NNWM – Setting

Setting is a major element that needs to be considered when planning a story. Because it is where the character lives and acts out the plot.

physical locations for settings include rooms, buildings, indoors and outdoors, natural and man-made.

I don’t address setting fully in my planning until I know both the characters and the plot. While some things can’t happen in certain settings and some things can happen in any setting, there are conventions about setting based on genre:

A contemporary story needs modern places and modern details. You might have to research these if you don’t know the town, city, or country very well already. But you will need to list and describe various settings, like housing, businesses, street activity, things your characters use/do in their life.

A historical story needs a historical place and details. Pay particular attention to things that are different from modern life. You’ll need to research these. Include housing, street conditions, daily life patterns and rituals.

A fantasy story needs fantastical places and details, like how magic works (or doesn’t), how the community is structured, and how daily life is structured that makes it different from “human” and things like that. Similar to fantasy, science fiction needs any differences from contemporary earth-bound life described, such as space stations, planetary landscapes and societies encountered, and futuristic technology described.

Adding Setting to your Plans

Make separate notecards (or separate heading pages in a word processing file) for each physical element you will include in your setting. Think like a director giving details to the set designer in these notes. Give everything they need to recreate the place physically, focus only on the elements that the characters will interact with when talking about props. The set designer can add other elements, but the detailed ones are the ones that will be important to the storytelling.

Add a setting description to each scene you’ve already plotted – use the headings from the notecards so you’re not writing double. Write wherever the scene should take place: in a bar, a forest glade, a back alley, in the middle of a lake?

Scripts do this with the line: Interior – Lucy’s home – PRESENT DAY. For your plotting notes, you can do the same.

Ready, set, WRITE

Now that you have characters, plot, and setting, you’re ready to write.

To start, go to the first page with a scene heading and notes at the top. Underneath start typing out the scene until its finished. You’ll have all the character goal notes, the conflict notes, and the setting notes you’ll need right there. The next time you sit to write you can finish the scene if needed, or move on to the next one by scrolling down to the next heading.

If you are looking for an example of how to write a scene that includes character, plot/conflict, and setting all in one, here’s a scene which includes all of these color-coded to show you how each element is slid in smoothly among the others.

That’s it!

if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, good luck. If you’ve just come by for the planning tips, let me know how the tips worked out when you’ve finished writing your first draft.

~ Lara

NNWM – Endings

I’ve finally come to the end of plotting. Today’s topic is appropriately planning an Ending, also called the Resolution.

Episode 56 — Story Endings + “The End” – Storytelling Saga

All things must end. Otherwise nothing new can begin. Even if you’re planning a series, the first book has to end or the next one cannot get started. The characters have to resolve, or determine how they will configure life going forward.

The proper ending or resolution scene is one that demonstrates the character’s satisfaction for achieving their goal and gives an idea where they think they’ll go from here. If the goal is “get the girl” and the climax won her heart, the ending is asking her to move in, or asking for or demonstrating commitment. For a romance, it can also be the engagement party where they announce as a couple to their friends and family. It is NOT the epilogue — years later. It is the most immediate reward for achieving the story goal. For an adventure, it is setting out new roles and new responsibilities in light of what has been achieved. The hero becomes a mentor to someone else or assumes a formal leadership role.

This brings me back to the Star Wars example from yesterday. Here’s that movie’s ending scene: quite literally a celebration – but Luke’s personal goal is definitively achieved and celebrated:

After the battle wounds have been tended and their dead buried, the Rebel troops can finally celebrate their victory over the Empire. The Princess presides over an awards ceremony. Luke’s story goal was to join the Rebellion and fight the Empire. His journey has finally come to this moment: becoming a decorated leader of the Rebellion.

Happy ending.

Note: The fact that we know Darth Vader survived the Death Star’s destruction means there’s more plot potential for the series. But it is a “teaser” for Empire Strikes Back, not an essential element to the plot of Star Wars: Episode IV, so it doesn’t need to be resolved here. They save the “the Empire has regrouped” for the opening scene of ESB – it is the beginning of that story’s plot.

Planning an Ending

So for your planning process, decide how your characters will celebrate their achievement with others. The introspection is over, the growth has happened, the victory is won. Now they can enjoy it and look forward to a new path in the future.

Set up your heading – Ending – and jot down those ideas. You can have multiple ideas. One will seem most natural as you reach the end of your draft writing, so having several ideas to choose from is fine.

So there, you’ve got your plot. Now you need an appropriate setting for all this stuff to take place. Some ideas have probably already occurred to you. Tomorrow’s post will tell you how to narrow it to specifics and include the details in your plans.

See you then!

~ Lara

NNWM – Plotting lessons learned

After the climax, the story actually should wrap quickly. What remains is the main character recognizing what they have been through, tending to wounds (emotional as well as physical), acknowledging loss, acknowledging newfound knowledge, repairing friendships that may have frayed as decisions were made out of necessity or expediency, but not necessarily kindness. This part of the plot is called the falling action.

Lessons Learned Technique: What's The Point? — Business Analyst Learnings

Again, thinking about my students, some had a hard time recognizing this part of the story. So let’s take an example most everyone can recall in detail. This is from “Star Wars” (Episode IV):

If you’ll recall: the climax was Luke entering the main trench and finally managing to blow up the Death Star with his “Force-aided” shot.

The falling action is the next scene: Luke landing at the Rebel base on Yavin, getting out of the cockpit, helping get the damaged R2D2 out of his spot and seeing to it that he’s repaired. C3PO offers his own circuits. These actions deal with the consequences of the climax (healing/tending wounds).

Luke also has Han and Leia running up to greet him. Importantly, to acknowledge and resolve their previous actions had created emotional wounds, Luke has an exchange with Han — “That shot was one in a million, Kid!” “I knew you’d be back!” “Couldn’t let you take all the credit!” “I knew there was good in you.” (Leia)

There’s another part that’s not in the screenplay. In the novelization, there’s a brief moment of Luke explaining to Leia about feeling Obi Wan, hearing him. She’s not on the same level, but she acknowledges he experienced something, and aren’t they all so lucky it worked out. Luke grew from his experiences so he’s looking at the universe, and his own place in it, a little differently. Awareness of self-growth is also the job of the falling action.

NNWM advice – Planning for Lessons Learned

If it’s lessons learned from the climax, from the journey, how can you know what the characters will learn before you’ve written it all out?

This is where you, the author, are in control. The point of deciding the falling action before you begin writing is stating outright, “This is what I want my characters to have learned about themselves, about their situation, about their history, by the time they get to the end of the story.”

Here’s another way to think about it: At summer camp, directors and counselors plan activities so that children will learn something (such as how to work as a team by rowing a boat together across a lake). Yes, the children will learn things outside the planned activities too, but there are at least a few goals for the children to learn and grow specifically in mind.

So in your NNWM planning or in your story plan generally, type a heading – Falling Action/Lessons Learned. Now, write the things you want your character to learn or how you want them to change.

Your characters almost certainly will learn more than this and even change in ways you can’t predict, but with this guideline sitting out in front of you while you’re writing, you will write “toward” it. You’ll ask yourself, “how is this action, decision, or reversal, going to teach my characters what I want them to learn?” Any extra scenes that come about because the characters momentarily “go elsewhere.”

When you get to the writing of the falling action part of the draft, write dialogue or moments of introspection demonstrating the character has learned these lessons, reflecting on their actions earlier in the story to show (to themselves and the reader) how far they’ve grown.

Okay, that’s it for falling action. Come back tomorrow for the final part of my plotting advice: the resolution.

~ Lara