Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Quick and Dirty StoryCraft


Art by Luis Royo

PLOTTING - for Cheaters.

The easiest way for me to craft a story at top speed is by deciding on the Final Climactic Scene, then plot the rest of the story to make that scene happen. After I sketch the Plot, I decide the Premise - the ISSUE (love, revenge, wisdom, honor, trust…) at the heart of the story. I then map out what traits I need my characters to have in order to MAKE that Plot and Premise happen.

In Short -
1 - What’s my Climactic scene?
2 - What’s Issue am I trying to address?
3 - What kind of Villain would personify my Issue in the Negative?
4 - What kind of Lead would personify my Issue in the Positive?

If I have decided that my final climactic scene is a huge fantasy war with Elves, Goblins, Barbarians, Wizards and other assorted interesting critters, it stands to reason that the Premise should have a battle-theme like, Honor, and the characters should have talents, hidden or otherwise that would allow them to survive such a battle when they get there.
Of course you could go in the opposite direction and pick an issue that has nothing to do with battles. The movie “Equilibrium” had a seriously kick-ass duel at its climactic heart, (among lots of other kick-ass battles all around it,) but the whole movie dealt with the value of Emotion verses Total Control to the point of absence.

WHOSE STORY?

Figuring out the Main Viewpoint Character is easy – it’s your Protagonist.

Whoever defeats the Villain in your Final Climax is your protagonist. The Main Climax (the 'Reversal' in the dead center of the story,) can be anybody's triumph, but the final showdown belongs to the Protagonist.

I usually have my Protagonist fail at the Reversal – and have to be rescued, (usually by someone they don’t like), THEN triumph in the Final Battle.

Why FAIL at the Reversal?
I don’t know about you, but when I fail, I usually get so pissed at my failure, I go out of my way to make damned sure I don’t fail again. Oddly enough, all my Protagonists feel the same way. (grin)

For why I NEVER use the Villain's POV: The Villain's Point of View?

Premise & Character

To insure that my characters are Premise-tied, or illustrations of the story’s chosen Issue - Balance is the key. Making my Protagonist (the Hero or Heroine,) and my Antagonist (the Villain,) opposing personifications of the same issue, and then the Ally, or Opposition character (the Heroine or Hero,) something in between, usually works like a charm.

If the Premise Issue is Honor:
  • My Villain will obviously be Dishonorable with my Hero being Honorable, and my Heroine being mostly Honest.
OR
  • My Villain will be overly Honorable, with my Hero being barely Honorable, and my heroine painfully Honest.
Movies such as The MATRIX, CONSTANTINE and EQUILIBRIUM are perfect illustrations of Premise-tied stories and Characters.

For in in-depth explaination of linking Premise to Character: The Mysterious and Maddening PREMISE


In case of CHARACTER - Break Glass.

Every once in a while I come up with a really, Really, REALLY cool character – but no story. Or worse, end up with a character that’s too cool for the part he’s supposed to play.

If the character is too cool for the story – I yank his ass and file him for use in a different story, then rebuild from scratch.

When I have a really cool character in need of a story - I ask three Questions*:
(*Shamelessly stolen from Paperback Writer's blog)
1 - What are you, and what do you do?
2 - What do you want?
3 - What's the worst possible thing I could do to you?

In Action –
1 - I am a Spy and I steal secrets from my enemies.
2 - I want to destroy my enemy.
3 - Convince me that I’ve been working on the wrong side all along.

1 - I’m a Vampire and a predator.
2 - I want to be left alone.
3 - Make me fall in love with the one person I will destroy with my appetites.

The "worst possible thing" gives me that character's Ordeal, or Darkest Moment. I build the rest of the PLOT from there.
Before you ask...
 -- YES, you should know all three of these answers for EVERY character you craft in every story you write.

For a more in-depth look at building character: Characters Tailor-made For the Plot

Lagging Plot? Put it in Reverse!

The key to making a story really yank the readers' chain, is by making something totally unexpected go terribly wrong right in the middle of the story. Think of it as being the punch-line in the joke.
  • You rescued the Princess only to discover that the Princess wasn’t the target; the sanctuary you brought the Princess to was. – Star Wars
  • You dug into a lot of hidden information to hunt down the world’s biggest secret; only to discover that the entire world was the secret. – The Matrix
  • You discovered the archaeological find of the century; only to discover that the artifact conjures a monster. – The Mummy & Indiana Jones
  • You decided to do the most authentic vampire movie ever, by hiring an actual vampire;  only to realize that the vampire won’t stop draining your filming crew. – Shadow of the Vampire 
 
Wrapping it up.

The conclusion shouldn’t be just a hard Win or Lose situation. Winning should come with a cost, and losing should come with an unexpected bonus.

For some odd and unexplainable reason, a total triumph seems to be just as unsatisfying to the modern day reader as a total: “He dies, she dies, everybody dies…” Bittersweet seems to be the preferred flavor for an ending.

I have no idea WHY the majority seems to prefer a balance of good and bad, but I do have the hate-mail to prove it.
Where do you End it?

End where you began, back at square one. Make it a nice tidy loop. It tells the reader: “The next story is about to begin!”
  • Sam Spade always ends up back in his office, ready to begin his next job.
  • Alice comes back out of her rabbit hole; of course she’s being chased, but hey…!
  • King Arthur sailed off in a tiny ship on the lake where he gained Excalibur, and his career as King began, but he wasn’t dead. He could have come back. (He didn’t come back, but He COULD Have!)
Even the classic Romances that end with a wedding party imply a new beginning.

In Conclusion…
Don’t push yourself to be perfect the first time, or even the third.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, practice, practice.

How do you get into the Publishing Houses?
Practice, practice, practice.

Writing a story isn’t that hard. Writing a story that a Publisher will buy is hard and takes lot of work, in addition to an enormous amount of practice. Let's put it this way, I got into writing erotica because I thought it was easy. I was WRONG. I had 18 short stories published (18 stories worth of practice,) before I got paid for my first novel.

Give yourself time to experiment with your stories and grow as a writer. Expecting too much of yourself too fast, is the quickest way to kill your future as an author before your career has even gotten off the ground.

Morgan Hawke
www.darkerotica.net
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

3 comments:

  1. Morgan,
    This is great! I second Janie's WOW!

    Fantastic work hon! Thank God it all made sense to me...laughing.
    Sam/Michelle
    So I have identity issues.
    *Grin*

    ReplyDelete
  2. I third the Wow, and second the "thank God it made sense" *g*

    As usual, you've made it simple and straightforward. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete