Plotting out plot

Joe’s Post #168

So, when I find something interesting, I like to share it.

Sometimes that’s like, “hey look at this weird growth on my butt, what do you think that is?”

Sometimes it’s something I find on the internet.

So check this out. A new way of looking at plotting. It comes from Oz and Ends by J.L Bell. 

A cool way to look at plotting

A cool way to look at plotting

Now the cool thing I like about this, is it looks at making the hero’s life hell in a whole different way and can be used for pretty much any part of your book. It’s sort of a rinse and repeat for writers.

heros journeySo why did this speak to me? Well, there are a ton of books and articles on how to plot. I’m sure you’ve seen some of them, the most famous being the Hero’s Journey.

But nowhere have I seen something that gets your mind thinking like this one did. It’s basically character meets conflict to create plot.

Now, sure, it doesn’t tell you how to put in backstory or when to introduce important pieces of information vital to the story, but try running that ‘plotting made simple’ template through your story and see what happens.

Or take a look at this from Jody Sparks.

Plotting by Jody Sparks

Plotting by Jody Sparks


Also, if you have some free time, check out Robert J Saywer’s latest post. Here. It’s a great read about the craft of world building and writing.

And that’s it from me. No wise words of wisdom from me about how to write, but please check out these other bloggers/writers. They’re awesome.


My villainous day


Credit: iStock licensed image

Silk’s Post #32 — I love him. I love him not. I love him. I love him not. I love him. I love him not.

Really. I love him not. Or maybe her. I’m not ready to tell you that yet.

I’m talking about my antagonist. My villain. My thing that goes bump in the night.

I spent the entire day today with my antagonist. Cooped up with a twisted character, an evil presence. I’m happy to report that I don’t like my villain very much, and I hope you won’t either.

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
— William Shakespeare

I’m lying, of course. (I learned that from my antagonist.)

I actually love my bad guy. Or gal. Why? Deeply flawed characters have to be very complex, or at least that’s how I like them best. They’re so fascinating. Delving into the psyche of a villain is like descending into a scary, but fantastic, hypnotic and awesome cave. We keep going down because we can. We just hope we can get back up again.

History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.
— Ian Fleming

Pure evil isn’t really all that interesting. It’s just the reverse of pure good, which is also not very entertaining, as admirable as it may be. It’s the messiness, the illogic, the unique way in which the antagonist is broken, distorted, unpredictable that makes him or her so fascinating.

Things were easier for the old novelists who saw people all of a piece. Speaking generally, their heroes were good through and through, their villains wholly bad.
— W. Somerset Maugham

After all, there are limited ways a character can be “good.” Goodness can be quirkily flawed, but it has to remain within rather narrow moral, emotional and behavioural parameters. I think that’s what makes it challenging to come up with truly interesting, memorable and relatable protagonists, as Helga discussed in her last post, “A Grimm Tale”. After all, we do have to like the protagonist. Otherwise we won’t care what happens to him or her.

But there seem to be no limits to the devious ways a character can be “bad.” First of all we don’t have to like them. That certainly opens the floodgates! In fact, we have to have negative feelings about them. Disgust. Hate. Fear. Anger. All powerful stuff. This gives the writer virtual carte blanche on creativity.

I love to make even villains people you can relate to. When you find out who did it, I think you almost like the person, which is not easy to do.
— Harlen Coben

The most horrific monster is both a victimizer and a victim. We do have to relate to the bad guy, too. That’s where one of the most important feelings of all – pity – comes in to play. When a writer can reveal the painful story of how a villain became so warped, what awful background made the apple rotten, we feel the tragedy more deeply. We see the buried, tortured spark of humanity, the good character that the antagonist might have become if only … if only … and we despair.

Nothing is more dramatic, more affecting, than the fall from grace. It’s so central to virtually every creation legend.

So, no wonder we love to hate our monsters.

In the old days, villains had moustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don’t want their villain to be thrown at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings.
— Alfred Hitchcock

But back to my monster. He, or she, has been mocking me all day. Just when I thought I knew why my villain acted in a certain way, every time I tried to connect the story background to the story foreground, some piece would slip out of place. The bottom line is that I “get” my antagonist. I know his or her damaged psyche, motivation, frightening capabilities. But I haven’t yet totally integrated these into the plot.

Red Riding Hood has met the wolf. I just haven’t quite figured out what the wolf’s plan is.

And in the end, maybe his, or her, plan is just to act like a wolf. We think everything has to make sense. (Or I tend to, at least.) But with an antagonist, we can sometimes break that rule.

As for an authentic villain, the real thing, the absolute, the artist, one rarely meets him even once in a lifetime. The ordinary bad hat is always in part a decent fellow.
— Colette

Remember the famous story of the scorpion who hitches a ride across the river on the alligator’s back? Halfway across, the scorpion stings the alligator and they both drown, but not before the alligator, completely befuddled, asks the scorpion: why, why why? The scorpion says: Because I’m a scorpion. It’s just in my nature.

That’s what I’ve been battling my antagonist about all day today. I keep wanting to make my villain conform to logic. Make sense. He, or she, keeps telling me: I’m crazy, you dumb b*tch of a writer! I don’t have to conform to your girl scout, two-plus-two-equals-four, sappy f*cking logic! You’ve never been down here in hell with me, so stop trying to tell me what to do!

And it’s true.

He, or she, wins.

The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.
— Alfred Hitchcock

Sand in my shoe

Helga’s Post #4  If you have followed this blog for the last couple of weeks, you know things are a bit rocky on the writing front. Progress to date has been at snail’s pace (and that’s putting it mildly). Perhaps not at the same level; we heard from Karalee she’s galloping ahead of the pack with her characters (way to go baby!) Sure, our road to Nirvana (another word for getting published), is paved with good intentions, but no matter how we twist and turn, priorities cannot be ignored. Consider the case of Joe: he is facing a brutally short deadline to submit a manuscript that still needs editing. He has to put the 5Writers project on the back burner so that Echo of The Shroudmaiden will finally get the respect she so justly deserves. That’s a no-brainer.

But what about the rest of us? By now we should have somewhere between (gulp) 75 to 100 pages written (see Silk’s haunting Arithmetic post) in order to have a finished manuscript in four months. What is wrong with us! (speaking for myself, getting sidetracked to learn my new writing software StoryMill, for example. Thanks again Paula, for taking time to show me the ropes).

I know we all can see the larger picture. We know what our novels are about and have the plot figured out. More or less anyways. I suspect the devil is in the details.

‘It is not the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.’ (Thank you, Robert W. Service for this morsel of wisdom)

Our trip to the Oregon sand dunes – beautiful, but lots of sand in the shoes

For me, for this project, I know the story I want to tell. The story I am itching to tell. Just like telling bedtime stories to my kids long ago (though I hasten to add that my novel would not fit the mold of a bedtime story). It’s the small details that keep me back: will my readers relate to my characters; do my settings sound realistic and have enough color; does my dialogue ring true?

Gotta shake out that grain of sand in my shoe. Gotta keep looking at the mountain.

My main character, my protagonist, as I alluded in my last post, is unusual. She is smart. She is funny. People like her. I hope my readers will root for her as she tackles some formidable obstacles. Nothing unusual yet. But here’s the rub: When she deals with people who have double-crossed her she is unforgiving. Extremely so. And creative in the way she tilts the scale. Protagonist, you’ll wonder? You wished. Now she’s no Annie Wilkes from Misery, but the name does come to mind. (Don’t tempt me, Annie!)

Watch out Sheldon!

And the villain? He’s done my heroine wrong, no doubt about it. But now the tables may have turned. He’s become the victim. Or has he? The lines become blurred. Villain in one chapter, victim in the next. My heroine seems to go through a metamorphosis. The hunted becomes the huntress. Readers start to identify with and root for my villain. But, as so many inside book flaps promise, or warn, nothing is what it seems.

You may wonder if I’m writing a horror story. I’m not. Not in the strictest sense. My subject deals with a real-life, contemporary phenomenon that I am fictionalizing with invented characters. In fact it defies any horror story.

All to say, when agents or publishers at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference just two weeks away, will ask the inevitable, “can you tell me something about your protagonist, and also about your antagonist?” I may look them in the eye with a villainous glint, and say, “It’s not that simple.”

Because, truth be told, I don’t know myself. Not yet. Not entirely. Because no matter how diligently I have worked on my outline, in the end my characters will do what they want, without my bidding. And that’s something I look forward to: meeting the angels and demons (love your title, Dan Brown), that will populate my novel.

Keeping my eyes peeled on that mountain.
Chilcotin, Northern B.C.