Plotting To Be Scene – Part Five
I am studying how to plot, and the relationship of plots to scenes. I recently completed my first draft of Scepter’s Sacrifice, and know that, once I start revising and editing my story, I will have much work to do. I am using James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure to help me learn to write more professionally. In Bell’s fifth chapter, Middles, he includes five exercises.
You can see my answers to Part Four.
EXERCISE ONE: Define how your Lead will die, either physically or psychologically if she does not achieve her objective. Ask yourself if the objective is truly crucial to the Lead’s well-being. Find a way to make it so important readers will understand why the objective must be achieved.
Deheya’s goal is to save her people. She has invested herself by marrying the leader of the nation determined to exterminate her people. Their child will succeed him, and rule both Peoples. When someone assassinates her husband, she fears her son will also be killed before he can reach his majority.
If she cannot make her son the Duke, everything she has risked will have been for nothing. She will be guilt ridden that she could not save her people, and cut off from eternity with the death of her son.
So, what does this mean for my WIP?
I need to go clearly state that her goal is to help her people survive. And, with each scene, I need to find a way to show that unfolding events bring her people closer to extinction. And, until sometime in Part Four, her people need to be in ever greater danger.
EXERCISE TWO: Deepen your opposition character. Find an answer to the question, “Who do I love this character?” Have you given him justifications for what he does? Is he strong, or stronger than the Lead?
Deheya’s opposition is Christor. Christor is Duke Ren Gar’s brother. They have competed since childhood. And it goes on. Christor’s father had assumed that, when Ren Gar became Duke, Christor would become his strong right arm. But, as is often the case, the “extra” prince isn’t content with his lot.
Ren Gar divorced his wife and married Deheya as part of a treaty to end the most recent Jaeni – Ston War. Christor wants her from first sight. She feel the same attraction. Over time, his attraction to her developed into love. After she rejected him in favor of putting her son on the throne, he never got over it.
Worse for Christor, Duke Ren Gar’s policies tilted toward favoring a union between Jaeni and Ston. He became convinced his brother had betrayed his country, and it would only be a matter of time before Jaeni became a helpless subject state to the more numerous Ston.
Christor is physically stronger than Deheya. He is an experienced General, while her father taught her statecraft. Where Christor can send for up armies loyal to him, Deheya had relied on the Duke to save her son’s position. When someone assassinates the Duke, she must rely on others to help her. But, the Loyalist leaders have their own agenda and see her as only a figure-head. Nor can she turn to her father, leader of the Ston, for help. But, when the Ston plunge into their own Civil War, she has no one she can turn to.
So, what does this mean for my WIP?
I wanted Christor to be redeemed at the end. And I wanted her to forgive him. So I wrote him a someone who made a terrible mistake, leading to the death of his brother, and then being unable to own up to what he did. I wanted him to continue to rationalize that he was doing all this to save Jaeni. And, at the back of his mind, he wonders if he can get Deheya back. I’m not sure I did that well enough, and he might have come off as weak.
To do the heavy lifting evil deeds, I recruited three assistant villains. I must think if I really want to go this route. Maybe one of the assistant villains is the true villain of the piece. If that is so, did I write this correctly?
EXERCISE THREE: Select a scene from your novel that is fraught with conflict or tension. Isolate the part of the scene where the tension is at its peak. It may be a few paragraphs or a few pages. Whatever it is, try to stretch the tension further. Use each of the tools suggested in this chapter to accomplish this.
STRETCH THE TENSION – I tried to stretch the tension. But, first, I had to find it. Here, I have a daughter getting ready to leave her family and People, and return to a foreign capital, with her son. Her marriage to the foreign prince came about as a way to seal a treaty and end a war. Her husband likes her little, and prefers his mistress. How could this not be tense? Somehow, I found a way to make it bland. To fix it, I added some stuff that should have been obvious on the first go-around:
- She is getting ready to leave, after having had a fight with her father about her marriage. It was just the latest of many.
- There is little physical tension in this scene, so it was hard to add much. But I found things for her to do, especially at the start of the scene. I thinned out physical activity later in the scene, which is the wrong thing to do if I am trying to add tension.
- I added more anxiety on her departure, and unhappiness at having fought with her father. I even had one of her goals to be leaving without another fight – which she failed to do.
- I added anxiety about returning to her husband, and her knowledge that, even if she does not return, she cannot stay where she is. Her People are about to break their Summer Camp and, soon, no one she cares about will be left.
RAISE THE STAKES – In reading my scene, I wasn’t very clear about what she and her father have at stake. So I tried to be explicit in what she is risking, not only for this scene, but future scenes.
- In raising the Plot Stakes, her father worries about the future of their People, and whether they can survive. He also restates how important her role is in saving her People, that she is uniquely positioned to succeed or fail.
- In raising the Character Stakes, she agonizes over having to leave her People and her family to live among soulless foreigners. She fears that her husband, who divorced his first wife to marry her, might decide to do it again if he see advantage to it.
- In raising the Societal Stakes, she vocalizes her fears that many of her People see her as having sold her body and soul to Ren Gar, making her no better than a whore – something Native Americans abhorred.
So, what does this mean for my WIP?
When I get around to revising and editing, I will need to re-examine every scene I’ve written with this exercise in mind. But, before I do it, I will need to clearly define my game-plan. I may resort to note cards, or some other very visible representation outside the computer, with just the tension and stakes listed. I’ve read that readers will burn out if they face constantly escalating stakes. Sometimes, the reader deserves a lull, before pressing on. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of increasing the tension, giving a momentary lull, and then zinging the readers.
EXERCISE FOUR: What are the stakes in the novel? Look at each aspect – plot, characters, and society. Consider how you can raise each one to its maximum level in the course of the novel.
PLOT STAKES – Deheya is trying to put her son on the throne after her husband’s assassination. Christor intends to save his country by expunging Native American influence and bias.
CHARACTER STAKES – Each of my significant characters has something they want.
- Deheya tries to balance her duty against romantic love. She also must reexamine her role as a mother. She is clear on her duty throughout the story. I don’t know that I hit romantic love strongly enough, which is ironic because that’s where I started this story. Maybe I’ve just taken it for granted. We start out with the very first scene hitting that directly. Then it kind of disappears until later in the story. I need to go back and find ways to strengthen it. And, by design, her strengthening resolve to be Regar’s mother instead of delegating that task emerges in Part Three and continues to the end of the story.
- Christor wants to turn the clock back to moments before they broke apart so he can find happiness. I hit this very hard in the first scene, and then it kind of goes away, until it suddenly appears late in the story again. I want to push it back into the front of his mind, and I want it to color every decision he makes. I want him questioning whether he is doing things because of his love for his country, or because he wants her back.
- Each of the remaining eleven important characters have goals they are working toward. Some of them will achieve them. Some will not. I will go back and look at their arcs, and make sure I continue to hit their hopes and fears.
SOCIETAL STAKES – Can a European colony and a Native American People learn to live together, to become one, and face a common enemy which, in time, will destroy both of them? I bring this up from time to time, but most of the characters seem to pay little attention to this. So I need to get my important characters more aware of this. This has been the reason for the treaty and the marriage. And people should be in support, denial or opposing it. It should keep coming up in people’s thoughts.
What does this mean for my WIP?
As part of my Revision and Editing process, I will revisit each of my character arcs, and the story arc. I need to chart out what the ebb and flow looks like, and make sure it gets into the story.
Click here to read about Part Six.