Monday, August 22, 2005
Howdy, BGs, on this Monday.
We ended last Friday talking about plotting. We pick up that conversation today. What do I do in plotting a book—when I’m starting with absolutely zero ideas? Here are the steps I go through:
Start plotting the points on the story triangle. On Thursday we talked about starting with the triangle for your story—working on each of the three points and bouncing from one to another as ideas come. For my suspense, that triangle consists of these points: protagonist, antagonist (affectionately termed the bad guy), and crime.
Okay, so I pingpong around, playing with ideas. An idea for one point can lead to an idea for another point. For example, for Violet Dawn, my first idea was part of the crime: a body surfaces in a hot tub, and the person who finds said body can’t tell the police. That lead to me to the protagonist. Who is this person who wouldn’t be able to call the police? What’s happened in her life that would place her in such a situation? When I was able to answer these questions in a basic way, I bounced over to the bad guy. Who is he? Why did he kill this person? Why would he place this body in the protagonist’s hot tub? I had a real problem getting very far in plotting Violet Dawn until I figured out the bad guy. Once I got some ideas about who he was, and why he killed, and some quirks to his personality, then I could start filling in more of the story, bouncing from one point to another.
I don’t go on to step two until I have a fairly good basic knowledge about each of the three points on my triangle. I know what kind of crime will happen and how. I know basics about my protagonist—age, career, family life, etc. I know the motivation for the antagonist—why he’s committing the crime. Now I need to move past basics into details.
Start doing some characterizing for the protagonist. This protagonist was a person with a life before the crime occurred. From my basic knowledge of her lifestyle, I need to discover the personal problem(s) she will face throughout the story. For example, in Dead of Night, forensic artist Annie Kingston had three personal issues going: raising her children alone after her husband left her for his mistress, dealing with her son who is caught up in the drug life, and her love life. Because I’m writing suspense, in which so much of the book is focused on the crime, I need to choose which one of the protagonist’s personal problems will be the main one. This main problem will develop into the major subplot, and the other issues may form smaller subplots.
Once I understand the protagonist’s personal problems, I can now turn to formulating the Desire that’s going to propel her through the entire story. Yup, BGs, there’s that D word again. If you missed the posts about character Desire, go back to July 25 and read forward for five or so days. The Desire for my protagonist needs to be at least two-pronged, with one prong referring to the crime element and one prong referring to the personal element. In Dead of Night, for example, Annie Kingston’s Desire was: to help the sheriff’s department find the serial killer before any more deaths occurred, while extricating her son from the drug scene. Once I understood that Desire with its two specific parts, I could start thinking about conflicts that could arise to keep her from being successful in either prong. Remember, in story, conflict means opposition to desire. So once I firmly established what the protagonist’s Desire was, I was in better shape to think of possible conflicts to throw in the protagonist’s path as she pursued that Desire.
Next—discovering more details about ye ol’ antagonist. (The bad guy’s are always the funnest.) More on that, and further plotting steps, tomorrow.
Read Part 4