NNWM – plotting opposition

In yesterday’s post I talked about the main character’s plan for getting what they want. You’ve got a list of all these things they want to try for achieving their goals. And I asked you to consider if they would cheat. That would be sources of internal conflict.

External conflict is the opposition that comes from someone else who either wants the same goal (win a big race or date the same girl) or wants to stop the main character for some reason of their own — like, they want to take over the galaxy, but can’t if the main character gets in their way. LOL

This is the antagonist.

Look at your list of attempts to reach the goal. Ask:

Is there an internal conflict that could block the main character from getting through this step successfully? (they don’t want to cheat, but they might have to because…)

Is there an external conflict instead? (someone else who wants that same object?)

No, you do not have to decide now what the outcome will be. That can be discovered as you write each scene itself.

Write down whether there is an internal conflict or an external conflict for each one.

How to Write Story Plot: Tips, Tricks, and Margaret Atwood's Writing  Prompts - 2020 - MasterClass

You’ll notice I don’t discuss climax separately. The climax is the end of the rising action. It’s the last “make or break” attempt to achieve the goal. So it’s just the last on your list, and your character’s progress to that point will determine if they are successful or not.

That’s plotting in a nutshell. I will tell you this last bit of advice. Don’t make the achievements easy. What lifts a plot from basic to interesting is the “mostly, but not quite” conclusion to a goal-seeking attempt or a “not this time!” outright failure (what are called “reversals”). if you want to read more about these techniques of scene ending, I highly recommend Jack M. Bickham’s Scene and Structure.

After the climax is the falling action and resolution. Both of these are covered in the next two posts “Lessons Learned,” which will discuss themes and character growth, and “Endings,” which discusses, you guessed it, how to end your story.

See you tomorrow.

~ Lara

NNWM – Plotting

Yesterday I discussed some ideas for developing characters. If you went along with the writing exercise and wrote a scene, what problem(s) did the character reveal?

When a character has a problem they need to resolve, that becomes a character goal. A character’s goal sets them off in a direction. Once you’ve got a character moving, making plans, picking among choices, they’ll start facing obstacles. The process of facing obstacles, whether they come from people or situations, is conflict.

How to Write Story Plot: Tips, Tricks, and Margaret Atwood's Writing  Prompts - 2020 - MasterClass

Where there’s conflict, you’ve got plot.

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Getting a character to their goal is an exercise in problem-solving. So the first thing you’ve got to do is develop a plan for (attempting to) solving the problem. This becomes the rising action, all the conflict in your plot map based on what does and doesn’t work to move the character further along the path to getting what they want (character goal).

The technique I recommend for quick plotting (such as is needed for NaNoWriMo) is brainstorming. It’s like asking the main character “what are you going to try?” List all the answers the character gives to this question:

What are all the things you think you need in order to achieve your goal?

Keys to Screenwriting: Brainstorming | by Scott Myers | Go Into The Story

In a “quest” plot, these are all the tchotchkes that will locate, get past all the dangers, and open the treasure chest. In a “I want to get into my dream college” plot, it’s all the things that need to be good-looking on the application, like grades, extra curricular activities, test scores, the application essay, finding financial resources, etc. In a “wanna get this girl” plot, it’s the finding out what she likes in a guy, doing all the different kinds of “notice me” things, and then finally not sounding like an a** and talking to her to get the date. LOL

Now, put those random ideas into some sort of order by asking:

Well, what do you wanna try first?

Since you can’t do all those things at the same time, one has to be tried first. This can be sorted chronologically: certain tests are only given at certain times, maybe a full moon-stars alignment is necessary to get a piece necessary for opening the treasure chest, etc.

Then ask: And if that doesn’t work? Or if it works only so far, what next?

Use this to work through all their brainstormed options, writing down the next step and the next step and the next step.

Recommendation: Put each of these on their own separate notecard, or in your word processing file at the top of its own separate page

TIP: press Ctrl-Enter to insert a hard page break on a new line rather than hitting enter to go down and down and down to the next page.

TIP: Don’t number them, but format the first few words of the text as a heading, so that you can use the word processing program’s table of contents function. If enough people message me going “huh?” on how to do that, I’ll write a how-to post.

The reason you need separate cards or separate pages is because you might be moving these steps around. And later you can convert these headings to part/chapter titles or simply numbers.

The final thing you need to ask your character in this part is:

Are you willing to cheat? If so, why and how? Add to each step how they envision this cheating.

There’s one more day of plotting, so come back tomorrow and I’ll talk about figuring in the points of opposition whether the antagonist is a real person or an internal character trait.

~ Lara

NNWM – Character Development

Many writers I know are getting ready for NaNoWriMo. I don’t do it myself because I always have projects going and don’t work well creatively with word count goals. I write a story following story plot structure from beginning to end.

I do plan all my stories. I’m a teacher and an editor so I’ve had to explain to many different kinds of writers how to write a story, or how their story is structurally insufficient.

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Maybe in that planning and advice are some things that may help you with NaNoWriMo. As a teacher I’ve taught teenagers how to quick plan a story so that they can write one for our final quarter narrative writing projects. Just for background: I’ve taught writing fairytales, myths, and the hero’s journey, all of which are 6-8 weeks of lesson plans and in-class writing time. The product was based on the grade level, between 5,000 and 10,000 words. I start with five days of planning, after the other three quarters of the year having taught them concepts like finding character development in published stories, identifying goals and conflicts, mapping out the beats of the plot, recognizing how the climax, resolution, and theme were constructed.

My mantra throughout: when we can analyze the structure of what we have read, we are learning to write stories.

Character development is the first step in writing any story. You need full-bodied characters to plumb for inner and outer conflict. If you don’t take a few minutes to figure out who your characters are inside and out, your readers will never figure them out either because they’ll be inconsistent.

I do advocate writing things down, but I’m not talking about filling out character charts and sheets ad nauseum. For one, it’s too long. You take all this time to fill it out and likely will never comb through it again. So, you’ll almost certainly contradict something at some point.

Drivers License Suspensions As A Result Of A 1st, 2nd or 3rd DUI

The most you should need to “chart” is the character’s physical description. Think “driver’s license”: name, age, height, weight, hair and eye color. It’s short enough to turn into a 4 x 6 notecard hanging in your writing space. Add a photo if you like. (I’ve been known to vertically flip a catalog model’s picture to print out for these to help kids with their story projects.)

Another technique I’ve seen is good for visual learners: creating character boards. It’s not very concrete for helping you figure out what words to use though unless you caption each in detail different things about your character with each image. A mood board that only describes the character’s likes isn’t as complete as one that has images that elicit all the different feelings, likes, dislikes, favorite childhood memory, worst childhood memory, first job, current job, goals/dreams, current friends and enemies, etc. You could, again, spend so much time on this that you’re not getting anywhere with actually feeling out your character in words, which is really what you need to do to write a story about them. Since my students had only the one week to plan, it was necessary to get them to the writing as quickly as possible. It also was never wrong to use parts of the pre-written scenes in their eventual stories, as long as it made sense.

My advice is to stick with planning techniques that make you use words, but more specifically: write a scene. This will firmly cement your characters in space, time, and let you show their reactions so that you can feel them well enough to write more about them.

“Hanging Out” with your characters

Two Characters Are Talking In The Living Room Of The Right Characters.  Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 20170459.

I call this pre-writing character development technique “catching up with a friend” or “hanging out.” Since teenagers are such social animals, this is an absolutely familiar scenario. You can format this any way you like, but it starts like this:

Invite yourself over to their house. You’re a friend they haven’t seen in a while. They’re hosting you. TIP: if you don’t want to be the friend in the scene, give them their own friend. You’ll be building both characters AND their relationship through the scene and writing in third person point of view.

Dialogue. Get a start on “hearing” the character talk. Start with “Hey, what’s been happening with you, man?” Weave the conversation in and around describing them preparing and serving the snacks, drinks, etc.

What do they offer to eat and/or drink? Describe the dishware being used. Is it mismatched or family heirloom? Do they apologize for it or explain it (or talk about the food’s quality or availability)?

Setting. Is this their new place? Or are they still living at home? What’s their furniture like? Is there a favorite poster or picture on the wall? Or stuff on a table or desk where the characters are eating? Is there a state-of-the-art gaming computer, beat up PS2, or nothing at all?

Other relationships. Does anyone live with them? Have that person briefly pass through and talk on their way to someplace else so you can see that relationship play out a bit.

As they go through what’s been happening in their life, you’re going to discover they’re telling you about a problem they’re having. Because that’s what happens when good friends get together.

Make note of that problem. Highlight all the bits about it after you’re done writing/typing the scene. That problem is going to become the forthcoming story’s plot (because solving that problem becomes their goal).

Come back tomorrow to see how pre-writing a scene centered around “here’s some advice” helps you plan out the steps in a story’s plot.

~ Lara