Plotting To Be Scene – Part Ten
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 tenth chapter, he talks about Plotting Systems, and had two exercises, which I decided not to do.
Bell gives examples of writing systems, and offered two exercises to help writers come up with their own system. I must have read those words, but I have no memory. He makes an interesting statement, when he says:
There are more [Pansters] on the literary / character-drive side, and more [Plotters] on the commercial / plot – driven side.
I’m sure you already know that Pansters typically do little or no planning as they write. They just sit down with a blank screen or piece of paper and an idea. Then they write. I do that when I write Micro Fiction, especially for Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers prompts.
Plotters plan out their novels. Some come up with extensive and exhaustive outlines. Some write as many as fifty pages on their novels. I do something like that, and I will describe it below.
I spend more time on Scribophile than any other writing site, maybe than any other site at all. Someone looking to improve their writing ability and get honest feedback could do far worse than that site. And there is an interesting thing about it’s makeup. Probably two-thirds of their members are female. And, two-thirds are probably Pansters. Are all females pansters? Nope. There is at least one who plots…me.
How Do I Do It?
My approach has evolved. As I discover new things, I try them out. If they work, I keep them. If they don’t, I let go. Even from my last WIP to thoughts on what could become my next WIP, I’ve made changes.
First, I need an idea. How do I come up with story ideas? Who knows. I read fiction, mostly fantasy. I watch movies. I go sit in our mall, watch people, and make up little stories about what I’m seeing. Sometimes I hear snatches of conversation in my head. Sooner or later, an idea pops up.
For my maybe-WIP, I decided to come up with my premise or theme before I started. According to Lajos Egri, who wrote plays in the 1940’s, if I can find my premise before I write my story, I will shape my characters and my plot to support it.
I might use this:
Guilt ridden people will fail to make meaning full and healthy connections and die miserable and alone.
For my just completed WIP, I’m pretty sure the theme is this, but I confess to having wandered as I wrote, and I still need to decide if that’s what I want it to do.
Duty is all-consuming, jealous, and won’t tolerate any rivals.
After that, I created a logline. If you aren’t sure what that is, it’s something the movie industry used to help readers as they waded through slush piles. My logline for my possible WIP could be:
When strangers try to protect their suicidal friend, a vulnerable former suicide watch volunteer is compelled to help, only to discover jealous friend’s sabotage threatens her sanity.
And my logline for my completed WIP is:
When her husband is assassinated, the foreign-born Princes protects her son’s title, only to discover her lover’s responsibility, and risks her honor to save her son.
Story Arc and Character Arc
Before I worry about my plot structure, I figure out what my story is. For me, story is everything which did happen, is happening, and will happen. Think of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling as our story. Now, crop it down to some smaller piece, down inside, with story before and after, and on-stage and off-stage events. What is on-stage is my plot. Story and plot become my story arc. Then I structure my plot. I use Blake Snyder’s beats, to create my three act – four-part plot.
Afterward, I create my character arcs. I start with my main character, and never lose sight of my theme. I figure out what she is like before our plot opens, First Image. And I figure out what she is like when our plot ends, Final Image. But…this is not yet her character arc. What happens in between is our arc. I match her changes to my story changes. She tends to be stable in Part One. But, when our First Plot Point occurs, that something which changes everything forever, she begins to change, too, for the worse. As we go further out into Part Two, her negatives start to pile up, hampering her further and further. Finally, we get to Part Three, where her faults cause so many problems, she causes something terrible to happen, maybe creating the All Is Lost condition, and certainly Dark Night Of The Soul. She bottoms. Her only remaining choices are to lay down and die, or change. So, she starts to change. Only then can she begin to solve the calamity which beset her at Plot Point One. When we get to Plot Point Two, and finally have our key to stopping her villain, she is strong enough and changed enough to do it.
Then, I go back and build my villain’s arc, always keeping my theme in mind. But…here’s something I learned. His First Plot Point doesn’t have to be the same as hers! In fact, it’s more interesting if it isn’t. He’s already in a crisis when he meets her. And things he does will create her crisis. And, as he starts solving his own problems, he progressively destroys her carefully built up defenses. His greatest moment of triumph happens with her All Is Lost. For him, it’s All Is Almost Won. Then, as she fights back, his goal slowly slips away from him. And he agonizes and frets over it, marshals all his strength and tries to come back, but doesn’t quite manage it.
After that, I build arcs for my important characters. In my WIP, I had eleven. In my current project, I think I will have only a half-dozen.
Scene List and Outline
Finally, I can go through my story arc and my character arcs. After I’ve woven them together into a tapestry, I pick out what I want to write. I can’t use all that material. In picking scenes, I sort out events which happened before our MC shows up, and events which happen after our final scene. So, I just cropped the Sistine Chapel.
Now, I need to come up with my scene list. Taking my piece of ceiling, I cut it up, deciding what is off stage and what is on stage. My theme helps me decide what I should keep, and what I cut away. Finally, I can fit in Blake Snyder’s seven beats. I can dream up twists and reveals. And I stitch it together into my scene list.
From there, getting to my outline is pretty easy. My story arc and structure tells me why my scene exists. It might be Plot Point Two. Or it might set up Dark Night Of The Soul. But, I know, generally, what it’s supposed to do.
Within each scene, I decide which POV I will write from. When in doubt, I start with my Main Character. I add in as many important characters as I need. Then I pick her antagonist. If she doesn’t have someone to oppose her, my scene will have no conflict, no tension, and no readers. I’ve found that even her closest friends caused irritation and tension. My POV and antagonist each get goals. And I decide an outcome, almost always where my MC is worse off than she was before.
I look at each character’s arc, and include what their inner characters were before this scene, and what they will be like in this scene. And I decide what to emphasize. I make certain I show character changes as my story progresses.
Do I Ever Change Anything?
In my WIP, I found a way to protect my story. I reviewed my outline after completing each part of my story, to make sure I was still on track. And…I wasn’t. But, to keep me moving forward, I didn’t allow myself to change anything I’d already written. What I did do was change my outline going forward. After Part One, I changed about 15% of the remaining story. After Part Two, I changed about 35% of my remaining story. I got down to what I had assumed would be Part Three’s end, and discovered my MC wasn’t ready to assume leadership of her followers, that she needed time to grow and apply what she had learned about herself. So, I added six scenes. When I finished Part Three, I changed about 10% of Part Four. And…after I finished, I wished I’d written a different ending. But I will wait until Revision time to fix that.
What Does This All Mean?
I’m still a work in progress. I wonder what else I will learn as I start my next WIP, when ever that is?