Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Plotting Causes & Effects

Edward Elric
Full-Metal Alchemist

-----Original Message-----
Could you tell me more on "... plotting story points? I can get the big story idea well enough, but I run into a snag deciding the whole causality thing -- A leads to B, leads to C, …etc."
-- Jasmine R
Ah, so you wanna know how to put all the theories together to make a story, do you? (Gee, you couldn’t pick the easy stuff could you?) Okay...

A story’s Causes & Effects, the triggers that lead from one event to the next, comes from your Premise.
The Premise is the theoretical / emotional problem that your story is trying to illustrate and answer. It's the glue that holds the whole thing together. It's the Purpose of your story.

In 'The Full Metal Alchemist':
Edward decided to bring his mother back to life – against the laws of Alchemy. He learned the hard way exactly why you Didn’t do that. His entire story revolves around this massive Wrong Decision that looked like the right decision when he decided to do it.

The Premise for the entire series is Right vs. Wrong.
All of the characters throughout this long and convoluted story are involved in dilemmas of right actions verses wrong actions, and then dealing with the consequences of their decisions.

How to Use this:
  • Each pivitol Character should represent a different reflection of the Premise - the Story's theoretical / emotional problem.
  • Each Cause is an event where your characters make a decision in an attempt to Fix their individual theoretical / emotional problem.
  • The Effect is the results - whether or not their action / solution works, works temporarily, or doesn't work at all.
  • Those results lead to the Next Attempt at trying to solve their Problem.
How it works:
In 'The Matrix':

  • Each Character is a different reflection of the Story's theoretical / emotional problem.
Each character is a representation of the story's Premise, Knowledge vs. Ignorance. The meanings behind their Names are the biggest clue as to what facet of Knowledge each character represents.
  • Each Cause is an event where one your characters makes a Decision in an attempt to Fix their individual theoretical / emotional problem.
Neo the main character, is faced with one problem after the other. Each one forces him to make a Decision. "Do I want to Know, or do I want to Ignore it?" < -- the Premise
  • The Effect is whether or not their solution works, works temporarily, or doesn't work at all.
When the entire cast is caught in a trap set by the agents, each character makes a different choice on how to deal with the problem.
  • Neo just follows along. His name means 'New' and he stands for complete ignorance. He has no clue what so ever about what's going on around him.
  • Morpheus's name means 'Dream', and his dream is that he will find 'the One' whom he thinks is Neo. He sacrifices himself so Neo can escape, choosing to follow his Faith in his dream blindly.
  • Trinity, named for the great Triple Goddess, (AKA Mother Nature,) makes her choices based on her emotions. She is emotionally attached to both Neo and Morpheus. Unable to choose between them, she freezes in momentary indecision when Morpheus makes his sacrifice.
  • Those results lead to the Next Attempt at trying to solve their Problem.
To solve the problem of Morpheus's sacrifice, Neo makes a decision based on the Knowledge that the Oracle had given him. He takes responsibility for losing Morpheus and decides to go get him. Trinity also feels responsible for Morpheus's loss, and as second in command of the ship (mother figure to the crew,) she is determined to bring him home. Together, they run to the rescue.

And so the story continued with the next dilemma.

-----Original Message-----
"I know you said you work backwards from your climax, but I don't know how to settle on the climax either. So how do you do it?"

The Climax is where you Apply the RIGHT Answer to the story's Premise, the theoretical / emotional problem.
This works best if you make it the LAST thing anyone wants to do.

In 'The Full-Metal Alchemist':
The last thing Edward wants to do, is leave well enough alone. He is determined to use Alchemy to fix the problem he caused by using Alchemy in the first place.

More on Premise:
The Mysterious and Maddening PREMISE

-----Original Message-----
"What questions do you ask yourself to get yourself moving in the right direction?

To generate a basic Plot, I set up my three main characters...
Adversary –(Antagonist) the one making the most trouble.
Proponent – (Protagonist) the one trying to keep things the way they are.
Ally - Companion to one or the other who is at odds with both.

And I ask each one Three Questions:
1 Who am I, what am I, and what do I do?
2 What do I want?
3 What's the worst possible thing that could happen to me?

The 9 answers to these questions give me the Major turning points for the story. In order for the plot to be water tight, each character must Demonstrate the answers to each of these questions. Leaving any of these out of the story gives you a Plot Hole.

How it works:
In 'The Full Metal Alchemist':
1 Who am I, what am I, and what do I do?
I am Edward Elric and I became the Full Metal Alchemist because I made a major mistake, and now I have to deal with it.

2 What do I want?
I want to restore my brother back to his human body, and get back my missing arm and leg.

3 What's the worst possible thing that could happen to me?
I could find out that the cost to reverse my mistake is measured in human lives.

More on the Three Questions and how to use them:
High Speed Plotting!

More on the Three Characters and how they function together:
When the Hero is NOT a Hero

-----Original Message-----
"I get frozen by the unlimited places I could go to from the start..."

Hell, so do I. LOL! I try to choose the one direction no one expects, the one thing that hasn't been done, or the one action that seems most likely to fail. I like surprising my readers.

-----Original Message-----
"What's the specific place that's the most exciting and most engaging for the reader?"

The Darkest Moment - the story's Reversal.
This is the place where everything falls completely apart and the Main Character crashes and burns. It is the character's moment of total failure that forces them to face the real solution to their emotional / theoretical problem -- and make a decision:

  • Give up & die...
  • Refuse to admit that they were Wrong -- and ignore the solution to their emotional / theoretical problem.
  • Admit they were Wrong -- and act on the solution to their emotional / theoretical problem.
In 'The Matrix':
This story's darkest moment is when Morpheus sacrifices himself to let Neo escape. The rest of Neo's decisions and the story's entire plot, hinges on this one moment.

In 'Constantine':
This story's darkest moment is when the leading heroine decides to reawaken her denied psychic abilities -- instantly making her a target for the story's main villain. If she hadn't awakened her latent talents, she would have been useless to the villain.

In 'Leon the Professional':
The story's darkest moment is when young Mathilda realizes that she can't shoot the villain dead, she just doesn't have it in her to kill -- and then the villain recognizes her as the one that got away.

The Answer to the Premise -- is the story's actual pay-off. This is what the Reader has been waiting for.
Everybody is looking for solutions to their personal issues.
  • "How do I deal with a sucky job, and a boss I seriously loathe?"
  • “How do I know if someone is worthy of of my love?”
  • "How do I handle my family issues?"
  • “How do I deal with the monster in my closet?”
Ever hear the phrase: “People are People”? No matter who they are or where they live, human issues Never change. "People are People." Embrace this phrase, love this phrase, use and abuse this phrase! THIS is the key to fiction people WANT to read.

Sure you could be writing a Horror or a Fantasy, but the people in your horror or fantasy should STILL be dealing with the same issues everybody else deals with:
  • Sucky bosses - How do you think Saruman really felt about working for Sauron?
  • Love interests - Arwen's dad did not approve of her scruffy human boyfriend.
  • Family issues - Eowen of Rohan had to deal with a senile dad PLUS several bossy older brothers.
  • Monsters under the bed - Ringwraths & Orcs. Need I say more?
No matter how fantastic or unusual, people STILL suffer from the same issues.

That's what the Darkest Moment of the story does, it forces the Main Character to realize the answer to their personal problems -- offering a solution to your Readers' problems too.

Caution! Don't leave anybody Out!
All three characters (Proponant, Ally, Villain) should have a Dark Moment that occurs in somewhere in the story. That dark moment is what leads them to a pivitol decision which then rolls straight downhill into the Climax - the big confrontation between ALL the main characters.

The Climax's deciding factor?
The Villain’s INABILITY to Change enough to make the Right Decision is the reason WHY they LOSE.
  • The Hero Crashes, Burns, Learns from his mistakes, and Rises Again.
  • The Villain merely Crashes and Burns. He does NOT learn from his mistakes. He does Not rise again.
And the Ally?
Traditionally, the Ally knew the right answer all along. Because of this, they were often instrumental in triggering the Crash & Burn for both the Hero and the Villain, as the victim of one or the other's bad judgment. (Sometimes the victim of Both.)

In 'The Full Metal Alchemist':
Aphonse Elric knew all along that some things should be left alone, but his devotion to his brother Edward allowed him to join in on his brother's Bad Decision to raise their mother from the dead with a forbidden spell. And so he became a victim of the story's Hero -- his brother Edward.

This of course, triggered Edward's next decision -- to rise from his ashes and become the Full-Metal Alchemist.

Hope that helped Jaz!

Morgan Hawke