Right now, I’m working with plot in my Novel Course with Long Ridge Writers Group and working the initial plotting of my YA shapeshifter novel BEASTS (title subject to change) about a raptor shapeshifter looking for a home.
LRWG’s writing courses are designed for those who haven’t written a single story in their lives. So it’s all very basic. Since I’ve read a whole lot about how to write a novel and about story structure before and worked on PROPHECY for NaNo 2008-2010, I already have an idea of how a plot is structured.
So this lesson feels very basic to me. It’s a good thing though. These are the fundamentals that’ll support my entire writing career and are necessary to master if you want to be successful.
Without further ado, I shall give you my understanding of what a basic plot requires (basically what I learned so far from the course):
Duh. But here’s the thing. Characters aren’t just people, they’re people with problems. Those problems are internal and external. Usually, especially genre fiction, external conflicts/problems are what push the character into action and start the whole thing going. It’s the Inciding Incident, as Les Edgerton in HOOKED would call it, and what complicates things and keeps the story interesting. The internal conflicts are what make the story truly interesting and determine the characters actions and reactions to the external conflict.
My main character of BEASTS, Nicolai’s external conflicts include not having a home or a clan to belong, and a crazy twin brother trying to kill him. His primary motivation is survival and safety. Things are further complicated by the fact he’s one of the last of his species and shapeshifters in my world only stick to their own kind and are distrustful of all other shifters (especially strange ones like Nico), thus making Nicolai’s goal of resolving this problem, of being accepted into a clan, very difficult.
His internal conflicts are his insecurity and cowardice. Instead of facing his brother, he runs away from him and all his problems. His answer is to find someone to hide behind and he’ll discover this isn’t the best way to get what he wants. So as you read about how Nicolai needs to find a place to belong, his actions and dialogue (his methods of acquiring this goal) are rooted from his internal conflicts: his insecurity and tendency to flee rather than fight, which spice things up.
For me, the Climax comes along very naturally. To explain it in my own words, it’s sort of a buildup of conflicts, of problems, piling on top of each other and reaching a peak before it all topples over in an avalanche.
It’s problem after problem, each getting worse than the last, and even though there are rests between problems where the character does something to ease the tension just a bit, something else happens even worse until it reaches the climactic moment.
Every plot needs a climax.
LRWG teaches that the climax scene needs to be a Do or Die moment. All or Nothing.
Nicolai’s climax is when he can no longer run away anymore. He needs to face his problems or lose everything, including his life. And if he loses everything, the story comes to an abrupt end. He can’t just run away and try something else. It’s like literally putting your character on the edge of the cliff and poking him in the back with a spear. Turn back and get skewered, but take a wrong step, plunge and die.
So what happens next, what he chooses to do next in this impossible situation, is the climatic and most important scene of the entire novel.
The beginning was the introduction of the character and their conflicts or problems. The middle is the pile up of those problems till it reaches a Do or Die moment.
Then comes the ending.
I’ve heard this many times from various sources, not just LRWG, that it’s best to leave the story as soon as you’re able to. The climax is over, so basically the most interesting thing in the book is done. There is no longer any reason for the reader to keep reading so it’s best to wrap things up and not dawdle with a hundred-page epilogue.
Tie up all loose ends for THIS story. But I don’t believe it means you can’t leave some tiny threads for a possible sequel.
Unlike PROPHECY, it was much easier to plot BEASTS as a standalone story, even though I always intended it to be a series. Funny enough, PROPHECY had started out as a standalone story that ended up becoming a trilogy (and now possibly a series of trilogies).
BEASTS (unlike my other novels, so I feel like this could be the ONE) has a very clear question asked in the beginning of the story and at the end, it’s very clearly answered.
BUT it’s also easy to leave things unanswered that don’t necessarily need to be answered now. The answers that, in ordered to be explained fully, would need a story all themselves. In other words, answers that need a sequel.
I have a few of these lingering questions in BEASTS so if all goes well, that’ll entice publishers and readers to pick up a second book.
A plot needs time.
The plot for BEASTS fell into place all by itself, but it wasn’t overnight. I say I was noodling with this idea since 2009 or perhaps earlier. From then till now, it’s been slow cooking in the back of my mind.
Needless to say, I have a whole lot of ideas to work with. Heck, now and then I work on scenes for the third or possibly fourth book (not exactly sure where this story lies in the chronological scheme of things). I also have origin stories, backstories that really serve no purpose for the story other than for my own personal amusement.
I feel a story will tell you when it’s ready to be written. It goes from images and ideas, to characters, settings, and names, to scenes with action and dialogue. It’s usually around then that the call to begin writing (an outline, character sketches or the first draft) comes or maybe sooner, depending on the writer.
Don’t rush it. It’ll suck otherwise. But don’t let it burn either.
I know of stories, awesome stories or ideas for stories I still want to work on someday that I’ve lost because I never took the next step and wrote some of it down. It boiled over and became lost in my jumble of memories.
And there you have it more or less. Everything you need to know about plotting. The basic of the basic. And sometimes, basic is good.
If you’re also a writer, what have you learned about plotting thus far in your career or if you’re taking a writing course, what are you learning now?
If you’re not a writer, when it comes to stories you read, what types of stories do you enjoy? Full of cliffhangers? Fast paced or slow paced?
The goals I had set in November are coming along nicely. I’m on track with BEASTS and the novel course; currently working through the orientation process with Remilon a writing job; and I’ve gotten more serious with practicing art thanks to the Crimson Daggers website. So far so good).