View Full Version : Lesson 7: Story Plotting Basics

March 23rd, 2009, 01:25 PM
Plotting your story framework- or why you hire an architect to design your home before itís built

No matter how much you enjoy being a player, eventually youíll want to be in charge so you can wreak havoc on those DMís whoíve killed your character, destroyed your party, and forced you to start over again with new characters. Becoming a DM means one thing- creating a story for the player characters to play in. Yet, how do you make sure that youíve covered any contingency those devious-minded players can come up with?

What can you do to make sure that the module follows a simple, solid, yet flexible storyline that allows freedom of creativity while still leaving you in control as the Dungeon Master? Thatís where frame-working the story comes into play. Itís not deeply detailed as an outline, yet it still covers the major objectives, conflicts, and rewards to make it fun. How does this translate into writing a story though?

This is where my method of frame-working really comes into its own. Using your blurbs as the blueprints, weíll create a simple plotline that will help keep you on track with the core story while allowing your muse to wander here and there. Itíll even make it easier to do your revisions when it you wander too far from the original story idea so you wonít have to scrap the story and start over.

But before we do that, letís talk about necessary items in a plotline. The basics of plotting are simple if you follow a typical character arc. Many authors and writers have different ideas on this. For reference, you might want to read Voglerís The Characterís Journey and Morgan Hawkeís Cheaterís Guide to Erotic Romance Novellas. I highly recommend both of them. Morgan Hawke's book is available at MojoCastle.com.

Depending on if youíre writing a one or two main character story, that will decide how long and what kind of components youíll have. This is where the character sheets and the blurbs will guide you into plugging where certain events and realizations must occur and what they are. These turning points are the foundation and walls of your story. Without them, you donít know where youíre going and what kind of shape youíll be in at the end.

For a one-person story, my story and characters usually run like this:

1.) Intro to a crisis - This is what starts the action of placing the character in motion and sets the plot in motion.

2.) First test/trial Ė Normally, the hero/heroine faces their first obstacle Ė usually physical with a slight nod to the internal conflicts. Normally I have them fail, with a slight success to balance them enough to keep going.

3.) Twist to the Second Test. Ė This is usually internal conflict caused by external factors. This is a good place for a couple of red herrings, a few attempts to try to do something (and somewhat succeed). Normally this is where I have the characters begin questioning why theyíre acting/reacting in certain ways. There also begins some resolution.

4.) 1st Major Change/Semi-resolution Ė At this point weíre about halfway through our story. At this point, I toss the character into a point where external & internal conflicts collide. Why? Sagging middles are not good. By forcing the characters to face a mini version of whatís to come, you give the characters a chance to step up using the new techniques and resolutions. Depending on the genre of the story Ė the character fails completely, at least for me. Why? The lessons learned so far arenít easy to do when theyíre not natural. Thus at a crux point in the conflict, the old established beliefs hold sway because the new beliefs arenít helping. (Or so they think.)

5.) Grief State Ė I call this the grief state because now comes the time where the character after losing a battle (& fearing heíll lose the war) begins the process to truly change and face his internal conflicts. From anger, depression, bargaining, etc Ė the character will grieve until heís resolute in his course.

6.) Practicing while Turning Ė This time he hits either an internal or external, or both, and wins. Itís a major accomplishment and he feels heís getting where he needs to be. This is where I, the author, give the character time to celebrate but then quickly move him to the hardest moment in his life.

7.) The Black Moment Ė After being lulled a bit, this is where I throw the lot at the character. I do it without letting up and force choices Ė both good and bad, but the hero knows now, heís learned and conquers this. Though he wins, he knows thereís always a price.

8.) Resolution Station Ė Here we tie up loose ends, resolve the sadness of the bad part from the Black Moment, solve the mystery for others, etc. In the romance genre, we show the HEA or HFRN.

So, how does this work when there are two or more characters?

Actually, you use the same breakdown points as the one character. What changes is that you layer in more turning points which will allow you to cover the necessary GMC for the main characters. This will also show you if you need to add one or more subplots to accomplish everything. So, instead of 8 points you might have 10-12. This will also impact the length of your story as well. The more POV characters you have, the longer the book will become to resolve their issues. If you want a shorter book, then remove conflict points that are less likely to impact the theme of the book.

Now letís take this to how RPG (role-playing games) comes into play and saves my hybrid self from plotting myself to death, which in turn makes me bored and I wonít finish the story. Many authors are very detailed plotters and I admire them very much though it amazes me at the effort they put into plotting out all the details for their stories. In my eyes, theyíre working twice as hard as I ever want to. But at the same time, they have a great depth to their story and many of them find that they revise their story fewer times than organic writers. If Iím honest, I will admit that Iím lazy and I do enjoy letting my characters take control once in a while. So, how do I make sure that I have just enough frames so I donít have to write so many drafts while still keeping the story loose and free?

That's tomorrow's lesson. For today, figure out with your blurb and your character sheets whether your story can be best told by a one person or two person journey arc. This will help you decide on what we do tomorrow-- which is use those index cards or my lovely chapter Plotter or whatever works best for you!

Eva Lefoy
March 23rd, 2009, 05:20 PM
I have index cards spread all over my living room floor right now! Argh!

March 23rd, 2009, 05:59 PM
LOL Yakkitty! Just for you, I'll help you out a bit. Take your GMC of your characters-- put them on one per card. On the top-- use Green for External and Yellow for Internal points. Then take the points above... and figure out WHERE in the story the GMC falls into. *grins* That should help narrow those index cards from being spread out too far.

I'll go more into that route come tomorrow.

Red Dragon
March 24th, 2009, 05:13 AM
Sorry, I'm falling behind here. I don't even have index cards yet! If only it took just a minute or two?

March 24th, 2009, 01:13 PM
LOL You can use whatever you have to help you-- paper, index cards, or other things. Let me put up the next section-- and you can see what I mean.