Plotting To Be Scene – Part Eight
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 eighth chapter, Complex Plots, he includes three exercises.
EXERCISE ONE – Make three columns: details, main characters, settings. Look for connection points between the columns. In some order, connect details with characters or places. Pick your strongest connections, and see if you can weave them into your plot as motifs(distinctive feature or dominant idea) or symbols.
When I read this exercise, I realized I hadn’t done well when writing my WIP. So, I set it aside and didn’t come back to it for several days. When I did, I had either grown enough courage to answer it, or I understood it better. I won’t insert my table here. Instead, I will explain my revelations.
Every element was there for me to answer Bell’s questions, but I had been too timid. So, there was no way they were going to make it into my story. I really didn’t know what my story meant, when I wrote it. And I missed some pretty obvious stuff.
My settings could become powerful players in my story. And, with some effort, my characters could use, own, or do things which symbolize their own lives. But, to make them work, I need to write them into my story with enough detail to make them stick, positively, in my reader’s mind.
Jaeni’s European Capital is alien to its continent, and represents Europe’s intent to remake North America. I could pick, as symbolic of this, how quickly trees grow, and how, annually, they mount drives to cut down unwanted trees in villages, roads and fields. Some of my characters would most strongly relate to their Capital (Christor, Alessandran, Sharshin, Shen Rekmon)
The Great Forest symbolizes what everything was like before Europeans came. Using only what they need, leaving as much as possible untouched, and thanking Mother Earth for what She gives is part of original Native American culture. So, why not bring that forward, and use several Native American ceremonies in my story to symbolize Ston reverence for forests they live in. Some of my characters would most strongly relate to this (Deheya and Hiiloo).
The Great River divides Ston from Jaeni. It also stands for what separates them from each other also joins them. Some see it as protection from their opponents. Others see it as means to reach out to each other. Ferries at River Bridge could represent both opportunity and threat. (Colonel Grimn, Captain Eward)
River Bridge could be more than just quarters for one of Jaeni’s cavalry regiments. It cold also be symbolic of Ston and Jaeni living together, benefiting from each other, learning from each other, building something new. River Bridge’s symbol could be its clock tower, symbolizing time passing and cooperation growing, but also providing warnings that nothing lasts forever. Some of my characters would most strongly relate to this place (Pia Isa, Corston, Ren Gar)
The Bon Valley, trigger for two wars between Ston and Jaeni, symbolizes conflict and complicated relations between two proud peoples. Jaeni sees opportunity for farming and logging, and all they need do is drive away wild herds to use their land. Ston mourn their loss to the valley, and fear what will happen if their herds leave, and Jaeni farmers rape and pillage the land, leaving it to erode once they have farmed it out. (Kuha Kaun, Colonel La Van).
And, one of my Main Character’s struggles would be to move her heart and soul from her Great Forest to River Bridge. And, as she fights for her life at River Bridge, she comes to fight for both peoples, and transforms herself from Ston Princess and Witch, to Mother of her son, future leader of both peoples. Both Ston and Jaeni will change forever.
EXERCISE TWO – Determine take-home value for your novel, and put it into one line. What is the lesson or insight you want your readers to glean?
When I set out to write my story, I came up with a logline, a 27 word description of my story, and what it’s about.
When someone assassinates her husband, the foreign-born Princes protects her son’s title, only to discover her lover’s responsibility, and risks her honor to save her son.
But, what does all this mean? And we discover that in our take-home value:
Duty is all-consuming, tolerating no competition, forcing people into terrible choices, such as when my Main Character chose between saving her people vs romantic love, or saving her child vs saving her people.
Once readers have read my story, will they know my answer? No. But, they will have seen what my Major Character went through in answering it when she finally confronted her own prejudices and goals. And they will know what it cost her.
EXERCISE THREE – Music is great for brainstorming images for your novel. Relax and do some deep breathing. Put on music that moves you — perhaps soundtracks, classical music, or jazz. Don’t play anything with lyrics, and let music wash over you.
Happily, I hit on this idea long ago. When I write, I turn off my TV, and turn on Pandora, selecting one of my stations which almost never has lyrics. I like Scott D. Davis’ Rockfluence. I also like John Williams’ soundtracks. And, then I write.
So, what does this mean?
I loved this exercise. As I dipped down into my story, I slowly forgot many points I wanted to make, even when I had notes to fold them in.
I kept track of my theme, Native Americans and Europeans collide, most of the time. But, I think I lost track of how she feels about them. She is just as prejudiced as Europeans she must live with, but I ignored that for long stretches. And that isn’t fair to her time period, where racism and chauvinism were normal, and tolerance and forgiveness were words for church services, but not for daily lives.
I completely lost track of other important themes I wanted to explore. I discussed duty above. But I don’t think I was as clear about burdens women shouldered, or how crippling racism was for Europeans and Ston alike. All these things need to simmer, and burst forth from time to time.
I had never considered how powerful settings could be. And, until I looked at my settings, I hadn’t consciously worked in what they could stand for, and how to manipulate them. I hope I don’t forget that lesson when I restart my writing.
I have even more in my rewrite jar than I imagined.