Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Plotting--Day 4

Happy Tuesday, plottin’ BGs. Before I continue, I’ll deal with two questions from yesterday.

My WIP has two antagonists. One we meet right away and the other we only get glimpses of. He is the real antagonist of the story. When should I fully reveal the second antagonist to the reader? When should the reader realize his motivation?

It depends on how you’re structuring your story. If you’re leading the reader to think person A is the bad guy, when really it’s B, then the revealing of B will be a major twist in the story. You reveal this twist when it has the most punch. But here’s the key: the motivation for B must be evident all along, if the reader will only see it. (Your trick is to place the motivation in front of the reader, but lead the reader not to recognize it for what it is.) Then when B is revealed as the real bad guy, the reader can believe it because the reasons for the motivation were there all along, and now the reader’s eyes have been opened to the truth. I will talk more about plotting twists later. That’s a whole lesson or two in itself. And btw, no matter what genre you’re writing in, all stories need twists (surprises) to some extent. So don’t just leave the twisted talk to us suspense writers.

When plotting a Romantic Suspense (as opposed to the straight Suspense) won't some of the scenes seem to be breathers from all the action to give the romance time to develop?

There is a point after action when the reader needs a breather. And some of these scenes can have to do with the romance. But don’t make the mistake of limiting the romance only to these scenes. In a romantic suspense, the romance is developing in the midst of the action, because of all the things the two characters end up going through together. A touch, a word, in the midst of action can help that romantic spark. Then you’ve got more to play off of in the quieter, more conversation-oriented scenes between the two characters.

Now on to where we left off yesterday: discovering the antagonist.

Of course, my antagonists are big, bad killers. But stories of all genres have antagonists, so you can take the process I go through in discovering my killers and mold it to your needs in discovering your own antagonist.

Because of my work on the three triangle points, by the time I turn to learning more about my bad guy, I know the crime(s) he’s gonna commit. Now I have to figure out the motivation, which has two parts. (1) Why is this bad guy committing this particular crime? (2) What is in this bad guy’s background that turned him into a killer in the first place? I need to discover the motivation for #1 first, because the type of crime involved directly affects the background motivation. I mean, what if the guy killed by accident, now just has to cover it up? That doesn’t demand the same kind of background motivation that it would take to build, say, a serial killer.

Once these two aspects of the motivation start to build, I can turn to the bad guy’s rationalization. One interesting thing about bad guys—they don’t know they’re bad. They always feel justification for what they’re doing. So I look for this point of self-rationalization. Often the rationalization springs directly from the background motivation. For example, my killer in Dead of Night is still reeling from bad stuff in childhood, all brought about by the mother. The rationalization for the serial killings this wacko commits is rooted in the self-justified need to rid the world of “evil” women who, like the mother, “adorn themselves as she did, painting and plucking, sashaying their wares through the streets.”

After motivation/justification comes the flip side of the bad guy. What’s good in him? Interestingly, a point or two of goodness or gentleness can make the guy far more chilling, because these points provide a comparison for the evil. Evil upon evil is like a black pearl necklace upon a black dress. The necklace is going to stand out far more if it’s put on a white dress to give it contrast.

In addition to having the character do something good, you can also give him some aspect that provides a modicum of sympathy for him. This often ties in with the background motivation. For example, with that killer in Dead of Night, there’s no question the killings are horrible, but there is enough in the killer’s background to elicit some sympathy, and some understanding of why this person became so warped.

The fourth aspect of the bad guy is his personality quirks. These quirks shape the narrative voice, and so can really add flavor. For example, my bad guy in Stain of Guilt read crime novels constantly, and related people and situations to characters/events in the books he’d read. His narrative voice came out very terse and choppy. Sort of like the narrative you might hear in a noir detective novel. Quite the opposite, the killer for Dead of Night rants in a more-intelligent-than-thou, holier-than-thou, poetic manner. Made for a very interesting voice. The killer in Violet Dawn, the book I just finished, fancies himself a poisonous snake, and he thrills in his own craftiness in planning his evil deeds. The snake persona and the arrogance of intellect both come through in his voice.

Tomorrow I’m going to sum up what we’ve talked about so far by making a quick outline of the steps. Then we’ll go on to further plotting elements.

Read Part 5


cara putman said...

This is great. I know what my protagonist does, but am still working on the why. Making sure it is believable and rings true to the reader. Thanks for walking through plotting with us. I continue to learn so much from the blog.

Cara Putman

Becky said...

Brandilyn, you said: "a point or two of goodness or gentleness can make the guy far more chilling, because these points provide a comparison for the evil. Evil upon evil is like a black pearl necklace upon a black dress. The necklace is going to stand out far more if it’s put on a white dress to give it contrast." I've heard this advice before, but I don't know if I like it. For one thing, in your illustration, the pearl necklace would stand out as an anomaly--all good but there's this one opposite. I think the same thing happens with characters and that makes me feel conflicted about a bad guy. As a reader, I don't really want to feel conflicted. Some people might, but I don't (of course, I write fantasy, where painting the baddies as very bad is good form, so that tells you something about me).

Philosophically, I tend to think we've been influenced by humanism and have given ourselves over to the idea that good resides in every human. But the truth is, a sin nature resides in every human and the real miracle is that we aren't all little Hitlers. As a result, I think an antagonist can be portrayed as perfectly real but without sympathy. Just my opinion--and to put it in perspective, I haven't sold any books, let alone any best sellers. lol

Gina said...

I knew a lot about my protagonist, but not much about my antagonist. After reading your blog and going through the steps of discovery, I found out some chilling stuff about my two antagonists and their history together. Thanks for helping me dig deeper into my bad guy's head. As I was writing his history, I started feeling sorry for him.

D. Gudger said...

I just caught up on the last four days - plotting - instruction I need! The triangle makes a lot of sense, as does the process of uncovering each key character's motivation and desire.

Here's my question: how did you go about keeping all the details straight in your books when you first started writing? When you have plots, sub-plots and all sorts of character quirks, how do you not forget who did what, when, how, where and why over the course of a several year writing process? I'm finding I'm beginning to mix up some minor characters and get stuck rememberin the plot-line thus far . . .
Wish I had the memory of an elephant!