Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Plotting--Day 9

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.

Comments page now open for business.


Grady Houger said...

Cypheus Shual has woken from his comfortable empty life; he lost his job in a society where unemployment is illegal. With only half a day left, he must find work to escape a jail that destroys all mind and memory.

It's a story to which I've been trying to apply your plotting instruction, I'm excited to work in today's lesson!


Anonymous said...

Jeffrey Gillespie is a pastor. But his father, Richard, is a PREACHER. And when Richard bursts into the service one Sunday morning, spouting off about everything wrong with Jeffrey's church, Jeffrey knows it's time to put a stop to the nonsense.


Lynette Eason said...

Hm. Okay, Cassidy McKnight grew up spoiled and selfish. A new Christian, she's determined to prove she's changed. When she's kidnapped by terrorists, long time love Gabriel Sinclair appears on the scene, and she's not sure who's safer-Gabe or the terrorists!

Anonymous said...

Romantic suspense. Premise: Criminal justice vs moral justice. My protag, Adam, a criminal defense attorney, Desires to become a partner at the firm where he works. Inciting incident: Matt, a wealthy, high-profile guy, suspected of foul play in the disappearance of his wife, wants Adam as his attorney when Matt could've hired one of the big-name partners at the firm. Adam is thrilled. This is his big chance to prove himself at the firm.

Stuart said...

ok the premise...protag & inciting incident... :)

When Rathe of Yanguch wins his final sokojae match and secures his place in a Light Infantry Spur, he also suffers a wound that may keep his new unit from being deployed until it heals.

Unknown said...

Ben Carpenter receives a phone call from a woman he vaguely remembers. She wants him to stop a murder. Ben is succesful but finds his family in danger as an anti-terrorist government agency still wants the fundamentalist preacher he has rescued.

Anonymous said...

Paramedic Jenalyn Rychtar seeks to find her place in the world after the loss of her family. How was she to know that saving Travis Connelly's life would threaten any sense of security and what little faith she had left?

Anonymous said...

Premise: Dani Richards is a new reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, who wants to make her mark and move up to the next market.

Inciting Incident: On a rare night off at the theater, Dani stumbles on a body and the story that could launch her career if her station will only let her investigate the murder.

Val said...

When Diana Russam ends up pregnant at age fourteen, her father tries to force her into an unwanted abortion.

I haven't commented much on this series, but I'm taking avid notes. I think it's really helping to bring some things into focus for me and helping to develop my story. Thanks!

Jason said...

Ooh, fun stuff. Class participation! Lots of good premises here.

Jenna Dawson is a 4th year medical student working toward a successful career as an ER physician. Her life is interrupted when she hears her missionary brother was found dead in Thailand. Now she is driven to find out what happened to Travis, but will the secret he discovered consume her as well?

Illuminating Fiction said...

Rikki Chandler fled his hometown 10 years ago after the death of his girlfriend and a lack of evidence left the case open. He now returns to bury his mother, and within days another girl is found dead, and suspicion is again cast his way.

Pammer said...

Let's see if I can do this right. :0) My protag is Angel Dawson, crisis counselor for The Prince of Peace Community Church. The inciting incident: She finds a threatening note under the windshield of her car from a rapist AND her brother-in-law (who she has never met and barely heard of) comes to take her sisters two children away from her.

Lynette Sowell said...

Neuroscientist Emeri DeSilva's memory research project is threatened when her most promising test subject leaps from the roof of the Institute's Admin building.