Guide #3: Plots and Events
Once again this is my own style, a guide for others, adapt it as you wish.
I'd recommend reading the previous guide Characters: An introduction first as its character concepts are touched on here.
Briefly, that piece talks of using a character based story structure. This is where character growth is the dominant factor in the story.
Even with a character-centric story one needs some arching plot structure. This is to help give the story some direction and focus. As the writer knows where the story is going.
A simple method is to take the characters at the start of the story and determine what the desired state of the characters at the end of the story is. To figure out the start and end points of the characters, the change or delta of the character.
From these two points one can start planning what changes are required. For example, say you want a character to go from idealistic and naïve to more mature and cynical. The writer can start plotting out events and experiences that could result in these developments.
As said in the Characters guide. Character growth comes from events that the character experiences. The plot side is where these events can be determined.
Of course, larger changes between start and end states require much more work. Say you start with a teenage guy and say you want him to become a maternal demoness....
That's a lot of changes. You have gender, species, social role. It goes on. Assuming a fantasy environment, the physical side can be taken care of rather easily and quickly, but that's not the whole story, and frankly it's the least interesting.
If one wants to have it be more effective then significant character development is required. This is where plot events and knowing the character come in.
The writer should know how the character would react to a given situation, what choices he would make. But setting up the situation properly the decisions can be set in a certain direction.
This is an obvious plot element that can be used to great effect.
Example: Commonly a character will be given an option to help fight evil, but at the cost of an embarrassing or repellant costume or form. However, the character feels a duty to protect the innocent, and thus can be roped into the situation.
In some areas, this example has been used so often that it has become quite the cliché.
However, it still remains that one of the few ways to get a character to do something they normally wouldn't is to make the alternatives even worse.
The situation is improved by making these changes more gradual and subtle. To have the reasons for the characters evolution be less blatant and transparent.
Writing is a form of communication and the suspension of disbelief is key. The events the character is experiencing should not be so egregious that the reader is pulled out of the piece.
Implementation, Setting as a "character"
Once again consider the initial feedback of character and environment. Where experiences from the environment effect the character and the character's actions effect the environment.
Assuming some desired goal of character change, and some idea of the necessary experiences to result in that change.
The writer should then figure out why these events would happen. If a character is going to become hardened by battle, then the reason he's in the fight and that these battles exist should be explored.
Why is he there? Why is this specific battle being fought? Why is there a war on?
Much like the need for complete characters, there is a need for complete settings and histories. The writer should know what is happening now in the story's region of interest and what has happened before. This allows the writer to have a good guess as to what will happen.
Every facet of the character's may not come up. There could be parts of the character that did not come up. Similarly, there can be parts of the setting and background that were useful in creating the story but were not relevant to the plot, and did not need to be told to the reader. Controlling how background and setting information is read is important too.
One of the best reasons for events to happen is to have them be character driven. That is that things happen because of initiative on another characters part.
A simple example is when a hero tries to stop a villain from completing his, (admittedly often clichéd) goal. This is a standard plot where the hero's experiences in his quest are a reaction to the actions of his rival.
Justification for his actions and trials are given by the goals and actions of the villain.
More broadly every character would have goals and desires. How the characters interact is where the conflict and plot comes from.
Returning to the feedback model. Each character interacts with the environment, but they are all interacting with the same environment. This gives cross character interaction and can have the plot become the result of multiple characters.
The complexity can increase to whatever the writer desires. More complicated is more difficult for the writer to manage and can more easily confuse the reader. Simpler can appear too fictionalized and not have enough interaction to feel real.
It's up to the writer to determine the level of complexity appropriate for the story he wants to tell. How long does the writer want it to be? How many characters? How many changes? What does the writer want to say? How complicated would that message be?
The writer can start with a cast of characters, both as they are at the start and how they will be at the end, an idea of what the story should be about and say, and a rough plan for how to get from the start to the end.
This rough plan is the tentative outline. At this stage simpler is better. It should cover the desired plan and overview of the story. A couple paragraphs explaining the basic view of what will happen.
Proceeding and the unexpected
There's a reason that I recommended that the outline and ideas be fairly rough. This is because characters should have some unpredictability to them.
If a writer is stetting up their long term plan they're probably not figuring out how each scene will go. And even then the exact dialog can have effects on how the story will go.
The story is dependant on the actions of the cast of characters, so what they do will affect the plot. This is why I recommend a rougher outline.
This allows for flexibility. The writer knows where the characters are planned to go, the character's own goals and knows major events, but the exact details are... murky.
Think of it from the character's perspective. They do not know what will happen and can only guess as to what will happen only a certain distance into the future.
This leads to my style of progressively detailed outlines.
First there's the global outline. This one has the whole length of the story and has the least detail. It would be rather rough and also be the shortest. This would list the most major and important events. This has the start and end states and the character's longest goals.
Second is an arc outline. This is an outline of a series of chapters. I use about six, but it's fairly arbitrary. This describes in more detailed terms what will happen over these few chapters. It corresponds to the intermediate goals of the characters. Things that they plan to do within a month or two or a year.
The arc outline normally consists of only a couple paragraphs for each chapter. It would list the medium to big events and their repercussions. It starts to flesh out what will happen, building on the skeleton that is the global outline.
The critical part for the arc outline is that it ONLY consists of 5 chapters past the current chapter. If you're working on ch3 then the arc outline only covers chapters 3 to 8. After chapter 8 things become too fluid and the global outline is sufficient.
Then when chapter 3 is finished and the writer moves on to chapter 4 the arc outline can be extended to include chapter 9.
Another reason for this rolling approach is chapter length. Some chapters end up containing more or less than expected. This allows events to be shuffled around.
The final outline is the scene outline. This one consists of planed scenes for the current chapter and the next. I find that a sentence for each scene is enough to get who is in the scene and what happens. Of course the writer can adjust to suit their own needs.
I recommend only having a scene outline for about a dozen scenes. This helps give the writer some structure as to what will be happening immediately and just a bit into the future. It helps for more planning.
Depending on how big your chapters are the scene outline could cover only one chapter or it could cover four (and thus be rather close to the arc outline). Like the arc outline as soon as one scene is finished another scene should be written out.
This constant updating (after every scene and after every chapter) allows for the writer to keep a perspective on where the story is going.
The story will probably take an unexpected direction. Superfluous scenes could be found and omitted, entire sub-plots could be retooled under consideration of where the story is going.. A better way to write a sequence of events could occur or a character could do something very different from the plan.
One warning is to maintain continuity, especially if the order of events is changed. Characters should not mention things that have not happened yet.
I find that this method of progressive detailing of the outlines allows for the best adaptability and incorporation of sudden elements. The writer still knows where the story is going, but if something happens things can be changed and the outline can be adjusted.
Some improvements made thanks to Spokavriel's comments.
Last edited by Sunshine Temple
on Wed Aug 15, 2007 2:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.