22 December 2007

Plot Question and Answer

Loads of plot consultations this month. Writers scramble to achieve this year's goals, before it's too late....

Haven't had time to debrief here, what with the holidays. But I was just feeling on top of Christmas, had a quiet moment, and decided to tackle emails. The first new email unanswered by me -- 12/5 -- is the following... I haven't blogged lately, so I thought I'd post and answer her email here at the same time, to save time.

I hope her question and comments might help other writers interested in character growth or character emotional development.

Writer's Question and Comments:
I can't begin to tell you how helpful your two DVD workshops and book have been to me! They are so clear and well-done that I do believe I've got it! (The Great Gatsby and Tom Sawyer).

I have my story in mind and have outlined all 60 chapters, about three scenes each, and examined each scene and plot. However, I am weak in developing the other characters in my story and how to show their growth or lack of growth. I feel I'm contriving a scene to show how main characters deal with one delay after another to build tension. Could you recommend a method or specific one of your DVDs to help with this? For example, I'm reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Fowlett right now ... there is one escape scene where the main character is attempting to saddle a horse and get away from the antagonists and she keeps dropping the reins and is unable to quickly get on the horse to make her escape. This seems like such a simple device and yet a couple of pages are dedicated to describing how it's going for her. I can hear your "voice" so clearly that I laughed out loud ... yes, this is exactly what you mean when you say to have it get bad for the protagonist, then make it worse, and then make it worse several more times. The tension that scene built was palpable!

I plan on consulting you when my project is complete for a full analysis. Since I am really just beginning, I don't have enough for you right now.

Thank you again. I do hope you can recommend something for me. I'd really appreciate it.

Writing in North Carolina,

Dear Nancy,
Thank you for your kind words! What a wonderful gift. Thank you.

I feel like you're asking two questions here:
1) How to develop "the characters in my story and how to show their growth or lack of growth."
2) How not to contrive "a scene to show how main characters deal with one delay after another to build tension."

#1 is about the character. I hope this isn't redundant since you've seen the DVD, but I recommend using the Character Emotional Development Profile info to help.
The Beginning 1/4 of your project, you introduce the flaw and fear and hate.
The Middle 1/2, you develop the flaw and fear and hate.
The End 1/4, you show the transformation.

In other words, you don't have to show the growth until The End. Should be smooth after you've written the Climax (last big scene of the entire project.) Once you determine how the character will show her transformation in the Climax, just go back into the scenes that build to the Climax and show the character as she moves closer or further away from her goal.

#2 is about character, too, but is mostly about the dramatic action.
Which one probably depends on whether you are a character driven writer or dramatic action driven writer (there's a test at http://www.blockbusterplots.com, if you're not sure which you are).

In other words, are you building a scene to show character growth first and the dramatic action second?
Or, are you building an action scene first, and have the character react to the action second?

Either way, if you're writing scenes through cause and effect, your scenes can't be contrived. If each scene grows out of the scene that came before --- "because that happens, what happens next?" -- then the scenes are organic and formed out of causality.

Great good luck on your project.

Winter Solstice tonight -- tomorrow the days begin getting longer........

Lots to be grateful for, including your generous words.....


05 December 2007


Think of the CRISIS, which generally occurs around 3/4 into the entire project, as the ANTAGONIST'S CLIMAX, or where the antagonists prevail.


The CRISIS is the PROTAGONIST'S moment of truth, where afterwards nothing is ever the same.


In the CRISIS, the PROTAGONIST has a breakdown that leads to a break through.

01 December 2007

Plot and Character

Thanksgiving came quickly. Not much advance planning except in brief contemplation when I plotted out vague ideas of food and events. Tradition dictated lunch and Thanksgiving dinner at home. Old family friends to join us for dessert. Next day, leftovers at the beach. Fingers crossed that once again Northern California would offer up one of the best beach days of the year.

Decisions made for who brings what, where and when.... Pre-plotting gives me a feeling of control over that which I know is uncontrollable. As much as I can plot out the events, the dishes, grocery lists, and sleeping arrangement, I know from experience that with the characters involved, disaster loomed.

The End of the Beginning arrives the Monday before Thanksgiving as the first family members trickle in.

Old friends invited say yes. Wednesday spent pre-cooking with Sister One, Mother, and Niece One. The doorbell rings. Niece Two beams at my look of surprise. Niece Three arrives. More sleeping arrangement plotted out. Grocery lists grow longer.

The big day arrives. Antagonists and allies align. Yes, predictably, the fun and surprises led to a Crisis, but this year there was also a personally satisfying Climax at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk on a glorious ride on the Big Dipper, the oldest wooden roller coaster in America.

One of the benefits of working with writers about plot is knowing the Universal Story form inside and out. As weird as it sounds, I live plot. That means I, as the protagonist of my own life, have the power to create Climax after Climax of my own liking.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? The challenge is to stay conscious of my own Character Emotional Development. If I get too caught up in the Dramatic Action of others in the moment, I lose clarity.