speculative visionscience fiction and fantasy

Plotting Workshop

Our "How To" forum. Share your tips and techniques for being a better writer.

Moderators: Bmat, Qray

    Bookmark and Share
 

Plotting Workshop

Postby cleasterwood » Sat Aug 20, 2005 5:12 am

Hello all,
I thought I'd share this with you. Since there are tips on a mirad of other subjects, I thought I'd address plotting, since it is my strongest point as a writer. So here's a plot workshop I wrote a year or so ago. I hope you find it as helpful as some others who have read and used the method I like most.

It will be in three different posts to keep make it less confusing.

INTRO:
After this workshop you will be able to effectively plot any story. You will learn the importance of outlining and story-boarding as well as be able to find gaps in your plot line.


Personally, I think the plot will either make or break the story. A strong plot keeps the reader interested and allows the story to flow smoothly. Any story, be it short or novel length, starts with a basic idea but a basic idea is not necessarily a plot. It is merely a starting point. There are several elements that go into a plot. Plot elements include: Exposition- This it the information needed to understand the story. Complication - This is the catalyst that begins the major conflict. Climax - This is the turning point that occurs when characters try to resolve the complication. Resolution - The set of events that bring the story to a close.


Before beginning, you should have developed your characters (I use character sheets where I write down each character’s personality, physical description, and their agenda in the story) decide on a setting by world-building, set the time frame in which the story occurs, and have a solid grip on the story premise. Conflicts that are available are as follows: person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. self, person vs. machine, and person vs. religion/God. If you plot and build characters true to their settings and situations, you maintain unity. You will not only build a plot unique to you but also one universal to your readers. Things to keep in mind while developing a plot: Keep things moving, make sure your character's actions have significant potential consequences, and keep the plot coherent. A well structured plot connects the events in a coherent manner as a whole with a smooth flow and in logical order.


Aristotle wrote a proven approach to plotting. His first plot analysis can be found in Poetics. His methods are studied widely and he is considered the foremost expert. According to Aristotle you should find the proper beginning for the specific story you wish to relay. Begin with an interesting moment, event, decision, or information crucial to the whole story. The middle needs to smoothly move the reader in a believable manner from beginning to end while building tension throughout. Even in linear stories, characters uncover information about the past that changes their perspective of events, changes their choices, and changes the plot's path. The key to find the right ending.

His description of elements considered crucial to the creation of a fully developed complex plot are: reversal - Characters should find themselves going from good fortune to bad, and back as both result and cause of their actions. These reversals serve as climactic moments in the plot; Discoveries - Characters should discover things, especially about themselves. These may be about the past, their flaws, or even their motivations; Complication - something must stand between the protagonist and his/her objective. Different objectives may put characters in conflict with each other. This creates plot tension. Your character's efforts to resolve the situation should create further complications, allowing tension to escalate ; catastrophe- No plot will be interesting if things go too smoothly for the characters. It's how your character deals with catastrophe that produces plot. Resolution - The plot should reach the proper conclusion that continues logically from the events of your story.

1. The beginning sets the pace, sets the tone, introduces the characters and their personalities, builds the setting, establishes the situation, states the conflict, and sets the story in motion. Oftentimes, the beginning can be very elusive as you're sitting there staring at a blank sheet of paper, but there are ways to avoid this which I will explain during the workshop. As long as the opening scene is relative to the main plot point, you can begin at any juncture of your character's life. Only start at birth if it is relevant to the plot. Depending on genre, you can open with a discovery, a murder, a flashback, or many other elements. Just keep in mind, if it isn't relevant to the plot, don't use it. Also, if you are unknown to the publishing world, you don't have the luxury of taking 2 or 3 paragraphs to 'hook' the reader (usually the editor). You must ‘hook’ the reader within the first few sentences.

2. The middle is the progression of the consequences of the events, involving the characters that change because of the events. Each event must lead toward the conflict at hand, they must reveal information about your characters, and must relate to the premise of the story. It should also show the transformations your characters are undergoing while at the same time, propel the plot toward the conclusion and build tension. During the middle, your characters should show some personal growth, your conflict should be nearby, and your reader should be completely engulfed by the story.

3. The ending should reach the pivotal event that resolves the conflict, answer the story question if it isn't obvious from the climax, and each event must relate to the story premise. Everything should be tied into a nice tight bundle by resolving the conflict and showing how the resolution affected the characters. If considering a sequel story, this is also the time to lead the reader toward the next book by leaving the reader with an obvious scene which indicates continuation. For example: I brought Khufu back from the dead to be with Andrea in modern day.

Two methods aid a writer in creating an effective plot before even putting a word on paper. Know what direction the plot is going. Otherwise, you waste time by adding extraneous information irrelevant to the plot. Although the following are merely suggestions which may no work for everyone, you may find them beneficial in helping you devise a personal course of action that will spark ideas, organize your writing, and allow your plot to stand out above the rest. In the following we will discuss story-boarding and outlines. These methods are useful in keeping you on tract with your story plot, but also allows for creativity as ideas come to mind. Remember, nothing is set in stone. It is your story and if you find that certain ideas will change the underlying plot in an interesting way, then that's okay but you must adjust your scenes accordingly. Hereafter, I will use Ra's Warrior as my example as I used both techniques for forming the plot.
Last edited by cleasterwood on Sat Aug 20, 2005 5:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
Ra's Warrior & the Talismans of Time
An Egyptian serialized online graphic novel.
User avatar
cleasterwood
New User
New User
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 6:18 pm
Location: Florida
 

 

Storyboards

Postby cleasterwood » Sat Aug 20, 2005 5:15 am

The first method is story-boarding. Most writer's use index cards to do their story-boarding as it is an easy way to see how different scenes can change the story. I keep them in a card file. Each card represents a specific idea:
1st card - I write down the basic idea and the proper category it falls into, i.e. person vs. person, person vs. self, etc.
2nd card - I write down my chosen starting point and any ideas of how I will accomplish setting the scene. For example on Ra's Warrior I wrote: Andrea discovers the papyrus, opens the tomb, finds the ankh, and goes back in time.
3rd card- I wrote down my conflict which needed resolution. Ex: Andrea faces Apep.
4th card - I wrote down the ending. Ex: Andrea defeats Apep and saves the world.

That was the easy part. Now for the hard part - how to get from point A to point B. I knew where my first three chapter were going, so I took the 2nd card with the basic ideas and put each idea on a separate card. I asked myself key questions for each new card, i.e. Where does she find the papyrus? How does she find it? How would I feel if I made a discovery? How would I act? Can I add conflict immediately to draw the reader in? So, on the 5th and following cards I wrote all the different scenarios that I could use.

Ex: 5th card title - Finding the papyrus. Scenario: Elise finds the papyrus. Adel finds it and tries to hide it but Andrea stumbles across it ‘accidentally’. Andrea finds it. How to intro the villain? He stalks them or maybe kidnaps Andrea.

With each one, I asked different, pertinent questions, but the most important one was, "How can I move the plot forward?". I did this with all my index cards until I had several variations. From there it is a matter of deciding how the puzzle pieces fit together. Next I wrote separate cards for each scenario, put them in a logical order, shuffled them around until I found what looked to be the best story line.

As new ideas and plot twists come to you, wrote them down on new cards. Index cards are useful as they can be put into a logical order after they've been written. Just once you've found a logical order make sure you number them appropriately so you don’t get lost in all the cards. Those that you don’t plan on using can be saved for another story. I also found it useful to write down which characters will be used in each scene and the setting in which it takes place.

Subplots are interwoven smaller plots that propel the main plot forward, but are not obvious to the reader. Usually, more than one subplot finds their way into the overall story. A subplot in Ra was Bastet sending the cat to Andrea and Elise. The cat first led Andrea to where she needed to be at a specific time, then acted as a buffer for Elise’s visions, and finally allowed Elise to retrieve Andrea during her wedding ceremony. The subplot here: Bastet didn’t want Andrea and Khufu to marry. Although it didn’t start out that way, that’s how it ended. Subplots throw in unexpected complications that help in gripping the reader.

Constructing solid, believable scenes is vital to any story. Almost all scenes should be pertinent to the story but you can add what is called a ‘filler scene’ which slows the pace down and gives the reader time to absorb all that has happened. Questions to ask yourself when constructing a scene are: Does this scene move the plot forward? If not, what relevance does it hold to the story or character? Does it add to the story or detract from it? Does it show something about the character which the reader needs to know like: personality, personal conflict, etc.?

For this exercise, you will need a set of index cards or if none are available, you can cut a sheet of paper into quarters or eights.
Exercise #1: Take an existing story or idea and create a story-board. On the back list the characters involved in each scene, a description of physical scenery, and the time in which it occurs. Remember to establish a logical order of events; it doesn’t necessarily have to be chronological, only logical. After completing this exercise, you will be able to easily point out holes in the plot that need to be filled and omit the places where a scene is unnecessary.
For this exercise, you will need more index cards.
Exercise #2: List variations of your scenes, add twists, and shuffle the cards around. On a separate sheet of paper write down how each scene changes the story and what happens when other scenes are introduced. This will aid you in creating a solid plot with twists and turns, and allow you to find the most effective scenes to create a believable plot.
Ra's Warrior & the Talismans of Time
An Egyptian serialized online graphic novel.
User avatar
cleasterwood
New User
New User
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 6:18 pm
Location: Florida
 

 

Outlines

Postby cleasterwood » Sat Aug 20, 2005 5:16 am

At this point, I began to actually write. As I went further into the first three chapters, more ideas came to me like: different twists that could be added for effect and changes that would increase tension and help thicken the plot. This is where the outline became clearer and then I devised my outline. It's almost exactly like a story-board but outlines makes the story available and convenient on one sheet of paper and a little more in-depth. This is also where I mapped out each chapter. I use my index cards during this process with all my notes. A couple of you will notice the changes that were developed along the way. I used the basic numbered outline which defined the chapters.

Ra’s Outline - Original
1. Elise finds the scroll / twins run into mysterious stranger.
2. They open the tomb and discover the ankhs.
3. The tomb must be closed. Andrea gets sent back in time.
4. Ancient Memphis and Khufu's deception
5. The feast
6. Switch to Elise as they search for Andrea.
7. Meets Thoth and intro to romance.
8. Training with Thoth
9. Apep attacks Andrea.
10. Nietamun reveals her true self and they visit Tell-Bastet
11. Attack on Memphis
12. Isis & Healing

This first outline changed dramatically as the index cards filled up with ideas. The first chapter's idea remained the same even though I changed the entire first scene by adding sibling rivalry and immediate action to it. In the final version, the index cards were full and the outline underwent changes to add tension where it was lacking. Still you must bear in mind to keep close to the overall plot. If a scene is unnecessary, delete it. If you think of a scene after the fact go back and find an appropriate place to fit it into the story, but make sure you change the subsequent chapters to reflect that change.

My final outline looks more like this:
1. Andrea discovers scroll.
a. Andrea discovers the scroll in the Great Pyramid.
b. Andrea snaps at Elise. Translates scroll.
c. They decide to go to Cairo for lunch and is stalked my mysterious man.
d. Returns to dig site and tells Adel.
e. Andrea goes to Sphinx to relax and finds the tomb.
2. Andrea discovers tunnels.
a. They clear the debris and enter the tomb, but keep work secret due to Adel's request.
b. Adel shows abnormal signs of religious reverence.
c. Elise is frightened when she finds the Ankhs and begs to leave tomb. They help her out and decide to return without her after lunch.
d. Adel gets knocked out, Andrea unconsciously takes the Ankhs from the statue.
e. Andrea is released from spell and finds Adel on ground. They return topside.
3. Adel and Elise decide it's too risky to proceed.
a. They tell Andrea she can't return to the tomb
b. They devise a plan to get Andrea out of Egypt, and seal the entrance.
c. Elise has her first nightmare of what's to come.
d. A small cat is introduced to the scene - Bastet's pet. (Plot twist)
e. The cat leads Andrea back toward the Sphinx where she falls asleep.
4. Travel to past.
a. Andrea wakes up in Ancient Egypt, where she is taken to the palace at Memphis to meet the king.
b. Khufu and Hemynu attempt to deceive Andrea but it doesn't work.
c. Andrea and Khufu talk and begin to establish a friendship.

As you can see in the first four chapters alone, the development of the plot changed. At first, I had no inclination of adding a cat to the scenes but after I asked myself the question, "How will Elise be able to have these visions that connect her and what can I use as a buffer to the past?" Poof- The Goddess Bastet sends her pet. This also changed the plot during the course of the writing once I decided that Bastet would throw a wrench in things later. During the course of writing, all these ideas were written on my index cards and put into an order that would benefit the story premise. There were things that were omitted altogether but I found more was added than deleted. If you outline the manuscript first, you can easily see where the story is going and it makes it so much easier to get from A to B in a smooth manner.

When writing your story keep these things handy and revert to them whenever you’re at a loss. They will tighten the story, make it easy for you to remember where the story is going, how to get there, and prevent plot deviation.

Good ‘ole pen and paper for this one.
Exercise #3: After deciding which scenes add the most dramatic affect, propel the plot forward effectively, and build appropriate tension, create your outline. Your outline should be as close to the finalized version of what you desire. It should be in logical order and show each scene in each chapter as it occurs. Keep track of plot twists by making notations in the margins. You will be able to clearly see if you have too many plot twists, not enough plot twists to keep the reader interested, point out inconsistencies in the scenes, point out unnecessary scenes that can be deleted, or places where a scene needs to be added.
Ra's Warrior & the Talismans of Time
An Egyptian serialized online graphic novel.
User avatar
cleasterwood
New User
New User
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 6:18 pm
Location: Florida
 

 

Postby Forever Zero » Tue Aug 23, 2005 5:21 pm

I disagree on the common "build up, climax, resolution" frame of plotting a story. I feel it constricts the writer way too much. I tried using it and I felt like the climax was the only point where I thought I could put any excitement, and everything became severely unbalanced.

So, here's my suggestion: For every big event you have planned, use that blueprint as a general guide. If a big event happens, resolve it before you throw out another one, unless the story calls for multiple at once.

Of course you're going to have a big climax somewhere in there, but do not focus on making that climax good. If that happens, the rest of the story will be neglected.

But basically don't think of the entire story as something that can actually fit into a bluebrint as general as that, because it probably can't. Unless you're story is simple and to the point, but this would be a rarity.
So it shall be written, and so it shall be done.
User avatar
Forever Zero
New User
New User
 
Posts: 93
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 1:18 pm
Location: Hayat Crater
 

 

Postby cleasterwood » Sat Aug 27, 2005 4:28 am

The "build up, Climax, resolution" was written by Aristotle and has been used as a staple for many, many years. I'm not saying I agree with it 100%, but I think it's more of a generalized statement. As I stated in the thread, nothing is set in stone.

You make some very valid points. I will admit though that this method helped me create a very complex plot with many twists and turns to keep readers guessing so it's not as constricted as it looks. :D

Lynn
Ra's Warrior & the Talismans of Time
An Egyptian serialized online graphic novel.
User avatar
cleasterwood
New User
New User
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 6:18 pm
Location: Florida
 

 

Postby Manji » Sat Aug 27, 2005 10:45 am

Easterwood, Your name is Lynn?

Anyways, yes, the "Build-up, climax,Resolution" is the best way I write. I just like to pepper two or three climax's into it.
It's like watching an action movie. You have the first scene, which is an action scene. Then in the middle you have another action scene and at the end you have another action scene.
So, I write- "Climax of Adventure#1, Build up, Climax#2, more build up, Climax#3, end of Adventure#2". This set up was popularized in action movies by Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" in the '50s. It began with a samurai shaving his head and posing as a monk to rescue a young girl. That was the climax of Adventure#1 and Adventure#2 began to build up afterwards.
"Wait, you're telling me Jesus Christ threw up the horns?"-Tycho
"Yeah, man. jesus is F'in Metal"-Gabe

"The road to happiness is paved with a healthy nicotine addiction and aversion to clean air."- Niego.
User avatar
Manji
Site Regular
Site Regular
 
Posts: 407
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 2:40 pm
 

 

Postby cleasterwood » Sun Aug 28, 2005 4:19 am

Yes, Manji! The L in CL stands for Lynn. :D Basically my writing name: C. L. Easterwood. :)
Those are very good points and actually I do that too. Should have thought to put that in there. There are always smaller climaxes that lead to larger ones and that is really important to help build tensions.
Lynn :)
Ra's Warrior & the Talismans of Time
An Egyptian serialized online graphic novel.
User avatar
cleasterwood
New User
New User
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 6:18 pm
Location: Florida
 

 

Postby Manji » Sun Aug 28, 2005 9:57 am

Yeah, I always use that set up even in something like horror and suspense, the two genres that build up to a extreme climax. But, I just tone down the sub-climaxs. Like, in the script I began with Climax1, the hero getting shot. Climax2 was the death of the heroes wife and Climax three was the resolution. So, really, the story calls for what the climax is. It doesn't have to be exploding car action but it can be if the story is going that way already.
"Wait, you're telling me Jesus Christ threw up the horns?"-Tycho
"Yeah, man. jesus is F'in Metal"-Gabe

"The road to happiness is paved with a healthy nicotine addiction and aversion to clean air."- Niego.
User avatar
Manji
Site Regular
Site Regular
 
Posts: 407
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 2:40 pm
 

 

Postby Forever Zero » Tue Aug 30, 2005 7:05 pm

Whats alsways bugged me about the "build-up, climax, resolution" blueprint was the fact that resolution was stuck at the end. Since the blueprint is so general, I tend to think it means the resolution should have as much content as the build-up and the climax.

Which means after the climax is over you're sitting through a heap of story that has nothing to look forward to.

See, with my stories, I end with a climax. Thats just how I write. I don't leave a cliffhanger, but I don't give much of a resolution either. Mainly because my climax and resolution are fused together. Call it a resolimax or something. But anyway, there's nothing telling you you can't resolve stuff in the biggest part of the story.

And if I don't resolve thigns in the climax, I have them resolved before the climax. So all thats left is the unfinished task of defeating whatever antagonizes the story. And I make a point for that to be the climax.
So it shall be written, and so it shall be done.
User avatar
Forever Zero
New User
New User
 
Posts: 93
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 1:18 pm
Location: Hayat Crater
 

 

Postby cleasterwood » Thu Sep 01, 2005 5:46 am

I love leaving those pesky cliff hangers. The last one I had opened the way for the second novel by bringing the hero back from the dead. The anti-climax does help tie up loose ends and hit em with a cliff hanger or end it with a satisfying view of how everything turned out for the MC. It's nice having something to look forward to and almost a necessity for those of us who write sequels and trilogies. Like I said, this formula isn't set in stone. :)
Ra's Warrior & the Talismans of Time
An Egyptian serialized online graphic novel.
User avatar
cleasterwood
New User
New User
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 6:18 pm
Location: Florida
 

 

Postby Magus » Tue Sep 13, 2005 1:46 pm

:study:
User avatar
Magus
Writer Extraordinaire
Writer Extraordinaire
 
Posts: 10536
Joined: Tue Apr 05, 2005 5:34 pm
Location: Illinois
 

 

Postby Topazsag » Wed Jun 27, 2007 1:16 pm

Thank you CLEasterwood I am finding a lot of useful information in your posts and while I have written many stories I am working on my first "Novel" so I have many questions but I'll stick with a 3 for right now,
How to effectively create a "flashback". Should I begin by writing all the events in order and then later taking pieces of that out to be used as a "flashback"?
Umm how am I supposed to hook the reader in 2 or 3 sentences (since I'm not a known writer)?
Right now my Prologue is extremely lengthy and I think I could probably write 2 or 3 chapters on what should be my prologue, basically information on events that happened to my character as a child which I feel are essential to developing the background and understanding of my main character (Prologue) then the story progresses to her being 17 or 18 and it isn't until later in the story that she finds the correlation between current events and the events of her past. Umm there is a more like several questions on that should I shorten, how to shorten or is it okay to have a really lengthy prologue?
Egat my story really seems to lack originality but I've been building these characters for months!
Sorry for the lengthy questions and I feel like such a noobie but as many classes as I've taken in College on writing they've never got down to the nitty gritty for Novels. I think most of these classes were geared for teachers-to-be. Nothing wrong with teachers, it's just not my thing. ;)
Topazsag
Just Registered
Just Registered
 
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Jun 26, 2007 11:40 pm
 


Return to Guidelines for Writing

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

cron