idea that tends to shape it. Outside of characters, the biggest challenge will be plot. You are going to have to figure out where you are start, where you are ending, and that lovely part that will make up the core of your book, the in between.

Character discussion will be saved for another time, but they are going to be the driver’s of your plot. These characters are going to need to have goals and they are going to need to have challenges. Perhaps they are one in the same, but they are going to build the tension that you are going to need for a memorable climax. Never be afraid to throw your characters into tough situations and even more so do not be afraid to have them fail. The most relatable characters are the ones that are not godlike.

A classic plot line gradually slopes up until you hit the climax where it then sharply tapers down into a resolution, but it does not always need to be this way. Some stories have multiple mini-climaxes before the grand finale. I often think of these as plot twists. You build towards the climax, a set path ahead for your characters when suddenly the unexpected happens and you rip the ground out from under them. While the characters flounder, recover, and perhaps come to terms it turns into a mini-resolution phase before you begin the tension build again.

But whatever you do, make the plot twists make sense! Do not throw in surprise merely for the sake of it. Often times you will confuse the reader and wind up with those pesky plot holes that everyone loathes and loves to pick at. Do not be afraid to hide things either. When I write I never reveal everything all at once. From the world, to character history, to villains, and evil plots I like to keep things under wraps. I give out little teasers and slowly give the reader insight. It tends to get rather boring when you do nothing but explain everything to the reader. Lease some up to their imagination and let everything out piece by piece. They will not need to know the absolute intricate workings of your evil crime lord organization the second you first mention it.

I generally start with a character. I think of where he, or she, has come from and what their major conflict is. Most times this conflict ends up some how relating or revolving around another, my second main character. It is their dynamic that usually ends up shaping my plot line. I start off with one character, then a second and from there decide on their relationship and what I want it to be. The start of the plot is the building of a connection between these two. It can be love, it can be friendship, or it can be hatred, but the importance to me is to establish that bond of sorts. For me this is generally what is known as the exposition. I use the start of the story to establish the bond and the world it takes place in. Then comes the fun part.

From there we need a catalyst. If the characters are enemies perhaps one catches a key lead on where to find or how to destroy the other and the big hunt begins. For lovers perhaps there is a moment that turns them against one another or drives them a part (willingly or not). Whatever this catalyst is it needs to be interesting and it needs to be the beginning of a chain of events. Even if it’s something as simple as a meeting, it needs to start the rise to the climax (Or climaxes if you are so inclined… Pun not intended.)

And do not be afraid for a character to have a change of heart. This concept is often called a turn around. Perhaps the character fails or maybe he faces a great betrayal that crushes any hope he has of reaching that lofty goal. That is perfectly fine. The key is finding a way to get that character willing to give it a second try. Or perhaps a third or a fourth. The important thing is to just make sure you never stop the tension for too long. You will need to reach that climax somehow and if you allow it all to fall back to the level of the exposition you will never get there.

Eventually though, you keep building that tension and you hit the climax. The climax, the main one, needs to be the single most important event. This needs to be the big be all end all conflict, the moment where something big changes. Perhaps it is the topple of a government or a major figure, or if you are writing romance maybe it’s the major fight between lovers that makes them finally realize that what they have is over. It needs to change the characters in some way; a realization needs to be made.

From this realization comes a resolution. Something needs to be learned. This is usually where that falling action portion comes in. Your main characters are now faced with learning to have to cope (or perhaps reveling) in this change or lesson. With my characters it is often a case of learning how to live life again. Something has happened and they’ve now spent months or even years chasing after a resolution, but in order to get to it they must overcome one last insurmountable hurdle. In the end they do, but now nothing is the same.

Wrapping up the end is always the hardest part for me. It’s a mixture of not wanting the story to end and being scared not to end it perfectly. For me, the end always needs to have meaning and it needs to make you feel. Not everything is perfect in my endings. The world is still messed up, the characters don’t live happily ever after, but the key is that they have begun to move on. That at least is how I like to end, but you may be entirely different and that’s okay! The key is to make the ending memorable. It should mean something to you.

And truly, that is the heart of it. Your writing should mean something to you from start to finish. And that is where we shall pick up again next time.

On the Convenience of Bunnies

Inspiration strikes at the strangest of times.

Stranger are when you are bitten by the all famous “plot bunny” or “muse”. I have honestly found no reasoning  behind it but one underlying common them. They always have to bite when it is least convenient.

I have lost track of the number of times that I have been laying in bed or driving to and from work when out of no where a scene appears. It is both glorious and infuriating. There it is! The ‘perfect’ scene all laid out in front of you only… how exactly are you planning to write this down? Pull the car over and pull out a pen and paper? Not in rush hour traffic when you have ten miles to cover in five minutes you aren’t. Oh sure, you can leap out of bed, scramble to wake up the computer, and type it all out furiously, but the moment you do the juices stop flowing.

You write notes, you meticulously lay out details, you catch up to where you left off when you leaped out of bed and–! Annnd now it’s gone. Now you are stuck mid-scene and you just know in the back of your mind that when you come back to this a week or a month down the line when the rest of the story catches up it will never be as good.

I had such a moment this week driving home. It must have been the music because I started plotting out the last big fight scene in the book and it went from simple ideas and points to a movie reel taking off. Witty lines of dialogue and just the right adjectives all compiled into a scene that would have been perfect with a little polishing. Naturally that meant that by the time I had gotten home to actually write it all down I had forgotten all of the wit and those snazzy adjectives. Now it sits forlornly as a loose bullet list on my thumb drive waiting for when I actually get to that scene and faceroll on my keyboard in frustration with it.