Plotting, part 1

Plotting 101

I’m currently plotting a short story/novella, using the same characters from the last 2 books I’ve written. I thought it would be fun to share my insane way of plotting.  I started writing this post 2 months ago, I’m half way writing the novella.

A few resources:

The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey

I don’t do it just like that, but I have used some of the techniques and added a few spins.

Today, I’m starting with characters. I’ve mentioned characters and character flaws before and you can find them here. Before I design my characters I start with an idea. It may be a scene, or just a statement, that sparks my interest. For this series we are using this idea:

Bubba Strong steals the Mardi Gras beads of power from the Krewe de Vile to protect us from world domination by the evil mastermind Rex King.

I admit, that’s not a very good story idea, but it works for today. Besides, Mardi Gras is fresh on my mind, and I’m toying with the idea of using it as the background for a story.
Just from that statement we have 2 characters. Bubba Strong is the protagonist and Rex King is the antagonist. At this point, I will use one of several, character questionnaires. The length and depth of the information will be determined by the length of the story. If it’s a short story, then I’ll use a very short questionnaire, just so I can get in the head of Bubba and Rex. Novels require much more information. You can find one here.
The point is, I need to know as much as possible about my characters to make them real. Did Bubba graduate high school/college? Does he have a girlfriend? Is he allergic to shellfish? Does he participate in Mardi Gras?
More importantly…How does he know Rex is an evil mastermind? Are they both in the same Krewe?

There must be something that links the two together.

Creating a back story for your characters will help flesh out these questions.

The same is true for the antagonist. But for Rex we need to know, what led him to the point of world domination? Why is he such a naughty boy? Was he always so distasteful?
These may seem like useless bits of information at first. But you never know when it may be useful for the story. For instance:

Bubba is hot on Rex’s trail when he gets sidetracked in New Orleans. Bubba has a severe allergy to shellfish. He stops at a hole in the wall for lunch. Rumor has it Rex was seen in the area. After studying the menu, he is careful to quiz the waitress before ordering the steak smothered in red eye gravy. Unbeknownst to him, Rex is lurking in the kitchen and tosses a handful of purred shrimp into the gravy. Poor Bubba is delayed in catching the villain, due to his unscheduled visit to the emergency room.

This kind of information can always be added to your characters back story as needed, after you start writing the story. It doesn’t all have to be written up front. Wiggle room is always a good thing.

Don’t forget the flaws

Character flaws are important, they are the spice you add for dimension.  I’ve mentioned this before. No one likes a perfect character. Each character needs a weakness and/or flaw. It makes them more believable and likeable. The same is true for your bad guy. There must be something in him that’s likeable. There must be some hint of softness. OK, maybe not. But even the worst men in history had something about them that led others to their cause. Call it charisma, power, or the pull of a tractor beam, there is something that attracts others to them.

Recap:

1. Give your characters a history.
2. Give them flaws, weaknesses, and something attractive.
3. We need a back story for the main characters that link the protagonist and the antagonist in some way.

I hope this is useful,

CK

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