Sometimes a story seems to suggest its own plot. If your main character is imprisoned, it’s probably a natural extension of events to have them try to escape. And then, when they do, they have to hide out from the authorities. And that might mean stealing to eat. But then they get caught by the homeowner, who they take hostage. And so on.
But when you’re just starting out, sometimes the story doesn’t come so easily. Or maybe it’s just the kind of story that needs a little more planning, often because the hero is responding to the actions of others or to random events.
For me personally, this is one of the trickiest phases. I have a very tenuous relationship with plot—too much and I get bored, too little and I get bored. There has to be this perfect balance of character relationships and plot, and it has to be the right kind of plot, and… well, it’s no wonder I never finish anything. Part of that I definitely just have to get over, and the other part I hope to work with.
To start, I look for the overall framework of the story. I look at the ending and figure out what kind of climax I need—action? Confession? Emotional? For my current project, I know that I want some kind of action/plot climax, but that I would like it to be as personal and emotional as possible to keep it grounded in character. That’s vague, but it’s a start, and it gives me some parameters.
Since I have an inciting incident in mind, I can try to work from there, but I think I would very quickly lose momentum. So first I worked out the basic structure of the plot using the four parts described by Larry Brooks in Story Engineering. The first part sets up the story, the second part is the character responding a bit aimlessly to the plot, the third part is them developing a plan of attack and going on the offensive, and the fourth part is the final confrontation and resolution. With a sense of what the four parts will look like in my story, I at least have a general tone for different events in each part.
Based on the development so far, I know the plot will be structured around a villain and my characters responding to that villain (as part of their job, and hopefully by the end as part of a personal motivation). So the obvious next step is to invent the villain, their motivation, and their plan.
Villains can be difficult, especially if you’re trying to come up with them out of nowhere (versus having them built into the conflict of the world or the character). They can so easily become caricatures, or feel too forced (if their motivation doesn’t ring true), or simply be ineffective at inspiring you or your readers to the proper emotion.
Genre will give you some sense of the villain. A murder mystery probably requires someone who will blend in, even appear innocent, but leave tiny vital clues. An epic war will require someone with the resources and power to command armies.
And perspective will also give you some ideas. If you never see the villain’s POV, but you want the reader to know they’re the villain right away, then they have to act villainous where the POV character can see them. Likewise, if you want a villain with a lot of complexity and twisting motives, you might need to have their POV in order to display their full range of behavior.
[This post ended up pretty long—the rest on Saturday.]