On we continue with Story Sense by Paul Lucey. This week I am tackling Chapter 3.
Chapter Three gets a little more specific to script writing but I still found some good information that is extremely applicable to novel writing or short story work for that matter.
Lucey makes a strong case for adequate blocking, plotting of the major points of the story prior to starting to write. He suggest first writing a short treatment, 1-2 pages of what your story will be about. Then bring that treatment into a step outline. He argues heavily for a traditional three act structure. While most novels are more than “three acts” they still tend to follow a similar trend.
-Establishing the scene or narrative hook.
-Introduce the hero, villain, and/or the problem.
-Complication that forces the hero to take on the problem.
-action and reaction
-b plot line(s)
-more action and reaction
-complication where the hero seems defeated
-prep for the climax
-resolution of all unresolved sub-plots
Let’s take those in order in some detail.
Setting up the environment. Action or Slow establishment? Either way deliver what you promise in the opening.
Character introduction. No matter who you’re introducing don’t explain them all away in the intro. Leave lots of depth to be plumed by the reader as they go.
Introducing the problem. You don’t have to do this right off. You can spend time fully establishing the status quo before you disrupt it. Or you can throw them in the mix from the starting gate. Writers prerogative. Although if you are writing a slow soul searching novel hanging on character development, the status quo will establish itself. Again deliver the kind of story you promise with your start.
The greatest cause of books dying in the middle is a weak set up. Concentrate on your set up. Ignore how b plots will roll out or how you will get your character off Alpha Zeta after their space ship explodes. Spend a good chunk of time making your reader care if they get off the planet. Give a solid set up that not only worries the reader (they have to care about your characters to do this) but makes their likely assumptions about a solution wrong. By setting up those b plots early they add meat later as they act and react in the rest of your novel.
-Backstory. Character interaction. They can discuss, explain, plan. Let your characters play with each other a little. They can explain motivation or reveal secret love children. But don’t let them reveal they planted the explosive that blew up the rocket ship too early in the novel. That’s climax preparation work.
-Action and reaction. Conflict. Verbal. Physical. Extra terrestrial. Your call. But make your reader worry. You are building to that moment when they think the hero has lost it all.
-B plot line – romance, friendship, maternal compassion, etc. Your b plot characters should exist as something more than robot shells for the hero to bounce off of. Giving them a reality gives your book meat. Well fed books don’t run out of steam half way through.
-Big complication. Where the hero seems defeated. His or her darkest moment. According to Lucey it should be a variant on the one that he suffered earlier. Maybe for film, but in a book play with it.
-Climax prep. Get them where you need them to be. If you haven’t introduced the saving grace yet, squeeze it on it, not obviously. Don’t know what I am talking about? When your hero pulls off the big win, he needs something. Because you are the writer, you can put anything you like in your book. But you have to plan it in. You can’t have the hero pull a spare rocket ship out of his back pocket at the last moment. It’s tacky…and likely to cause your reader to hurl your book off this rock. Lucey also says you shouldn’t have the hero out do the villain. Again, maybe for film, but I think in a novel for today’s readership, you have your hero solve the problem his way. And if that means he blows the entire flipping planet as they escape in that second rocket ship he built from spare parts, then blow it up. This is definitely a case of staying true to yourself. It’s your climax. Have as you like it but make it last. It is the big pay off after all. It’s the man shot out of the cannon. After this all that is left is for him to float gently back down to earth. Wrap it up cleanly or leave it open for a sequel. Series books are hot right now.
Things Lucey suggests you do to suck in your reader:
Force the reader to remember earlier things from the story to make sense of whats happening now. It makes them collaborators. Explaining everything turns your audience into passive observers.
Whether simple or complex your plot should proceed logically. By which he means, your logic. Give your planet strange metal producing creatures if you need them (spare parts for the ship right?) but then don’t turn around later and have your characters talking about the lack of metal on this planet. Or have the creatures magically produce rocket fuel as well in the eleventh hour.
Watch how you have your characters react. Too Strong/Too weak?
Did you raise anything and forget to follow up? If you raised it, it must be important in some way, otherwise you wouldn’t have included it. Follow it up unless you are leaving sequel potential. I once forgot to let someone have a baby. She was like 14 months pregnant in the story when I realized the oops. And it mattered, I had a whole plot point turning on it.
(Side bar picture me bitching and moaning at Nano last year because I can’t figure out how to accomplish what I need to do. I can’t figure out how to get x to y and let z happen. This went on for like 2 weeks. All because I forgot to let her have a baby.)
Personally, I don’t plot. I am a panster. Big time. Then again maybe if I had taken the time to do a written plot outline I would have remembered I needed her to have a baby so I could have that big complication that defeats my hero temporarily. sigh. Time to reconsider my strategy? Um…No. What about you? Plotter? Panster?