Today, we’re going to go through the gritty parts of planning a novel.
I am a devastatingly ineffective seat-of-the-pants writer. I’d rather stick a blunt toothpick in my eye than plot out everything.
It’s more than apparent to me that I must embrace the plotting techniques and methods to get something done.
I also love it when I get good examples of the process of doing things, since I’m the dense dude that otherwise says “Show don’t tell? What’s that mean?” Maybe I’m the hands-on learner. Maybe I’m slow. Here, I’ll walk you through my process.
First, I’m going loosely on Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. The caveat is that Blake is writing for screenwriters, which means that somehow it’s different storytelling. I dunno about you guys, but movies and books are still telling a story and the audience still wants their particular plot points to happen when they’re supposed to happen. That’s why, when I read a novel, and there’s no all is lost point (we just callump our way to the final battle), I’m glancing at the corner of the Kindle and wondering, “hey, did they forget a major pinch point?” There is no difference. It’s like sausage from the air fryer or sausage from over. Er… you’re right, the air fryer is 1000 times better. Still, my point is that storytelling doesn’t change just because you make the format a little different.
Right then. To it. I picked up the excel spread sheets for Blake’s Save the Cat from Jami Gold, Paranormal Writer (which leads to suppositions: Does she float when types? Is incorporeal while plotting? Does she have a EMF detector running while she walks to kitchen to eat snacks? I’m sure the answer is in there. Oh. It’s on the home page. She writes books that are in the paranormal romance and urban fantasy genre. Duh. All I had to do was look) who happens to have a couple of spreadsheets on the same page. I naturally downloaded all of them, but the one I think I’m going to use, rather than save the cat (sorry Blake) is Master Story Planning Worksheet based on Larry Brook’s Story Structure. Hey! I’ve got that book, too. I should read it. * No, wait, I have Story Engineering. Sorry. They’re all the same. Or they’re different.
I have read Blake’s book, and it’s impressed on me the need for structure. And having these beat sheets, these are magic because they lay it out so simply… okay, you’re saying BS, it’s not easy, otherwise everyone would do it, and we wouldn’t have 2 million broken books for sale on Amazon. And you’re right! See, didn’t that feel nice? Okay, funny side note, there’s a lot of fun books about “how not to suck” or “write a novel that doesn’t suck” and so on. Be careful with the search term “suck.”
Back to process. I open a Word file and begin to type details, because the excel spreadsheet wants text, but a lot of this is just blurting backstory as necessary. One thing I remember from improv classes was the idea that you would fail to define something. So, I could start with “Um, she had a bad childhood,” and that may be fine for now, but by failing to define the bad childhood, I am waffling and that’s a poor way to treat the reader. If I define it specifically in backstory documents (which will not necessary all be used; the horror, mistah Kurtz!! Backstory is there for me, the author, to draw the intricate details and create consistent and useful information drops as I go, not to torture the few readers I have with unnecessary details. Like this blog. Haha, just kidding. You love this stuff, otherwise you’d be off reading something else).
So, no, wait, we’re going to have to make a logline. What’s something quick to do? Erm, idea: Rich dude decides to do the ultimate test of genetics vs. environment: he has two identical embryos come to term, one is raised in a rigorous rich environment, the other is raised in a poor environment, then he tosses them into a similar disaster to see who comes out on top. So, hunger games meets eugenics vs. the most dangerous game. Let’s winnow it down a little bit, because that’s ambitious and I really need to have just one protagonist. Having two protagonists might be interesting, in doing a side-by-side up to the point where they both meet, but that also makes for a far more complex structure. So let’s go back and fix that log line. Also, what’s going to be the end point of the book? Let’s map that out a little bit, then go back and fix the log line.
My perception is that we start with an enlisted person in the Imperial Marine Corps. Why the IMC? Dunno, like the idea of space marines. It could be navy–> the people who populate through the stars, etc. The point is, the poor version of the two will be enlisted, and that’s the one we want to follow, rather than the rich one. I’m assuming the rich one might be an officer in whatever the armed force is. Either way, one or the other, it doesn’t truly matter, just need to pick one. Why the armed forces? That lets us even the playing field because then the bad guy can use his influence to move them into an ideal position for the big test.
We’re now looking at the motivations of the bad guy, who we’ll have to define before long, and also apply a process of giving him the proper characteristics to be a good villain. Also, why do I always misspell Villain? Thanks spell check! For the characteristics, I’m going to pull out THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws Copyright 2013 © by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi which is this huge tome of negative traits.
Hmmm, I haven’t looked at this in a long time. I’m leafing through it, and see a section called: “VILLAINS AND THEIR FLAWS.” Right before it is a section titled “PULL FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE,” and I’m thinking Angie and Becca are going at it a little dark. I mean, that’s going to take some work, I’m not typically a villainous guy, so if I’m drawing from my own experience… n/m, that’s for the protagonist. Onward!
Here’s the TOC for this section:
VILLAINS AND THEIR FLAWS
STRIKING A BALANCE
RESPECT THE ANTAGONIST
CHOOSE COMPLEX MOTIVES AND GOALS
DIG AT HIS PAST UNTIL HE BLEEDS
CHOOSE FLAWS THE ANTAGONIST VIEWS AS STRENGTHS
YOUR ANTAGONIST IS THE PROTAGONIST’S MIRROR
FATAL FLAW AND TRAGIC FLAW
VILLAIN FAILS: DIAGNOSES AND TREATMENTS
The “Mua-ha-ha” Villain
The Abysmal Leader
Looks Like a Duck, So It Must Be A Duck
Emotionless and Calculating
Miles Beyond Redemption
Too Self-Absorbed and Careless To Live
That’s a lot to absorb, but I’m going to skip to the Villain fails (they apparently know how to spell it. They must have spell check, too). Originally, my villain was going to be a rich guy. That’s all. There’s different kinds of rich guys, though, and this one needs some fleshing out to make him believable, sympathetic, not a complete douche, and with motivations that make sense. All of these fails are the lazy man/woman’s fallbacks. I don’t want to do a bunch of pschoanalysis on what makes the big bad boss tick, yet, here’s these two characters saying they’d suggest that I really really try. Really. When the experts say “hey, you do you, but we think it’ll go easier if you do this instead of that,” sit up, pay attention, and do it that way. That’s why we’re not going seat of the pants, right? It’s because pantsing is lazy and always leads to more work. (If you’re going to squawk about that, don’t. Someone always seems to want to argue about this. But there’s nothing to argue.)
So, tomorrow, we will flesh out the antagonist to do the things that make him not-a-monster but a monster.