Lesson 7: Story Plotting Basics
Plotting your story framework- or why you hire an architect to design your home before it’s built
No matter how much you enjoy being a player, eventually you’ll want to be in charge so you can wreak havoc on those DM’s who’ve 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 you’ve 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? That’s where frame-working the story comes into play. It’s 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, we’ll create a simple plotline that will help keep you on track with the core story while allowing your muse to wander here and there. It’ll even make it easier to do your revisions when it you wander too far from the original story idea so you won’t have to scrap the story and start over.
But before we do that, let’s 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 Vogler’s The Character’s Journey and Morgan Hawke’s Cheater’s Guide to Erotic Romance Novellas. I highly recommend both of them. Morgan Hawke's book is available at MojoCastle.com.
Depending on if you’re writing a one or two main character story, that will decide how long and what kind of components you’ll 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 don’t know where you’re going and what kind of shape you’ll 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 – Normally, the hero/heroine faces their first obstacle – 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. – 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 they’re acting/reacting in certain ways. There also begins some resolution.
4.) 1st Major Change/Semi-resolution – At this point we’re 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 what’s to come, you give the characters a chance to step up using the new techniques and resolutions. Depending on the genre of the story – the character fails completely, at least for me. Why? The lessons learned so far aren’t easy to do when they’re not natural. Thus at a crux point in the conflict, the old established beliefs hold sway because the new beliefs aren’t helping. (Or so they think.)
5.) Grief State – I call this the grief state because now comes the time where the character after losing a battle (& fearing he’ll lose the war) begins the process to truly change and face his internal conflicts. From anger, depression, bargaining, etc – the character will grieve until he’s resolute in his course.
6.) Practicing while Turning – This time he hits either an internal or external, or both, and wins. It’s a major accomplishment and he feels he’s 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 – After being lulled a bit, this is where I throw the lot at the character. I do it without letting up and force choices – both good and bad, but the hero knows now, he’s learned and conquers this. Though he wins, he knows there’s always a price.
8.) Resolution Station – 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 let’s 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 won’t 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, they’re 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 I’m honest, I will admit that I’m 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 don’t 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!