Sunday, September 8, 2013

Creating a Plot -- Basic Steps

There are many ways an author may come up with a plot line. Overheard conversations, an article in the newspaper, gossip, a song on the radio. And then, once the idea of something starts brewing, we always ask the question -- What if?

What if my heroine does this?
And my hero did that?
And the mother did this?
Which in turn would lead the heroine to do that?

We question every little thing, like playing chess. If I move here, what will my opponent do?

The problem is, most of us, (Well I say most of us who are pantsters -- writers who don't outline) may get stuck every once in awhile. We think we know where the story is going, but then one little tiny thing (which we may have simply overlooked because we're writing 90 mph to get the story down) may blow the whole thing out of the water.

(Which is why I don't outline the "whole" story. I find the rigidity of sticking to an outline stems my creativity.)

In creating any kind of "genre" story, we need to have several ducks in our design. They don't necessarily need to be in a row, but they do need to be there. You want to answer the basic questions of who, what, when, where, and why.

Inciting incident (the thing you need to have a story to begin with)
Hero's journey (or heroine if you prefer)

(You also need other building blocks such as Setting, Characters, Minor Characters, Sub-plot, but we're just discussing Plot right now.)

I tend to write the first four or five chapters off the cuff, allowing the characters to take control and lead me wherever they want to go. I have a simple idea of a plot and I edit as I write so hopefully by the time I get to the end of those first five chapters I have a pretty firm commitment to those words.

Then I'll sit down and play the "what if" game. I'll write a semi-formal outline (Suit and jacket, not tux -- nothing is firm until final edits) and continue writing. Generally, between the 50,000 and 70,000 word mark, I'll do a major re-read/edit, and then write another outline, (tuxedo this time) taking every plot point and character, piece of back-story, and write those in three columns to see where everyone is, what they're doing, and how I think the story is progressing. Once I do that, then I figure out how I want the story to end.

Someone much smarter than I (I forget who) said "you have to have the ending before you write the beginning." Which I believe is true. I don't work backwards, however, I always have the ending in mind when I start writing the beginning.

As always, there is a happy ending, but hopefully, by the aforementioned word counts, I've left doubt in the readers' mind as to how the Hero/Heroine is going to get there. It's kind of a fun game I play with myself. Like solitaire, only better.

Because I'm working on Amanda and Richard's story now, I'll use them as an example. My basic outline and plot points.

Richard ~
Richard has suffered from PTSS (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) since the Battle at Trafalgar.
He has lost hope (put it completely from his mind) that he will ever marry.
He earns a decent living doing "detective work" (if you will), and has a few friends. Most notably William.

Amanda ~
Amanda grew up in England and was friends with Penny when she was a girl.
Her mother died when she was 12 and her father took her to America.
Amanda has the "gift" of being empathic. (Like the character Diana Troy from Star Trek.)
Amanda has married a despicable man (for reasons I won't get into here).
They have a daughter Rachel (age 6).

Basic Plot

Chapter One -- Richard and Amanda meet one night. (inciting incident) There is an instant attraction. Richard thinks he knows Amanda but can't figure out from where. He realizes she's married to a despicable man. (conflict) He needs an excuse to find her again. (goal) Some of Richard's back story.

Chapter Two -- I need Richard to somehow find Amanda again. Enter Robert who needs a ship's captain. Robert's plan is for Richard to go to where Amanda is. (hero's journey)

Chapter Three -- Richard and William meet up again. Richard finds out Penny knows Amanda. Penny finds out Richard is going to where Amanda is, and asks him to bring her something (A letter most likely.) (Re-introducing the inciting incident, and the goal, and reaffirming the hero's journey.)

Chapter Four -- Amanda's back-story. (This chapter has already been written, but now I find I need to tweak it a little bit to fit better into the changes I've already made. Introducing Amanda's conflict and goal. This is a sub-plot.)

Chapter Five -- Richard and Amanda meet again. (Reintroducing the main conflict -- Amanda's husband and giving the first climax resolution.)

Now, having said all that, in writing genre fiction, you also need to find the structure of the novel -- there are several to choose from -- the most basic and almost always used is three acts.

Act One is where we are introduced to the characters and give them their inciting incidents, conflicts, goals, and send them on their journeys. We also need to have a climax -- generally at the end of Act One, where all these preliminary things are resolved. Also the introduction of sub-plots if you're going to use them.

Act Two is where the tension mounts, because even though we have resolved some of the conflicts, there are more obstacles to get over before the end of the book. We must put our hero/heroine through much more before they can reach their goal. (Sometimes in working with sub-plots, we can have other climaxes.)

Act Three is when the hero/heroine has the goal firmly in hand, however, one more monkey wrench is thrown their way and they must fight for their ultimate goal. In romance, that is when the hero and heroine finally get together. All the conflicts have been resolved, there is generally one final massive climax, and everyone lives happily ever after. (That particular part of the story is called the denouement.)

 So there we are -- the basic building blocks of writing a story. There are many many fabulous craft books on the market to delve deeper into how to write, but this is just a simple explanation.

Anything I've forgotten? Please share in the comments.

I hope you have a great week!

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013

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