Alright, at this point – if you’ve been following along with this plot challenge series – you should have a defined setting, several developed characters, a solid theme, and a plot outline. That means that if you haven’t started writing yet, it’s time to start. So your challenge for the week is very simple – write the &%$* story. We often do a lot of thinking about a story, a lot of groundwork for a story, but when it actually comes time to write – well, we don’t. So, sit down and write! Do it now! Write! Write! Write!
Alright, if you’ve been following this series of Friday posts by now you should have a good setting, some characters, and a theme for your story, and last week you decided whether your story was going to be character or world driven. The first half of building your plot is relatively easy for most people, it involves broad strokes and general changes. However, it is very important. The second half of building your plot is going to be much more difficult, but is equally important and necessary.
Right now you know have a general idea of what your story is going to look like. However, a successful writer once said to me, ‘Unless you know the details, you don’t have a story’. You know that your character Frank is going to get in touch with his inner child, that Bobby is going to become a man, or that there will be a civil war that changes the face of your setting. However, until you know how these thing happen, your story doesn’t exist – and it can’t exist. Many writers figure out the how as they write, and many writers will tell you that this is not a good idea. Generally there are two approaches to detailing your story:
1) Learn as you write – on the surface this is easier, it gets you to the writing faster, and lets you get indulge your desire to put words on page. However, it is plagued by problems. If you don’t know where your story is going then many of you will be plagued by writers block as you try to figure out what happens next. You will have to repeated rewrite scenes to fix things that don’t add up, and you may wind up having to scrap a story that is half or three-quarters of the way done. Some people don’t have these problems, but they are few and far between. I want to emphasize that this is a valid approach to writing, but it involves a lot of backing up and editing.
2) Outline and then write – this is harder in the beginning. To make a solid outline you need to determine how things take place before you actually start to write them. You need to work out the entire story in outline format before you ever open a word document and start your first paragraph, and that is hard. Any writer can tell you that figuring out what comes next is difficult, and often outlining is a frustrating and excruciating process (speaking from experience), but it is effective. When you have an outline and know where your story is going and how it’s going to get there, then it is much easier to actually write the story itself.
So, here is your challenge this week. Choose a method and start working. You have the general details, you should have some idea of where your story is going, now start to work out the details. I suggest you start outlining, but if you can’t wait, or if outlining just doesn’t work for you, then start writing instead.
Ok, so last week we talked about the problem of “cloning” your characters, aka using the same character over and over with only a few superficial details changed. Today, we’re going to continue that theme, but we’ll be talking about plot lines. Formulaic plots are really boring, and avoiding them is a key skill for an aspiring writer to learn.
Many writers, especially those newer to the craft, have a problem with creating new plots for their stories. Aside from characterization, plot creation is one of the most difficult parts of story writing, so of course you’re going to have trouble with it. Everyone does at some point or another. This is especially true of writers who stick to one specific genre. There’s only so much you can do with, say, paranormal romance, and once you’ve written four or five stories in that genre, things become pretty repetitive. I’m not talking about all the clones of other authors’ stories (I’m talking to you, Stephanie Myer wannabes – stop trying to write “the next Twilight series.” Seriously.), that’s a post for another time. I’m talking specifically about copying and pasting your own stories. It’s probably happened to you at some point: you write a story, it’s really good, people like it, your ego gets a massive boost, so you write another one. People don’t like this one as much, and you can’t figure out why. Maybe you write a third story, and your audience is more unhappy with this one than the previous one. Upon re-reading your stories, it becomes readily apparent to you that there’s a very generic sameness about all 3 of them. The first one was great, it was original, your audience liked it. But when you wrote the second story, you tried (maybe subconsciously) to capitalize on the success of the first one. It follows the same basic plot line as the first, even if the characters and situations are completely different. Example:
Book 1: Erak is a devious mage, cast out of his village because people don’t trust him, and he’s been accused of casting dangerous spells
and causing a lot of damage. Erak goes on a journey, and rescues a young female bard, who becomes his travelling companion out of necessity. While taking odd jobs for various people, they discover that the wizard who hired them has his eye on Erak’s village, and is, of course, the one who set him up to take the blame for his spells. The bard almost dies, but Erak sacrifices himself to save her. The village is saved, Erak miraculously doesn’t die, he’s hailed as a hero, etc.
Book 2: Shia is an orphaned thief in one of the larger towns. Falsely accused of stealing from the governor of the town, she flees to avoid arrest. After several adventures, she falls in with a group of gypsies, and ends up saving two of them from a bunch of soldiers. She begins to fall for Vahn, one of the gypsies, who decides to help her clear her name. After interrogating one of the soldiers, they begin uncovering a conspiracy involving the town’s sheriff, and they start trying to fix things. Vahn almost dies while trying to save Shia, but the problem is solved, the corruptness taken care of, and Shia is cleared of blame and starts a new life.
See the problems? New characters, different situations, but the plots are pretty much the same. False accusation, rescue of sidekick and/or romantic foil, discovery of plot, sacrifice by one character to save the other, end problem, happily ever after ending (or something similar). Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, ran into this problem several times. While the majority of his novels are really good and quite interesting, several of his later works are hard to read because they follow the same formula as some of his earlier stories. His novel Doomwyte is my least favorite of his works for that very reason. Even great authors sometimes have trouble with story cloning.
There’s no need to despair, though. The problem is fixable. The best way to start training yourself to avoid it is to branch out. Expand your creativity. Don’t stay in your comfort zone. If you tend to write stories of mostly one genre, then start experimenting with others (if you write paranormal romance, try writing a fantasy story). I’m not saying you can’t use some of your favorite elements in most of your stories (I tend to use ghosts or similar undead characters in most of my stuff), but don’t transfer everything. Try introducing the sidekick earlier in the story or make the romance an unrequited one. If you find your story becoming cliche or formulaic, introduce twists in several different place. If there’s a situation in the story that will introduce a big change one way or another, then choose the action or answer that you wouldn’t usually choose. The plot will take sudden twists and turns after that, and will most likely end up in a different direction from what you would have originally intended. Don’t be afraid to take a chance in the story and tweak the plot. It may surprise you in the end. It’ll take time to overcome the tendency to copy and paste your story lines, but it’s well worth the work. Happy writing!
Alright, I hope you all are primed and ready to come up with some great plots for me to steal…um…examine…hehehehehe. No, really, if you haven’t looked at the rules page yet you should. I’m also going to repeat this intermittently. Anything that you post here is considered up for grabs, if you post a scene, plot, etc on one of these challenges, and then someone else uses it – then you’re out of luck. I will say that I do not plan to use anything that anyone else posts in the comments (or emails), and I hope that you will all respect one another enough to refrain from stealing anyone else’s ideas. However, these posts should not be construed as a safe place to test out burgeoning ideas that you plan to run with later. Someone else might get there first.
On to the plot challenge. This weeks setting is a sylvan forest inhabited by a wide array of fey creatures. This might be a forest somewhere in the British Isles, or it might be in a fantasy world of your own making. There are mundane animals in the forest, along with the fey, and other, less savory, magical creatures.
Hedrick: A young stable hand who is lost in the forest. He knows his name, and that he came from the village of Gerrontown, but he does not know how he got into the forest.
Silicy: A dryad, she is shy and doesn’t often come out of her tree. However, she does seem to have a soft spot for poor, young Hedrick.
Yaygrum: A fey werewolf (can transform from human to wolf form at will) who is in love, possibly obsessed, with Silicy. He tends to be a noble man, but has a savage side.
Cauldie: A hag that inhabits a dark region of the forest. Cauldie is a vicious creature who loves to eat small children, and hates trespassers. The section of the forest that she rules looks more like a bog than a forest.