Here’s a response to a comment from yesterday:
The triangle method is interesting, and I'll have to try it out sometime. Though my books tend to have more than one antagonist and they aren't always exemplified in a single person. :) (Though two do have specific characters rise to the front from time to time).
Yeah, I agree that the triangle isn’t going to work for every book. Some stories may take a square, or a hexagon, or whatever. But the triangle is basic, and from there y’all can build on it as you need. If you have two antagonists (which I have also had), fill in the basic information for both of them. Two protagonists (or a larger ensemble cast)—ditto.
Okay, today we turn to the other three Ds. You can start with whichever one you want as ideas come. I tend to work backwards. I start with the Devastation, because that will be the worst part of the book (for the protagonist, that is.) It’s the biggest conflict, and often the Devastation is also a major twist in my story. So if I figure out this major point, I know what I’m writing toward. Sometimes I have to think, “Hm. If I want that to happen—how can I make it work?” Certain characterization, motivation, events, etc. will have to be worked into the story in order to make the Devastation believable.
After the Devastation, I typically turn to the Denial. This will be a low point for the character, but it will also be leading toward the even lower point of the Devastation. Once I begin to understand the Denial, I go to the Distancing, which is the bulk of the story. Distancing comprises all the smaller step-by-step, always-ratcheting-higher conflicts that arise as obstacles in the protagonist’s path toward fulfilling her Desire. Distancing, therefore, provides plenty of room for the SOTPers to come up with new ideas as they write. And, in fact, there’s room between the Denial and the Devastation, and after the Devastation, too.
An extra plug for the Devastation: Include one whenever possible. Some stories, such as novellas, may not have time (that is, word count) for a Devastation. And some genres, like a sweet romance, may not best lend themselves to a Devastation. (Then again, "Devastation" is relative. For lighter genres, it doesn't have to be a hit-the-reader-over-the-head kind of event, as it would be for suspense.) Here's the thing about the Devastation--it makes the whole story more interesting, not just the end. If you look at the typical three-act structure, you'd place the crisis of the story at the end of Act II. Without a Devastation, that means you'd be placing the Denial at this point of crisis (end of Act II). Which means all of Act II will be comprised of your series of Distancing conflicts. But if you include a Devastation--that extra "gotcha" turning point--it becomes the climax. Which means you can push the Denial further to the left--somewhere between the middle of Act II and the crisis point at the end of the act. This gives you another strong turning point for conflict in that oh-so-easy-to-sag Act II. So many writers moan about the sagging middle and how to give it more punch. (Serendipity--I just discovered another mixed metaphor!) These folks' mistake is to focus on the Distancing conflicts themselves in that Act, trying to draw them out or somehow make them more interesting. Better to focus on adding the Devastation at the end of the act.
All right. Enough said about the Four Ds. In Getting Into Character, I give examples of the Four Ds using The Firm, by John Grisham. I’m not going to do that here because so many of you BGs already have GIC. And I sure don’t want to give an example from any of my books, because that would entail giving away the story. I think you all get the idea of what these Ds stand for. If not, you can always leave a question. It’s helpful when you read a novel, or watch a movie, to figure out what the Four Ds are. What was the protagonist’s Desire? What series of conflicts fought against that Desire? What was the Denial point? What was the Devastation? How did the protagonist fight back from the Devastation to reach the end of her path? What was that Answering End—one in which she fulfilled her Desire? Or part of it? Or none of it?
I have made the comment before that I never write a scene that I end up throwing out. I consider that a real waste of time. That’s because I follow this basic format for figuring out the main points of my book (all founded upon that all-important Desire)—and then write each scene as an important building block toward the next D. If I’m at the beginning of the book, I'm writing the Distancing conflicts toward the Denial. After that I’m writing toward the Devastation. Then I’m writing toward the Answering End.
There’s one more major thing to talk about regarding how I plot--how I come up with twists. One note about twists--if you're writing suspense/mystery, you'd really better have at least one. But in any genre, twists can add so much to the story. Twists are basically surprises. And if a reader ain't surprised, that means your story is totally predictable. There's another word for that--boring.
I’ve developed a process for thinking up twists that really works. It’s actually very simple once you see it laid out, but you have to approach the subject in a way that will most likely be new thinking for you. I will outline the Twist Process tomorrow. That is, as long as some of you step up to the plate with the following assignment: Tell me the premise of your wip. Hear me when I say premise. That means who the protagonist is, and the inciting incident. I don't want to know what happens after that. This shouldn’t take but a short paragraph. Doesn’t matter what genre you’re in—anyone can play.
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