Structuring without a Plot

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2017-10-15 - Jenny Johnson (Gwen Tolios)

Files

Story drivers

  • Plot
  • Character (in character-driven stories)
  • World
  • Every good novel needs all three of these.
  • If you don't have full plots yet, you can take your ideas of characters and world and turn them into something resembling a plot structure.
  • World
    • Brave New World
    • Hunger Games -> Plot (a situation that Katniss is forced into)
    • Fellowship of the Ring
    • The Junglebook (a lot of things happen to Mowgli)
    • The Maze Runner -> Plot
    • Ready Player One -> Plot
    • Game of Thrones
    • The Giver
    • Throne of Glass / Assassin's Blade -> Plot
  • Character
    • The Help
    • Cloud Atlas
    • A Man Called Ove (literary)
    • To Kill the Mockingbird
  • Plot
    • The Fault in our Stars
    • Lovely Bones -> Character (told from her point of view, she already knows the murderer)
    • Harry Potter -> has very regular beats that drive the action (though the world is cool)
    • The Da Vinci Code
    • The Martian

Forget about plot-driven stories today

Do character creation

  • You need a character you relate to
  • Focus on what makes you like or not like a person you meet
  • Where you meet someone will affect your perception of them; this is true for your readers too
  • What is the person like in real life
  • Character transformation drives character-driven novels (overcoming their fears, gaining confidence; or getting worse instead of better)
    • all of these plots are internal
    • driven by character's morales and desires
    • driven by choices the characters make and why they make them
  • Think about the transformations you want the characters to go through
  • How is my character going to change?
  • How will characters around them changing compared to that character?
  • Minor focuses in a character-driven story
    • growth points are your plot points
    • difficulties & problems are either internal struggles or relationship issues
    • moral compasses and emotions drive character actions
    • character choices push the story forward; consider the ramifications from multiple angles (how will it affect their network)

Things to write when stuck

  • put them into a brand new situation
  • have something happen to a minor character and see what happens
  • dialogue between characters
  • relationships
  • effects of personal choices
  • reactions to situations, people events

Use character answers and turn them into a character driven story

  • Maggie: character's social network (primarily peers from work, very few friends, adult child and a boyfriend/partner married to someone else); character's name is unknown (Margo)
    • your character wants to insert themselves into a new social network (a running club; the wife's running club)
    • she is very competitive; she joins a gym and gets into shape first (interested in the trainer)
    • tries to socialize and do charity work
    • running club: only one with a trainer (seen as a snobby)

Worlds (setting/milieu)

  • Genre
    • Fantasy
  • Government
    • Ministry of Magic - bureaucracy
    • normal muggle government
  • Geography
    • England with magical extensions
      • Hogwarts
  • Culture
    • Pureblood vs. Mudblood
    • the House you are in
    • your specialty (Auror, plant,)
    • wealth and status
    • social economic status
    • Quidditch
  • History
    • Voldemort
    • Grimbold
    • magical people are under cover
    • Hogwarts founders
  • Captain America
    • Genre: alternate history
    • Government: US government/UK government
    • Geography: US in the 40's
    • Culture:
      • the army
      • WW II (rationing, factories)
      • propaganda
      • bullying
      • socio-economic status
      • heroism/war vets/patriotism
    • History
      • WW I
      • Hydra
  • World-driven stories don't have to be SF or Fantasy; they can be historical.
  • Travelogues are world-driven stories.
  • Murray Brennan is the author of someone who

Create a world

  • Science fiction world
    • in the future, not necessarily on this world
    • economic apocalypse
    • biodomes where the ruling class has poisoned land around it as far as they can see (no arable land)
    • sets up different class structure
    • prosperity gospel/scientology: how to control the different levels. If you plant the seeds, it will bear fruit; but it is just a money-making scheme
    • one of the MCs is outside of this and discovering the existence of this world
    • biodomes/controlled worlds: propaganda, you can't live outside of this (but it is possible if you can survive)
  • Fantasy World
    • Pompeii after the eruption
    • where people are alive afterwards as stone people
    • they are isolated now
    • no trade in/out
    • a lot of their agriculture didn't survive
  • World-driven stories are fading out of style (character has become all important); most are now travelogues and historical fiction. SF and Fantasy are now focused on character or plot. Tolkien was an author of his time.
    • Hunger Games and Divergent are character-driven
  • Main purpose of a world-driven story: to show the world itself
    • it is something new
    • sometimes it is used ironically/satirically/metaphorically to make a point
    • take a world that is different
    • the wonder of the world attracts the reader to go through the story
  • Minor focus
    • history of a world, connecting past to present to future events
    • cultural/geographical tensions
    • shifts in the world, upheavals (like Hunger Games)
    • how things work (religion, doo-dad, magical system) -- they go through the pain of exploring
  • Things to write
    • dive into the history of the world, habits of its people and why
    • describe the cities, food, clothes (has to be VIVID. Use lots of details)
    • Dig into tensions/differences between groups of people; whys and consequences
    • make sure the readers understand the world and want to live in it (and know what to draw)
    • efforts to change things
    • actions the world and other figures force your character to do (and how they may go along or resist it)

A writer's most important question: WHY

  • You have to go deep into why's (at least three levels)
  • You already have the character and world in your head
  • e.g., Captain America
    • Steve Rogers joins the army to make a difference and to stand up to bullies
  • Margo: why did she get into a relationship with a married man? This married man? And why was he doing this at this time?
  • Do this three-level thinking through every aspect of your world.

HOW

  • How do they do it
  • How do others respond to it?
    • Do they accept it?
    • Celebrate it?
    • Reject it?
  • Don't go with the first answer you think of--it is usually a cliche; think of multiple answers to your question and then go from there.
  • Asking will lead to pain points you can use to drive the action.
  • All novels will have elements of each. But character-driven or plot-driven stories don't necessarily have deep world-building. You'll need enough knowledge of the world to know how your characters interact with it--affects their interactions and motivation.
  • Q: I'm attempting to do a series; each novel has subplots to the final plot at the end. How much do I need to plot ahead?
    • A: With Outlander, the author wrote one book, she sold it and didn't have the series planned. So book 2 and 3 weren't as good until she figured out the overarching plot. So it is important to know the major story arcs. If you write your first book of your series, when you write your second, you can retro-insert fore-shadowing elements.
  • Q: Is there a limit you should be aiming for for world development?
    • A: No; it should be really fully fleshed out (even if it doesn't go into the story). At the very least, you should have the cultural and history figured out; the past 20 years at least (that's what people can vividly remember and that's what has immediate impact). E.g., Ronald Reagan's presidency still has lingering impacts. The further back you go, the less the impact. How do families work?
  • Q: You may think you've thought of everything you need; is it hard to put things back in?
    • A: Changes in background culture can make a big difference between novel drafts.
  • WHY is a very good follow-up question.
  • Q: Do you interject irrational whys?
    • A: Yes; e.g., when dealing with serial killers. If you have characters who don't think logically or take rash decisions, they won't think things through.
  • Q: How bad is it to have a character inspired very much by someone you've met?
    • A: Depends on your relationship with that person? If it is someone you know and you spend a lot of time with, you should change at least three major things about them: age, gender, and one other. How they react, their moral core, how they approach problems and solutions can be the same, but don't make them recognizable. Their perceptions of themselves could affect your relationship in real life.
  • Q: Was that the problem with The Devil Wears Prada?
    • A: There were issues about about the card sharks movie. A kid in college got involved with a group of card counters. The movie was based on a true story; when this came out, people actually involved issued a lot of negative feedback and the author then disappeared... It is easier to use real people in SF and Fantasy worlds.
  • Q: Will this be up somewhere?
  • A: See http://naperwrimo.org/prep

MICE = Milieu, Idea, Character, Event

  • Orson Scott Card devised this; Writing Excuses has a podcast on this.

Plot-driven stories

  • Go through WHY and HOW but just on results on the actions of the plot
  • HOW does the killer escape
  • WHY
  • WHO helps him
  • Network will have a response to the catching of the killer
  • CHARACTER and WORLD building questions around the PLOT can also help
  • HOW does the character feel about ...
  • Do this for all data points, go deeper for every level.