Terrouge E-zine Archives
Wordsmith's Forge IX: Of Machiavelli and Many-Faceted Machinations
By: Sean A.
If you've been following along, you now have a character and, hopefully, some idea of how to write with him, her, it, or possibly them. This is good. What's better, of course, is knowing what to do with these new skills and characters.
You may have characters by the score and you may be able to write an action scene with your eyes shut, but it won't do you any good if they're not matched with a plot. If you don't have a plot, all you're writing is fragments, which, though fun, are hardly as entertaining as a full-fledged story.
A plot, in its essence, is an introduction of characters, a conflict- which could be anything- and a solution, brought about by the characters and their actions. For example, a simple plot might go like this:
1: Introduce Nightroarer. (Main character introduced.)
2: Nightroarer is in love, but must prove his bravery to the girl he loves. (Conflict: A problem that must be solved)
3: Nightroarer goes out questing, which, if he survives, will solve the conflict mentioned in 2. The problem (for him), of course, is that questing, in and of itself, is a conflict: Trying to stay alive.
4: Introduce Quince and Jion (Secondary characters; assistants or antagonists for the main character).
5: End of quest. (Solution to conflict in 3.)
The above looks mighty boring, doesn't it? But it's not, really, it's just dry. The challenge isn't in coming up with plots- that's simple enough- the challenge is making the plot interesting. For example, you could just start my book by saying something along the lines of "Nightroarer was a badger, living in the small town of..." and proceed to outline his life's history, his personal appearance, his middle name, and what he had for lunch. All in all, that would be about as much fun as reading an algebra textbook. Instead, most people would start by introducing either the setting or, in a more roundabout way, the main character.
Example: It was in the Summer of the Long Lights that we first met, I believe. The world was younger, then, young and fresh under the leaves- but the young grow old, and I am old, as I- eh? Oh, I'm sorry, young one. I was telling you of Nightroarer, my friend and ally so long ago. He was only a young badger, back then, but already strong; strong and impulsive. We first met during a raid...
And, were this a proper story rather than an example, you have lots of options. You can continue the description until the pair start off on their adventure; you can have the raid itself be the starting point of the adventure; you can even have them split off and form a partnership later.
That's the first point of the plot, the introduction of the characters. The second point, the introduction of conflict, should be in one of three places in every case. It should be before you meet the characters, while you're meeting the characters, or immediately after you meet the characters. There is never any story where it should be later. Ever. I cannot stress this enough. The prime rule of writing, any writing, is this: "Get your characters in trouble by the end of page three." It's easily discernible why you should do it that way: The conflict is the reason for the characters and their actions: With no conflict, there's no reason to read about the characters.
There are many things to note about plots, though. First is that, like any good adventure game, a plot is rarely a case of 'Go out and do one thing, then come home.' More than likely, in the process of attempting to resolve one conflict, another will appear, which must be resolved- which leads to another, and another, and another, until finally the character reaches a solution.
Second is that there is almost never only one character involved. You'll very likely introduce more characters, both protagonistic- helping solve conflicts- and antagonistic- raising conflicts left, right, and center- throughout your story. Note that you don't have to do complete introductions for any character, and especially not for secondary characters: As long as the reader knows enough about a character to identify with them, it can be fun reading along trying to figure out a character's past.
Third is that characters, in a long plot, rarely stay in one 'role'. You may start out with the protagonist- main character, that is- being the hero. And the villain being the antagonist. If you're not careful, they'll end up swapping roles, to the point where you want the villain to win, or where the hero is no longer the main character.
Fourth is that plots do not, sad as this may sound, always have to end happily. Nor do they have to end quickly. Finally, if this is a roleplay or multiple-author story, they can pause for a while. For example, one of my pieces has stretched out for sixteen months; my 'hero' and former protagonist has been killed; and four breaks have been taken, during which the characters participated in other stories, thus changing their profiles somewhat- and the plot still , despite all my efforts to the contrary, hasn't entered the conclusion stage.
The aforementioned conclusion stage is the culmination of your plot, the point where you tie everything into a neat bundle that should, optimally, leave the reader either maddened for more- if this is a 'To Be Continued' situation- or at least partially satisfied, if this is The End. Remember, all the main conflicts should be wrapped up, the number of antagonists that are active should be zero or close to it, and there should be either a definite sense of 'done', or a sense of 'we can take it from here' to the final bits of the story.
Well, that's it for this month. You can take it from here. As always, drop by the Terrouge Forums to discuss, ask about, or try any of the techniques in this month's Forge!