It occasionally happens–someone contacts me for brainstorming or plot assistance. No false modesty here–a writer whom I respect highly refers others to me. This time, though, someone contacted me because of the answers I was posting to others’ questions in the Reference Desk forum on the NaNoWrimo.org site. She asked me if I could assist her with her Work In Progress (WIP). We have been corresponding for a couple of weeks now, and I thought some of the things I wrote back would be applicable to others.
So, it’s the beginning. I will not reveal the person’s name nor the specifics of the WIP. However, some context is necessary. The story was originally sparked by some dreams the writer remembered upon waking. Not bad! I don’t often remember my dreams, and I am amazed when others do.
The WIP is in the SF/dark fantasy genre, and thus will have some fantastical elements. Again, nothing odd there. The plot is nothing outré–a human set in a universe of vast forces, inimical or friendly towards man. But the writer has some questions, and some of them are rather specific (and hence not going to appear here) So, here’s my answer to her (pardon the redactions)
Before we start crafting the scenery in the story (figuring out why he has slits in his ankles, for example), you have to really lay the story itself out. The shiny object of the Darter Operator is very compelling, but you have to get the central arc locked down first, before we start talking about the rest of the work. It does us no good to build a great framework for your world if there’s an unstructured story taking place therein.
These questions should be answered in one or two sentences. It’s OK not to know something these questions address. For example, if you don’t know how [the main character] is going to get out of his dilemma, then say so. Be brutally honest with yourself.
Act I: The current status quo is that he is [redacted]
- What is his dilemma?
- What punctures that equilibrium [the ‘inciting incident’]?
- How does it lead him to feeling X? Is there a way out of his dilemma?
- What makes him decide to accept the challenge (of solving his dilemma)?
Act II: Here is where most of the action lies. This part runs from the acceptance of the challenge all the way to the climax. The climax is tricky and not always clear. A climax is not necessarily the hero standing over the fallen foe. Sometimes it is when the reluctant hero takes up the sword.
- How does he plan to go about solving his dilemma?
- Can he give up the occupation for another? Or is it one of those occupations that leads to social shunning? Perhaps he owes the government a certain number of years of service in return for [redacted].
- Who is his antagonist?
- What is the agenda of the antagonist? Here, I am talking about [redacted]
- What must he sacrifice in order to achieve his goal?
- What is the climax?
Act III: Here is where the various story threads are tied up. It is NOT the final two pages of the book – it’s about 25%.
- What happens at climax?
- What does the antagonist lose?
- What does the protagonist gain? At what cost?
- How do the actions taken at climax affect the remainder of the characters in the story?
- The book should wind down to a new status quo. What is that?
Here’s your mission: Answer all the questions that you can–one or two sentences should be enough. If you don’t know how to answer one, then we know where to concentrate our brainstorming.
And that is how we began. I’ll continue posting how things go, as long as they are relevant to a larger audience, like you, Dear Reader.
NOTE: Your Mileage May Vary! There is no guarantee that my comments apply to your WIP, nor that you will benefit from them. I present them here for thought and entertainment only.