StoryBuilder 1.0: Outline the Perfect Plot!

Now that you have your fabulous main character (and whatever secondary characters you may have scrounged up to accompany the hero in his/her path to glory), and you have a fabulous and fantastical world in which to drop your character, you need a story to tell.  Obviously.

fantasy landscape quest storyYes, plots are necessary, as little as some of us may enjoy writing them.  So in the interest of helping you all in your path to storybuilding glory, here is a plot creator in the method of the previous two posts.  Pick your story-telling options and then find out what adventure your character gets to have!

(Word of Warning: I don’t do plots.)

 

1. How It Begins

A. With Drama
B. With Danger
C. With Plotting
D. With Something Else Entirely

2. How it Goes

A. An Epic Quest
B. A Political Intrigue
C. War is Brewing
D. Interesting…

3. A Twist Along The Way

A. Betrayal
B. Death
C. Love
D. An Interesting Development

4. How it Ends

A. Triumph
B. Tragedy
C. Romance
D. Well, That Was Odd

 

Alright, now for the fun part.  Your story is all but plotted and planned!  Wasn’t that easy?  Let’s see what you’ve got:

1. How It Begins

A. With Drama: Your character is minding his/her own business when, in from the darkness, comes a tall figure of notable looks carrying some object of mysterious origin and meaning.  This figure informs your character that s/he is meant for Great Things.  This sounds all well and good until the Great Things turn into a very long and uncomfortable enterprise.  But it will be a growing experience.

B. With Danger: Your character is minding his/her own business when, in from the darkness, comes an assassin who tries to kill your character for reasons unexplained.  Obviously, your character really needs to figure out why his/her life is worth threatening.  As luck would have it, someone else will come along very soon who has at least some of the answers and will join your character on this mission.  Is this new character friend or foe?  Hmmm….

C. With Plotting: Your character is minding his/her own business, taking a nice walk on a late evening. S/he stops in at the local drinking establishment for refreshment and overhears a plot of some sort to overthrow or otherwise upset the local or national government.  Naturally, your character will end up involved.  False accusations of treason are fast coming his/her way, and naturally those will have to be responded to with an outright rebellion.  And it had started as such a lovely walk…

D. With Something Else Entirely: Other children received dolls or toy soldiers on their birthdays.  Your character has, for whatever reason, been gifted by a magical gift-giving fairy with the gift of Importance.  Now everyone and his mother wants you on their side of the latest uprising or intrigue and it is up to your character to find a cause and stick with it or else end up on a quest to retrieve the local chicken farmer’s Magical Missing Egg.  Actually, that doesn’t sound like a half bad quest to start with…

2. How it Goes

A. An Epic Quest: However the story began, it inevitably resulted in a quest.  You, a cranky warrior, a mysterious scholar, someone who may or may not be able to use magic, someone’s whose musical skills are barely tolerable, and someone whose skills and worth are yet undetermined have all found each other through one incident or another and are now slogging through marshes and climbing unconscionably tall mountains in order to achieve the object of your quest.  Not that it is necessarily a literal object.  Maybe your quest is to escape the other members of your questing party because they are very annoying and don’t get along at all.

B. A Political Intrigue: There are about ten different sides to this political debacle, and your character is wading through the morass trying to find out whose side is the right side, or at least the side who is killing the fewest peasants and kicking the fewest puppies.  Your characters makes several friends and allies, only to discover that they are all on opposing sides, but all have their own virtues.  One of them is probably going to end up betraying your character while another will be a love interest.  The question is – which is which?

C. War is Brewing: Rather similar to the Political Intrigue, but with a lot more people on each side and a lot more upfront hacking and slashing.  Your character is, as usual, trying to figure out which is the Side of Right and Truth and Justice, but his/her chosen side will often do morally troubling things which will cause moments of existential crisis.  Everything is leading toward an epic battle, which will decide the Fates of Many.  Your character will hold the key to success… for whichever side s/he chooses.

D. Interesting…: Your character’s singular goal in this story is to become the greatest chef this world has ever seen.  Through war and intrigue and famine and plot, your character strives to hunt down the masters of culinary arts and ply them for their tricks of the trade.  Alas, your character’s nemesis, a pastry chef of no small skill, is lurking in the shadows, sabotaging your character at every turn.  Will your character ever achieve true mastery of the art of the kitchen?  Will s/he ever cook for kings?  And is that charming baker who s/he met along the way trustworthy?  And will your character ever be worthy of attaining the Magic Ladle?

3. A Twist Along The Way

A. Betrayal: In a totally unexpected turn of events, somewhere along the way, that really attractive character who seemed so very trustworthy turns out to not be trustworthy.  Your character spends one, possibly two, chapters reeling from this betrayal and several things go horribly wrong as a result.

B. Death: So, there was this cliff.  And there was rain.  And this one person saw a pretty bird and, well…  Your character and any other companions mourn the loss.  Unless it was someone highly suspected of being a traitor.  Then they stand a ponder the mysterious Ways of Justice before carrying on.

C. Love: Your character was so sure that s/he loved the very attractive, rich, cultured, capable person that s/he met along the course of the story, but now it seems that s/he has fallen hopelessly in love with the annoying, less attractive but not horrible to look at, sarcastic, most often unpleasant other person s/he met along the course of the story.  But who can explain the workings of the heart, anyway?  Odds are, Love Interest #2 will turn out to be long-lost royalty, anyway.  

D. An Interesting Development: Your character randomly gains the ability to see the future, but backwards, whenever s/he sneezes.  It’s all very confusing and mostly useless.

4. How it Ends

A. Triumph: Your character overcomes every single obstacle placed in his/her path, even the ones that are statistically and rationally impossible to overcome (because s/he is that amazing) and the story closes in a sweepingly grand picture of resolution.  Everything is in its proper place.  A golden age is most definitely unfolding before the eyes of your character and his/her comrades, and everything will most definitely be fine.  Unless there’s a sequel.  Then everything will be rubbish again in no time at all.

B. Tragedy: Unfortunately, everyone your character ever loved along the way has perished.  Most of them have perished nobly.  A few seemed to perish for no reason at all except to make your character question all of his/her preconceived notions about heroism.  Now, here at the end, your character stands alone, figuratively or literally gazing upon the graves of so many who have been lost… but it was worth it for the Greater Good.  It was…. Really…. Please let there be a sequel with a happier ending.

C. Romance: On a high, grassy hill overlooking a significant city wherein most of the significant story events took place, your character and your character’s One True Love are locked in a tender embrace as they reminisce on all of the unlikely events which brought them to this place.  Every outlook is rosy now.  All previous misunderstandings and hostility erased by mutual life-saving acts which have sealed their bond forever.  If there is an epilogue, it will probably involve two and a half children, just so the readers are sure that these characters meant it.  If there’s a sequel, well, your character would really appreciate it if there wasn’t one.  Things are great.  Let it be!

D. Well, That Was Odd: Your character is sitting in a small, dark room in the predawn light, blinking fuzzily and rubbing sleep from his/her eyes.  It was all a dream?  That whole story that took up four hundred pages was all a dream?  Your character lies back down and decides that maybe s/he isn’t getting up today.  It’s just not worth it.

 

And there you have it, the perfect outline just waiting to be filled in with your creativity.  Let me know what sort of story you ended up with!  I’m quite curious what sort of havoc I have wrought.

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The Best of LHP–A List of Organizing Lists to Help You Write

Originally published by Rachel in May, this post superbly “lists” a few things that can get you started with your writing.

I am not normally a “list” person. I think the term to best describe my thought process is organized chaos.  I like to see the big picture and then explore the details, which ever details that come to mind or interest me the most first.  This has gotten me into trouble as you all can well imagine.  I go to the grocery store I need eggs, milk, butter and a few other odds and ends.  When I get home, I’ve bought even food to last me a week and a half but I have forgotten the butter!

I tend to have the same sort of problem when it comes to writing. I get caught up in the big picture or maybe even just one of the details that I forget other important things. So today I am going to give a list of organizational methods (I am not giving technical names, just sort of a list of ways I use or I have seen others use to keep themselves organized while they write their story/epic novel).

  1. The Outline – this method requires planning (something I lack).  I have several friends who write this way.  They start with the general idea and follow through  outlining events and or moments in the story that are key to the plot.  This outline becomes the backbone for their story.  This does not mean that you necessarily must have the ending in mind when you start your outline but an ending when you’re writing is always helpful.
  2. Mapping out Chronology – this looks and sounds a lot like outlining, but it’s not The Outline. You can Map the Chronology of your story at anytime, while the Outline is something is normally done at the beginning.  Mapping the chronology is a task that makes sure events are following as they should.  I have a difficult time with this one.  I just start writing what inspires me and then about half way through I realize either the events are happening too quickly or they have happened out of order.  In one particular story I knew the character, Denri, needed to get to a particular city.  However I wasn’t sure how she got there.  So, in a stroke of brilliance, I just started to write about her going to the city, how she felt and what was going through her mind.  This created several very involved flashbacks.  Now flashbacks are not bad in and of themselves – they can be very useful at times.  Nonetheless, I discovered as I wrote that I had to rework the chronology.  I needed to make the flashbacks part of the story and not just flashbacks and I needed more time in between events.  Mapping out Chronology is a good way to bring order back to a story and keep it heading in the right direction
  3. Character Files – If you are like me, you may have a plethora of characters and family connections that need to be sorted out.  I have found that OneNote is very helpful for storing all my information regarding my characters.  I have family trees, lists of occupations, and many other social/economical tidbits in this file. It is easy to forget characterizations and family structures particularly if there is any length of time in between writing.  Character files will also help to make sure that you remember what you have said and where you said something about a character.  OneNote, whenever you copy and paste something, will track the source document (did I mention how helpful OneNote has been for me?).
  4. World Building Files – Ok, so everything I said about Character Files applies to World Building Files.  I usually just have a OneNote file for each story I am working on and have different tabs and files with in the document to keep track of characters, world structure, and any other random bits of thoughts I have on the world or the story I am working on.

I know this is a short list, but as I said, I really don’t like lists.  But do you have any suggestions for ways to organize your thoughts and writing?

Happy Writing!

NaNoWriMo – Half way through and barely started

In the midst of trying to write a novel in a month, I have to write blog posts.

And it is time for me to face the fact – I am not writing a novel this month.

I wanted to…I told myself I was going to be disciplined. I was going to be loyal to my goal.  I was going to write like a mad woman, sleep less, and be creative ALL the time!

Truth is I started out the month trying to recover from a cold/flu and sleep became a necessary and spending time with friends became more fun than hiding in the darkness of my room with only the glow of the computer screen for company.

Enough complaining…I’ve barely started but I want to muse about my process.  I am working on a character and part of the story that I have not fully conceptualize.  I have a method of writing…it normally consists of just writing what comes to me, when it comes to me.  NaNoWriMo forces me to force the story out of a sluggish and cantankerous muse. I have written a good portion of the story already (last years NaNoWritMo) but I discovered that I was only telling one character’s story and I did not want her voice to be the only one.  I needed to make the story I was telling fuller, deeper, more alive and real.

This is a good thing – making the story a better story.  The problem rests in the fact that only that character’s story came to me freely and full of inspiration.  The other character’s stories are more like shadows and mysteries.  I am stuck trying to understand a character that I don’t fully understand.  I know I’m the author.  I should know my characters and that is why I’ve barely started.

So, I’m working through my writer’s block or character block by slowly writing scenes that I do know and understand, in which these characters feature prominent roles.  I am hoping that these scenes will slowly fill the gap in my story and bring life to my characters.

Happy writing!

Movie Muses: Thor 2 and Why Characters Matter

Last weekend, I got to see another new movie.  I feel very spoiled.  Normally I wait for them to trickle their way down into the local dollar theater (which actually costs two dollars on weekends… I feel lied to) or just rent them later from Redbox.  But not lately.  Lately, I have been too eager to see these new films in theaters!

thor the dark world filmI went into Thor: The Dark World with mildly optimistic expectations.  By optimistic, I mean that I expected to be entertained, if in a very shallow way, by lots of action and adventure and things being smashed by a hammer and Loki being an extraordinary villain(ish). That’s all I wanted.  I had read a few reviews ahead of time that indicated the movie could be summed up as cheesy good fun and nothing more.

That is pretty much exactly what the second Thor movie is.  It is funny, it is fun to watch, and it is pretty shallow entertainment, but not in a bad way.  When we left the theater, though, I made a profound realization about this movie.  And this is the profound realization that I made:

“The plot kind of sucked.  If it hadn’t been for the characters, this would have been a horrible movie.”

Clearly, I am meant to be a movie critic because I think such deep thoughts.

But I stand by what I said. The plot is pretty silly.  Without giving away anything crucial (although just to be safe, I’ll cry spoilers! so you can’t get mad at me), this is basically how it goes:

Ancient evil elves want to destroy the universe using glowy universe-destroying goo.  Thor stops them.  The end.

 

dark elves thor dark world
Evil elves!

I know.  Wow.

But despite the fact that the plot was not terribly enthralling and a lot of it was simply Thor tossing the hammer and angsting about saving his girl, it was still enjoyable.  Why is that?

The answer is because of the characters.  Or rather, because of some of the characters.  Ironically, the main characters of this film, Thor and Jane, are not the strong ones.  They don’t do any growing or character development during the movie and while they are both generally likable and decent characters, they were not the ones who had the audience laughing and deeply engaged throughout.  Instead, the characters who held this movie together were several of the secondary characters.

One of the greatest fears we have when we go to see a sequel is that the idiot producers will look at what people liked in the first film and then overdo it in the second one (think: Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).  In a way, this movie did take what was good in the first film and give us more, but in this case it actually worked.

thor dark world darcy erik internThe characters that I enjoyed in the first film, such as Jane’s friends Erik and Darcy, were even funnier and more charming in this film.  They had a very strong supporting role and I cared more about them than I did about Jane.  Again, I had no hard feelings toward the female lead, but she wasn’t what drew my attention.

Now, there was one other character who was extremely important, crucial even, for the success of this film.  I’m not forgetting him.  I’m just saving him for last.

loki thor dark world lokiMany people liked the first movie more for the villain than for the hero, and in this movie, the character Loki is improved upon, if that is even possible.  He is even more sardonic and snarky and wounded and clever and interesting.  If anyone grows in this film as a character, it is actually Loki, although I will not tell you that he becomes “good.”  Watch it and see for yourself what happens with him.  No spoilers from me.  Suffice to say that Loki alone makes this movie worth watching.

Ultimately, this movie is about the characters more than it is about the story because, let’s face it, the story is pretty silly.  Furthermore, this movie is about the secondary characters rather than about the title character or his lady love because, let’s face it, they’re nice and all but not that fantastic.

thor dark world lokiFor someone who cares more about characters than plot, this film demonstrated something that I find is often very true for me as both a reader and a writer: characters are crucial.  Do not create stock characters, stereotypes, and meaningless minions.  Characters aren’t just there to walk through the story.  We are people and so we want to engage with real people when we read (or watch) a story.  Yes, the plot does matter.  The plot matters a lot.  But the characters are the ones to whom the plot happens, who make the decisions, who experience the adventures and intrigues, the ones we root for or can’t wait to see fail. We have to be able to like them or dislike them.  We have to be able to remember them.

If we don’t care about the characters, we won’t care about the plot.  The story will lose its impact, no matter how clever (or not!) it actually is.

So make the characters count.

Instant Plot! Just Add: Kidnapping!

This month, I’ve given you a few really good tips on how to get your limping story up to at least a hop-skip-run.  Now, I feel like I should emphasize that these posts are (surprise, surprise!) very tongue-in-cheek and not meant to be taken as entirely serious suggestions.  Just somewhat serious suggestions.

That I will probably make fun of you for later.

The fact is, there’s no such thing as an “instant plot”, but what we can do is look at books we admire and see what they did to move their stories along.  Sometimes even a cliché can be useful (le gasp!) if it is used in its proper context.  That is, you either have to do something pretty incredibly original with it, or you have to make sure your readers know that you know it’s a cliché and you’re going with it anyway.  Deal.

robert louis stevenson kidnapped novel cover
Or… you could just make this Instant Plot the ONLY plot and name your book after it. But that’s been done. So probably not.

And so I am going to leave you this month with one more Instant Plot suggestion, and this is one that I’ve used.  If you want to add drama and excitement to your plot, all you have to do is get one of your main characters (or one of their babies!) kidnapped.

Bam.  Suddenly, there is motivation and urgency and something for your characters to do.  It’s that simple!

Except, as I said, Instant Plot ideas should never be simple.  They should be integrated into your plot, should have a purpose outside of just making your reader freak out, and should be as realistic as possible within the confines of the world you have created.

In the novel that I am currently working on (and have been working on for… years…), I have a character who gets kidnapped.  Twice.  He gets kidnapped from the original kidnappers.  I was all over this Instant Plot idea.

However, I like to think that I made it work as a plot mover in more ways than one.  It is the initial cause of a long series of events that bring the story to its conclusion, and it is integrated into the world-building.  My character didn’t just get (double)kidnapped.  His kidnapping was a huge part of how my main character learns just what in her world is going on.

So what are the different common kidnapping scenarios that you might consider (but maybe not because they are common and your book is oozing with originality!!!).  Oh, and if you want it to sound way more serious, you can always replace the word “kidnapped” with “captured.”  That’s how your reader knows that this is really bad:

  1. Hero gets kidnapped.  This is a good one if you want to stick with one character’s journey to greatness.  The villain or a band of random miscreants snatches your hero away in the night and suddenly, your hero has an immediate problem to solve.  This will probably also be dreadfully inconvenient because your hero had a plan and a mission and a quest and a kidnapping is definitely an unwelcome detour.  Instant angst.  But this is an excellent chance for your hero to prove his/her worth by winning his/her captors over to his/her cause.  This is also a chance for your hero’s One True Love to prove him/herself by rescuing the hero.  Good relationship test.
  2. Hero’s One True Love gets kidnapped.  This is a marvelous chance to let your character sink into some pretty dark depths of despair and misery from which he/she must rise and overcome.  Character building is important, you know.  And, of course, you must make it very clear to your reader that the One True Love’s life does actually hang in the balance.  If you’re really mean, you’ll kill the OTL.  Talk about Instant Plot.
  3. Hero’s baby gets kidnapped.  I think we covered this already.  A kidnapped kid is ridiculously stressful – for your character, that is.  Your readers will be pretty confident that you wouldn’t actually kill a child.  Even a fictional one.  Would you?
  4. Hero kidnaps villain.  In a strange turn of events, there is suddenly a villain in custody.  Of course, if you were film-writing, you would immediately contain said villain in a big clear box with two-way communication so that the villain could eye the hero creepily and say disconcerting things and generally cause trouble.  Because locking him/her in a dark room and gagging him/her is such a silly idea.  
    villain in glass prison                Be aware that if the villain is kidnapped, you really won’t have much choice except to let the villain escape later.  Otherwise, your Instant Plot will sputter a bit.

As I said before, Instant Plot ideas are not really meant to be taken in complete seriousness as a way to solve your plotting problems.  But by considering common plot twists, we as authors can decide what we want to use and how we want to use it. Being aware of the clichés and thereby either avoiding them or wielding them wisely can make your Instant Plot an interesting and likable one.

However, if you’re just desperate, you could simply write a novel in which a secret baby is kidnapped.  Instant Success! I just solved all of your problems.

Let me know what other Instant Plot ideas you think could be added to the list of “usually cliché but potentially awesome.”  What did I miss?