Plot Challenge of the Week

ending_beginningSometimes life is exhausting. You never know what the next day is going to bring, and it seems like work never seems to end. However, while this is life sometimes, and it is draining, it doesn’t last forever. You have to take time off and spend some time on yourself just doing things that you enjoy. It also helps to know that life changes. That is the one thing you can count on, and when you’re in the middle of a really rough period it can be good to be able to count on that. Whatever it is, it is going to end eventually. Anyway, I have an exercise for you. This is something new. At this point, if you’ve been following the blog, you probably have quite a few settings worked up from our Friday challenges. However, I’m wondering if you’re using those settings at all (if you don’t, then look back through the archive at the plot challenges and you’ll find plenty of inspiration for settings). So, today I want you to sit down and write out your basic metanarrative. I don’t want you to building any settings or develop any characters, instead use what you already have and come up with an overarching storyline for a 1, 3, or 5 story series. Plan on these stories being between 10,000 and 35,000 words long and try to have a good flow. I want you to consider and decide on the following points:

1) What locations (i.e. cities, ruins, forests, temples, etc) is your story going to center around? What are the major powers (i.e. national or religious) forces involved and how to they currently relate to one another? How are their relations going to have changed by the end of the story?

2) What characters are involved? Who is your main protagonist? You supporting protagonists? Your main antagonist? Your supporting antagonists? How is each major character going to be different by the end of the story? Is anyone going to be dead? If so, who?

3) What is the introduction, the climax, and the epilogue of each story? What are the three pivotal events that the metastory itself focuses around? What are the major events that come in between them? Try to have a clear but general outline of your plot. Consider what has to happen in the story, and then consider what should happen in the story. Then you can start working out how to get from one to the next.

4) What are going to be your major trouble areas? What events or plot points do you just not know enough about, or are you simply bad at writing? Can you work around these trouble points? If not, is there something you can do to get better at handling them?

Starting in the middle: worldbuilding and fluid storycrafting

I know I promised last week that I’d review some flintlock fantasy books, but sadly they have not yet arrived. I’m looking forward to reading them, and to finding out how much they resemble my own writing, or differ from it.

I’ve recently made an interesting creative decision with regards to my own writing. As some of you may remember, I’ve been writing the first draft for an epic fantasy novel. I started in April and I’m now the proud author of a jumbled 23,000 word mess of fragmented extracts from all over the story. I’m alternately pleased with it and disgusted by it, which is normal, but I’ve had the lingering feeling for a while now that there was a certain something lacking from it. A few days ago, while I was sitting at my desk, trying to scoop the sad remnants of a kamikaze biscuit out of my tea, and pondering what to do next with the story, I figured out what the problem was. I needed to do some more planning.

PlanningIsNotOptional
Apparently planning isn’t optional. I don’t know, this sign says so.

This surprised me, because I used to be the kind of writer who did far too much planning, spending all of my time worldbuilding and plotting but rarely doing any actual writing. I know a lot about the universe I’ve created, its history and its social structures, and a lot of the worldbuilding that I did is still invaluable to what I’m writing. Other parts weren’t – I created characters, subplots, even entire nations which seemed unnecessary when I found myself struggling to insert them into the story. Plot and worldbuilding should always furnish your story, not the other way around. About a year ago I realized that excessive planning was holding me back, and I began to view planning as a trap, something I should avoid like the plague.

I know that there are many authors who do very little planning for their books. They simply launch into the story like an erudite penguin sliding off the iceberg of comfortable certainties into the cold sea of creative possibility, seeking out juicy narrative fish with only their raw gumption to guide them on their way. From what I’ve heard, I believe Neil Gaiman is one such writer. It seems to work out well enough for him, so I thought I should try it. I held my nose and plunged into the water.

Diving straight into it like a true penguin
Diving right into it like a proper penguin

It turns out, perhaps predictably, that the Intrepid Penguin approach isn’t the best method when you’re trying to write a ten-book fantasy series with a plot that contains a lot of complicated colonial geopolitics. For five months I’ve been typing away without any preconceptions, letting the story develop on its own terms, and trying to let it unfurl as I wrote it. I did find a few metaphorical fish that way, and it did allow me to make more progress with a first draft that I’ve ever made before, but I was slightly troubled by the vast depths of the uncharted ocean that I’d jumped into. The scenes that I was writing felt devoid of context. Each one was an island of detailed narrative in a ghostly world which seemed featureless and uninhabited, shrouded in mists of uncertainty, entire continents changing place around it on a whim. My protagonists (though I use that term loosely) had journeyed across the sea to the realm where most of the series will be taking place, only to find it barren. What next?

Whatever it was, it felt too nebulous for me to get a grasp of it. I knew that they had to go somewhere, so I accepted, glumly, that I needed to apply myself to a task that I’d been avoiding for months: drawing a map. Until then I’d viewed a fully drawn-out map as a hindrance. Why set down in stone the exact placement of certain key plot locations, long before I knew how the story was going to unfold? What if it became a narrative imperative for two provinces to be near each other, after I’d drawn them at opposite ends of the map? How could I draw a map before I knew what was going to happen later in the series?

Bring me my crayons!
Paige boy! Bring me my crayons!

As soon as I’d asked myself that last question, I knew what needed to be done. I needed to apply myself to yet another task that I’d been putting off for even longer: plotting out all of the later books in the series, and doing it in fine detail. It was a vast undertaking. I felt very daunted, but knew it needed to be done. I set myself to it and began with the third book in the series, which was already a little more developed than the others.

I was amazed to find that, in the year since I did all of my original worldbuilding and storycrafting, the plot of the third book had been coalescing somewhere in my subconscious, bubbling along nicely like a stew left to boil, getting more tender with time. When I set my mind to it, the plot became clear. It fell into place almost instantly, and before I knew it I’d written over a thousand words of detailed plot notes. Enough perhaps for a quarter of the book, or more. The demands of the new story made it easy to know where one or two locations needed to be on the map, and I eagerly filled them in.

Looking at my new plot notes, I felt excited about the prospect of eventually writing this third book. It seemed a shame that it would have to wait until after the first and second books, especially as I hadn’t yet figured out what their stories were going to be. After thinking this for a moment, a new thought occurred to me – why not just write the third book now?

So that is precisely what I’m doing: setting the first book aside, and writing the third book first. Over the last few days I’ve already written several thousand words, mostly by stealing a few hours now and then to write clandestinely at my desk when I should be writing about radiators. Thanks to my planning, I can see the story stretching out in front of me, scene-by-scene, inviting me to write it down. It isn’t a feeling I’ve felt for a while, and I’m going to make the most of while it lasts.

Plot Challenge of the Week

1136853Well, it’s finally here. I’m getting married tomorrow :D. I might be just a little bit excited about that… really, not much… barely at all… Okay, so… I might possibly be much, much more excited than that. We have what is quickly turning into a very nice apartment, and all in all, life is going to be pretty awesome. However, for you all I have a plot challenge. Here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

Plot Challenge of the Week

Beginning-Middle-EndSo, did anyone else notice the the Supreme Court decision on the Obergefell vs. Hodges case cited Confucius? I know that this has caused quite the hubbub in China, and among scholars of Chinese philosophy, and relatively little of what I’ve read has been positive. There are some who have defended the citation, but the vast majority have pointed out that when Confucius lauded the family as a foundational institution of the state, a child-bearing family was assumed, and the creation of children to strengthen the community was one of the primary duties of the family under the Confucian model. Further, the cheap shots taken by justice Scalia at justice Kennedy’s use of the quote from Confucius were simply insulting. As others have pointed out, it is one thing to disagree, and to present a well-thought out argument, it is entirely another to simply dismiss something as meaningless or worthless. Thus, whether you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision or not (personally, I am not supportive of their handling of their decision on the case), I have to say that the first major use of Chinese thought in an American political setting (at least that I know of) was not well handled by either side. Anyway, I have an exercise for you. This is something new. At this point, if you’ve been following the blog, you probably have quite a few settings worked up from our Friday challenges. However, I’m wondering if you’re using those settings at all (if you don’t, then look back through the archive at the plot challenges and you’ll find plenty of inspiration for settings). So, today I want you to sit down and write out your basic metanarrative. I don’t want you to building any settings or develop any characters, instead use what you already have and come up with an overarching storyline for a 1, 3, or 5 story series. Plan on these stories being between 10,000 and 35,000 words long and try to have a good flow. I want you to consider and decide on the following points:

 

1) What locations (i.e. cities, ruins, forests, temples, etc) is your story going to center around? What are the major powers (i.e. national or religious) forces involved and how to they currently relate to one another? How are their relations going to have changed by the end of the story?

2) What characters are involved? Who is your main protagonist? You supporting protagonists? Your main antagonist? Your supporting antagonists? How is each major character going to be different by the end of the story? Is anyone going to be dead? If so, who?

3) What is the introduction, the climax, and the epilogue of each story? What are the three pivotal events that the metastory itself focuses around? What are the major events that come in between them? Try to have a clear but general outline of your plot. Consider what has to happen in the story, and then consider what should happen in the story. Then you can start working out how to get from one to the next.

4) What are going to be your major trouble areas? What events or plot points do you just not know enough about, or are you simply bad at writing? Can you work around these trouble points? If not, is there something you can do to get better at handling them?

Plot Challenge of the Week

(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

Welcome to the end of the week, everyone! I hope that you’re enjoying yourselves and that you’re all playing and working hard. I just started Leon Gautier’s Chivalry and Walter Rauschenbusch’s A Theology for the Social Gospel. I have to admit that these are not my favorite books in my reading thus far. So, honestly, after these I’ll be reading Fletcher’s Situational Ethics and a book by Philip Ivanhoe on Mengzi (I can’t remember what it’s called). I’m looking forward to those, honestly. Anyway, we’re still working on fleshing out your world, so today’s plot challenge is a pretty basic one. I’m going to give you a very general idea for a setting, and then a few basic character archetypes to work off of. Feel free to alter things as you see fit.

Your Setting: A Fantasy World. You should already have a basic map of your world drawn up. Now I want you to focus on a particular nation. Identify and name landscape features (i.e. specific mountains, rivers, lakes, bays, forests, etc) and national borders. You might want to look at actual maps before drawing your own. Remember that the world is shaped the way it is for a reason. You can’t have a forest in the middle of a desert, rivers flowing away from the ocean, or mountains that shape into a perfect square. You should also name the major cities/counties/states/etc of this nation. It might be a group of loosely aligned city-states, a feudal land, or a democratic nation made up of voting states. Identify the key-working parts in the social, cultural, political, religious, and academic geography. Is there one city that is well known for its universities? Another that is a center of culture and political power? This is the time to figure these things out. You should also decide who lives in your nation. Demographics are helpful here. Different races, ethinicities, etc may exist in different proportions. List them out. If you want to get really involved, list out the demographics for each specific city.

Your Archetypes:

A Child Prodigy: This could be a noble child who has been well-cared for and whose abilities have been suitably encouraged, or this could be an orphan child who’s used his skills to set up a criminal empire. This could be something completely different also.

A Court Wizard: This could be a conniving sorcerer like Jafar from Aladdin, a jester who dabbles in magic, a powerful alchemist who is loyal to the king, etc. You know you’re world so I’m sure you can find a place for him.

A Religious Leader: Perhaps this is a cardinal or bishop in some state sanctioned church, or a fearsome warrior monk who leads the nations armies on the battle fields. He could be a true believer, or someone who uses the trappings of religion to gain power for himself.

A Noble Romantic: This could be a wandering poet like Lord Byron or noble lady pining for a knight to come and rescue her.

A Bloodthirsty Maniac: This could be a serial killer like Jack the Ripper, a warlord like Attila the Hun, or a wicked knight like Raoul de Cambri.

 

Plot Challenge of the Week

The-Tales-of-Bauchelain-and-Korbal-Broach-Vol-1-Erikson-Steven-9780593063941So, for any students out there who think that summarizing and critiquing 20 page journal articles in a couple of pages is just dreadfully impossible, my first assignment is to summarize and critically analyze 518 pages of reading across two different authors in 3-5 pages. Just thought I’d share the experience with you :). Anyway, I’ve been doing a ton of reading, and I have a ton left to do, so I’m not going to be long here. Anyway, it’s time for your plot challenge. So, here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

                                 **************************************************************

For those of you who missed yesterday’s post, Neal is official leaving the blog. So, first I want to say a hearty goodbye and thanks for all the fish to Neal. If you know what I mean, then you know what I mean. Neal’s been writing on this blog for a while now, and he’s going to be missed.

I believe that, as individuals, as friends, and as writers, each person who has contributed to this blog is irreplacable, and each is special to me in some way. That being said, having lost both Abbie and Neal to the vagaries of school and life, I find myself in need of writers to fill those positions. So, I am looking for two good writers who are capable of being, and wish to be, regular contributors to the blog. One would be posting on Thursdays only and would be alternating with me, and the other would be a floating author posting less regularly on Thursdays, Tuesdays, and possibly Sundays. I’m also looking for a philosophically minded individual to help me with the Saturday Challenges. If you are interested in any of these duties, please email me at tmastgrave@gmail.com with a brief introduction, bio, and writing sample. If you have any previous blogging experience that would also be good to mention 🙂.

Plot Challenge of the Week

BurnnoticecastWell, it’s that time of the week again. You know what I mean. Time to make a kelp smoothie and go run a marathon… c’mon, you know you want to. It’s good exercise, marathon running that is. No? Final answer? Well, ok. I guess I could give you a plot challenge to write instead, so with no further ado… or discussion of painful athletic events: I hope you all enjoy yourselves thoroughly! Here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

Plot Challenge of the Week

Maybe Wendy decides not to follow Peter...
Maybe Wendy decides not to follow Peter…

Well, as your week ends, I trust that you can look back on it and say that it’s been both enjoyable and productive. If not, then what have you been doing with your time? Really, as Solomon says, the greatest calling of man is to serve God and enjoy life. So, isn’t that what we should take the time to do with each and every day? Admittedly, I’m not always good at it either, but I’d like to be! Anyway, it’s time for a plot challenge, so with no further ado: I hope you all enjoy yourselves thoroughly! So here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

Plot Challenge of the Week

Olson-Cabin-PY-010So, I spent all day today writing. It was wonderful. I’m almost finished with the first chapter of a new story, and I have to admit that, so far, I think it’s pretty good. Of course, all of this is as of… oh… a month ago when I actually wrote this post, so hopefully I’m somewhat farther along now. I know that, way back when, I promised pictures of my new models, but somewhere along the way, I damaged my camera, and now it won’t work. So, maybe at some point in the future… hopefully…  Anyway, today’s plot challenge is a basic one. I’m going to give you a setting and a few characters, and you’re going to give me story plots that use them.

Your Setting: A small cottage somewhere in the mountains. This could be fantasy, science fiction, or modern.

Your Characters:

Phil: The owner of the cottage. Phil is something of a hermit. He has no sir name, at least not one that anyone’s aware of, and claims to be a refugee from a long lost civilization on a dead world. Of course,  most people think Phil is insane… they still take his money though.

Cherise Sandavalle: Cherise is not a woman that you would normally find in the mountains. In fact the only reason that she’s in the mountains at all is her fiance/betrothed, Humphrey, who is an avid hunter and wilderness man. At the moment, Cherise is not a happy camper… heh… I made a pun :).

Humphrey Lord Norrel: Humphrey is the future lord of Norrel, but has yet to start taking his duties seriously. He’s an intelligent, capable young man who many people think with be a good lord, once his father dies. However, Humphrey is determined to enjoy life to its fullest until the moment that he must take up his father’s mantle.

Mill Van Dersnap: Mill is a trapper and forester. He’s familiar with the mountains in this area, and has been employed by Humphrey as a guide and huntmaster. Mill is also familiar with Phil’s questionable reputation.

Samik: Samik is a squirrel. Phil insists that Samik is actually a powerful chaotic wizard in disguise, but he looks and acts just like a squirrel… except for the odd way he seems to evesdrop on everyone’s conversations…

Plot Challenge of the Week

leembouw6Sometimes life is just weird and you don’t really know what to make of it. It’s never quite what you expect, and even when it is, it isn’t really what you thought it would be. This has been true of my life anyway. I’ve just finished reading a post about what surprises foreigners most when they first move to America, and I have to admit that it was, overall, quite encouraging. The post was really just lists of the 17 most surprising things from various immigrants, and it reminded me why so many people actually do want to immigrate to the US. There were a few points on each list that were profoundly negative (wastefulness came up quite often, as did the poor quality of public schooling), but generally the lists were overwhelmingly positive. It was definitely an interesting read. Anyway, it’s that time again! Today’s challenge is a basic plot challenge. I give you a setting and some characters and you give me plots and stories.

Your Setting: A small village in a fantasy world. Think old… very old… think Assyria, Babylon, Sumeria old. That’s the kind of setting that you’re looking at. If the smelting of iron ore has been discovered it’s fairly recent. Your village probably has a copper or bronze smith instead of a black smith, if it has a smith at all.

Your characters:

Shishegan: The village headman. Shishegan was once very, very strong, but now he is old and much of his strength has disappeared. Shishegan is still a tough old man though. You don’t live to be 60 without being tough.

Paslumenti: The son of the village’s strongest shaman. Paslumenti is only ten years old, and he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but the spirits won’t speak to him. So far only he and his father know this.

Lutri: Lutri is a witch. She is the wife of one of the village shamans, but neither her nor her husband are particularly well-loved by the spirits, and so neither of them has much power or respect in the village.

Shragurin: The chief of the village’s hunters. Shragurin is everything that Shishegan used to be. He is fast and strong. He can run for days. He is a good shot with a blowgun and a great fighter and tracker. Many of Shragurin’s hunters have pushed him to challenge Shishegan for headship of the village, but Shragurin’s respect for the headman is too great.

Mor: Mor is a spirit, not a member of the village. Mor is the village’s patron spirit and is bound to watch over the other spirits that live in and around the village. However, in general Mor is bored and doesn’t much like his job. If he wasn’t bound to the village he would probably just leave.