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: Discouragement

Sitting in church yesterday, I listened to a sermon on discouragement.  Thanks Pastor Alan for another blog post and ideas on character development and flaws. We all face discouragement in our lives, as a writer I face it several times a week as I send out queries.  Our characters should also face discouragement.

Mr. Webster defines discouragement as :

A loss of confidence or enthusiasm

Conflict is Good!

Really good stories have conflict.  We create characters that have a goal or desire, then we put them in trees and throw rocks at them. Yes, that’s clique, but I don’t care. How our characters deal with these rocks is what gives them believability and interest. The bigger the rock the better the conflict.

What causes discouragement?

I’m sure we all have personal rocks that have led to discouragement.  It’s different for each person, the same for our characters.   Imagine a large floor covered in dominoes standing on end. Each of these kicks off a string of dominoes…

  • Fatigue–  Regardless of the goal your character has set, they must actively try to achieve it.  Whether it’s potty training a toddler, trying to make partner in a law firm, or solving the murder of a coed on campus- goals take time and energy.  You prioritize life, squeezing out as much time to work on your goal as you can, to the point where you are worn out.  Does your character rest when needed? or Does he run headlong into the fog without regard to health and mental clarity? Their reaction to fatigue may determine how they deal with …
  • Frustration- I deal with insomnia, when I don’t sleep my frustration level heightens.  I grab chocolate and caffeine in hopes of staying sharp.  That just makes it worse.  Once, frustration has entered the mind of your character what does she do?  Do they chose a healthy outlet like going for a run? Do they get cranky and start yelling at people? Do they bury themselves in their goal, trying even harder? When frustration takes hold it doesn’t take long for …..
  • Fear- to set in. Your tired and frustrated, then the little red devil sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear, “You’re not good enough.” How will your character deal with the fear of not obtaining their desired goal? They’ve been working toward it, they’ve planned everything out, tried every avenue, but it is still out of reach.  What do the shadows whisper to them when they sit in the dark at night? Do they give in to an addiction? Do they take it out on loved ones? Do they further alienate themselves from others?In the end this fear is about one thing…
  • Failure- We have all failed at something. We know the sting of not making it to the Spelling Bee, onto the football team, or rejected by love. How does our characters deal with it?  They will fail at something, they have to.  That failure will haunt them as they try to reach their goal.  It’s like I tell my kids, “Failure is a learning experience and it builds character.  No one likes to fail, but hopefully you’re smart enough to learn something so next time you’ll get closer.”

Discouragement is a common flaw.  Just look around the room next time you’re at a large gathering.  I promise you someone is facing it.

Whip discouragement !

At some point your character must face her fear, pluck up her courage, and get back on track. How many cliques can be in one blog post?  I hope there’s not a limit. Is there a trusted friend to talk to?  Does he go on a relaxing fishing trip to sort it all out?  Does she go out with the girls to lighten her mood?

Discouragement doesn’t go away by itself or evaporate overnight. It’s a process. There is a point when the character must turn around and continue toward their goal. Did Frodo give up after Sam left? No, he pulled up his furry feet and kept going to Mordor.

Tension and conflict make stories memorable and our characters more interesting.  But there also needs to be a resolution.

Do you have a character dealing with discouragement?

CK