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

Character Flaws- Anger

I had a really fun time with my last post looking into the flaw of pride, so I thought we’d jump into anger, or what I like to call:

Klingon 101. 🙂

Anger is another one of those flaws that are easily seen in society as well as literature. It is also a flaw from which I suffer, I have a temper.  Thankfully, my hubby knows to put me in a corner and throw chocolate at me until I calm down.  Like most character traits a little isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and there are times when your character has the right to be angry.  A trait becomes a flaw when it begins to damage relationships.  Let’s look at Mr. Webster’s 1985 definition, Anger is

1.  a strong feeling of displeasure

2. rage

That’s pretty clear cut.  A normal display of anger would be a kid breaking your window with a baseball.  It’s expensive and time consuming to replace, but you don’t pitch a hissy fit and walk to the kids house and break all their windows.  That would be excessive.  If you are not sure about inappropriate fits of anger, just watch a 2 year old.

Most characters have more than one flaw and in different amounts. As writers we don’t tell the reader what flaw a character has, we show it.  There are many memorable characters that have anger issues.  My favorite was from Hissy Fit by Mary Kaye Andrews.  Keeley Rae Murdock had a very good reason to be angry. Truthfully, I read the book only because of the title.  Now, I am hooked. The Hulk has serious anger issues and expresses them by destroying cities and smashing people.  You get the idea.  Anger shows up in different ways.

Let’s look a a couple of ways anger can be expressed:

Bob has a problem with anger and pride.  He doesn’t have fits of rage, he simmer’s.  He has a fair complexion and a heavy set build.  When he’s angry his eyes enlarge and look like marbles.  His skin turns red and splotchy and his physical build seems to enlarge.  His blood pressure builds.  He becomes a walking time bomb.  Bob won’t throw a fit, but he will eventually erupt.  His anger is visible by the changes in his body and his demeanor.  He carries his anger with him.  I’m sure his doctor would tell him he needs to learn to calm down or meditate, lest he have a heart attack.

Mary is an expert at hiding her anger.  She goes through life never showing her anger.  She never raises her voice or blushes.  Instead, Mary keeps a mental list of everyone or everything  that has wronged her. She will get her revenge.  She’s still angry at her best friend in high school, Betty Sue, for stealing her boyfriend.  Periodically, she’ll take a mental inventory and review that list.  Mary writes the social column for the city paper, and every once and awhile secrets find there way to the column.  Betty Sue was divorced after photos of her and the pool boy got out.

Joe also has pride and anger issues.  He perceives himself as having the perfect family.  People in the community look up and respect him.  That was until his wife cheated on him.  He’s angry over the loss of love and respect from his wife, but he’s angrier over his perceived loss of standing in the community.  Those things only happen to other people.  His wife died in a tragic accident…or did she?

All characters are different and react differently.  So as you force them up a tree and throw rocks at them, think about how they react.  That reaction has mental and physical symptoms.  They can show up in unexpected ways.

I’ll leave it at that today, a storm is about to hit. (2 minutes after I wrote that a loud crash of thunder hit and the power went out. Taking this post with it.  Thankfully WP saves as I type.)

Row80

reading: still reading Downfall.  I am almost finished.  I am really enjoying the mix of suspense and drama with Christian faith.  No sappy romance 🙂

Writing: zip

Submissions: zip

Revisions: just finished reading my WIP, used a flashlight while the lights were out.  I can move into edits next.

I’m crawling along.  How are your goals?

CK

 

Genres….. Faith!?

While cruising the library I noticed the little tags taped to the edges of most books: African American, mystery,fantasy,faith, etc… It’s that last one that got me.  I tend to like my religious books in the nonfiction section.  Mainly because Christian fiction tends to be saccharine romance and I don’t do romance.   Although, A Killer Among us by Lynette Eason, kept me on the edge of my seat.  The exception to that is Christmas novellas, but that’s another post. Photo by Nadeeshx Jayawardana

knowledge-first

Sorry, I lost track of my point.  Here it is:  What makes a book fall into the the Faith/Inspirational fiction genre?

According to Wikipedia, it is a book that…”celebrates God’s presence in out lives… and where God plays a significant roll in the outcome.”  Ok, that makes since.

Reason: My WIP is a cozy mystery that has a protagonist that is a Christian and therefore has a positive view of church and does bring up the Bible and or God in a positive light, but only on occasion.  My goal wasn’t to write a “Faith” book, it was to write a mystery set in a small town, one that reflected life in a small Southern town.  I have had the WIP read in a critique (not CC), a complaint was the reader felt the Christian references weren’t needed.

I know you can’t please everyone, nor do I want to.  I understand not reading something because you have an aversion to a particular topic, keeping with this topic, I don’t read books with an anti-Christian agenda.  It tends to make me cranky, but if the story is good I have no problem reading a book where the protagonist is not a Christian.  I’d say most books are written with no religious identity at all.  That’s fine.  The flip side is, I don’t like “preachy” Christian fiction.  Have I confused you yet.

My problem is: Do I change it or keep it?  I’m looking at the WIP with an eye toward publication, after I edit the crap out of it with a machete.  Publishing is hard.  Like all writer’s I want to be published.  Yet, being the independent type, part of me says to heck with those who shy away from Christian books.  Be true to the book and the character.  I don’t want to remove imagery from the book that is relevant to showing life in small Southern towns.  It’s just the way it is.  Nor do I want to add a message that’s not there to make it a true, “faith” book.

It’s really early this morning, and I am probably over thinking the issue.  I need more caffeine.

What’s your thought on the issue.

CK