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Showing results for tags 'plotting'.
I was an awkward thirteen-year-old (a little under ten years before I was diagnosed as dyslexic) when my mother gave me a copy of A Pocketful of Rye by Agatha Christie. At the time I loved the concept of books but I found them so difficult, my reading was so slow and finishing a book seemed like an impossibly difficult task, a mountain too high to climb. This book intrigued me. The cover was macabre, a black bird’s skeleton surrounded by its black feathers, lying on an illustrated sheet music to a child’s nursery rhythm. I began to read it and on the second page was the description of a man dying from poisoning. I was hooked and carried on reading. What kept me reading it, at my painstakingly slow pace back then, was the plot. At the end of the book, the twist hit me hard; it wasn’t the murderer I thought it was, I’d been certain it was. Then I looked back on the story and saw the clues she had sprinkled throughout the plot, subtly hinting at who the murderer was, and I didn’t feel cheated, I didn’t feel that she had held back important information from me. She had just got the better of me. I raced out, got another one of her books and started reading it. As a teenager Christie’s books were the first “adult” novels I read and I loved them. It was their tight plots that kept me guessing who the murderer was and their archetypical but very recognisable characters that kept me reading them. Those Christie novels were a gateway into the world of literature for me. From her I read some other Golden Age crime writers, some I enjoyed and some I didn’t, and from them I started to read modern day crime writers (modern day when I was a teenager). This was a very mixed experience, many of them were poor or just plain bad, but I also discovered PD James and Ruth Rendell, and later still Joseph Hansen. These authors opened my eyes to the fact that crime fiction can be about much more than just a murder (or two). They all used detective fiction to write about other subjects too and their prose was of such a high standard. They took time setting scenes and developing characters; they gave their detectives a whole life outside of work. Their writing led me to other, non-crime fiction, literary fiction and other genes, though I still enjoy a good detective novel. As an adult, I still enjoy a Christie novel, occasionally, but I cannot say she is the greatest of writers. Her descriptive prose is poor, just using a few commonly used colloquialisms to sum up a recognisable image; most of her description is left to the reader’s imagination to fill in. She set her novels in a very narrow world, that of the middle- and upper-class English, but her books still had strong and well-crafted plots. It was from reading them that I learnt how to plot and how important plots are in fiction. Her plots carefully set the scene of the story, introducing the place and characters but not giving away all the details at the beginning. Her plots dripped out the information and clues as the story progressed, they didn’t give away all the information in one go. Her plots give the reader a journey to go on throughout the book. At first, I thought this plotting style was only useful for crime fiction, where withholding information until later in the story was an important element. Then I read Job's Year by Joseph Hansen. Here he used the same style of plotting but in a non-crime novel. Each chapter gave more information about the central character. Reading it, I felt like a detective finding out more about a character, it was like how I felt in a friendship; over time I found out more and more about that friend, I wasn’t given all the information about them in one go as soon as we met. It felt much more of a natural way to tell a story. You don’t have to be writing crime fiction to learn from this style. I learnt not to give everything away at the beginning of a story, treat it like a detective story, drip out your information as the story progresses. So instead of telling the reader everything about a character as soon as you introduce them, let the information fall out as the story progresses, as a natural progression. Hold the reader’s interest by giving away clues to a character as the story flows; tell them about the character’s background and history through the length of the story, not as one, rushed chunk of information at the beginning. I have learnt to give the reader a beginning, middle and end to a story. I introduce the story and draw the reader into the world I’ve created. Like Christie, I don’t let interest fall during the middle of a story, the middle isn’t just there to get from the beginning to the end as quickly as possible. I use that part to build on my story and characters, I let the reader get to know my characters, I let the characters speak for themselves, to set their own motivations. There’s no need for the end of a story to tie up all the loose ends, but I give the story a definite moment where it ends. An example of this is my story The Men Who Took Their Vows Together in East Ham Registry Office. Though this story has an ending I have used a lot, it ends at a certain point of the story, not tying up all the loose ends and giving the characters a neat resolution; instead it ends with the character moving forward. I try to always give a reader an ending, just not always a neat one. Plot holds so much writing together; even if it is a story/piece that is looking back on a character’s life or following a character’s emotional journey a plot gives me a structure to hang all this upon and, hopefully, to hold a reader’s attention. At present, I am writing a short story about a man, in his late twenties, who cannot seem to attain an adult, romantic relationship. All he can find is short-lived relationships that crash and burn or casual sex. The story explores how he has got into this situation, what has contributed to him being so poor at relationships, though I want to portray him as a character with little insight into his own situation (I do like a challenge). I could just write it as the character looking back on his life, but this would be a very dry story with me just telling the reader about this character’s situation. I have decided to intersperse this retrospective narrative across one evening of this man’s life when he goes on another first date. With the date, I can show the reader some of this man’s problems, how he sabotages his attempts to forge a relationship. Here I am using a plot as a device to explore a subject. Agatha Christie was called the Queen of Crime, she is one of the most widely read of English language authors, she is also the most successful English woman playwright, but for me Agatha Christie was a great teacher. Her books taught me how to plot a story and I’m so grateful to her for this. I also have a strange link to her, not through her books. During the Second World War, Agatha Christie worked as a hospital dispenser at University College Hospital in London. This was one of the hospitals where I did my nurse training, so she and I walked the same hospital corridors, just separated by five decades. Happy reading, Drew
I never actually met Hamish (*), but God did I hate him, and that wasn’t from a personal prejudice. Martin (my husband) was working for a previous employer but still as a clinical nurse specialist. I know that I am biased, but Martin is very experienced at his job and he knows his subject. Hamish started working at the same trust. He had no clinical experience or qualifications and was working as a manager for a non-clinical service; he managed the trust’s buildings. But this didn’t stop Hamish. He very quickly began telling Martin how to do his job and what he “really” should be doing. Hamish’s suggestions were deeply wrong but this didn’t deter him. He was pushing himself into Martin’s role, trying to override Martin, constantly trying to bully him and generally making his working life hell by making doing his job so difficult. So many evenings, after he got home, I would hear Martin’s complaints about how again Hamish had made his working life so taxing and how Hamish just refused to listen to complaints about his own behaviour and wouldn’t agree to any suggestions that weren’t his own. He was making Martin’s working life unbearable and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt so useless because I couldn’t help Martin, except by listening to how Hamish screwed-up his working day. Then the idea came to me, I could use my writing to get some revenge on Hamish for Martin. I was writing a story was about a man who was being homophobically bullied by a work colleague, and I decided to call the work colleague Hamish. The man breaks one evening and ends up killing Hamish in a very bloody attack. From there the plot twists as the man reacts to his crime. My interest in the story was writing about perceptions and how easily we believe anyone can be keeping a secret, even if it goes completely against what we know about a person. When Martin read the story, he took gleeful pleasure in Hamish’s murder. It was so nice to see his stress eased, if only for a short time, by something I had rewritten. (Hamish left for a “better” job soon after, though he had no idea what I had written. The story remains unpublished but it is on my list to be revised for a planned collection.) To want revenge, especially when we have received unjust or prejudicial treatment, is a very natural human response, but it is never satisfying. Whatever that other person has done to us, we can never make them suffer the way they made us suffer, most of the time they are not even aware of how much suffering they caused; often it us who are hurt as we are eaten up with the injustice done us and the desire for revenge. I spent so much time, too much time, plotting how I could get my own back on those who had hurt me when I was a teenager, the homophobes who hurt and rejected me. All it did was eat me up with anger and bitterness, I wasn’t even able to put into context what had happened to me. Then I wrote a story based on a very traumatic event from when I was a teenager. Writing it I found I was able to take a step backwards and look at what really happened, how I came to put myself in such a position, that it wasn’t my fault, and to begin to understand why those people had behaved so appallingly. Rereading that story now, I see that it is overwritten, with far too much unnecessary backstory, too long and too slowly paced. It will never see the light of day. I was just learning how to write then, but it did show me the power of writing, how writing could open my eyes to why something happened. That short story also had another big flaw, it was easy to identify who the characters were based on. I’ve since learnt there is no need for anyone else to be able to identify who a character is based on; I actually do not want readers to stand any chance to. So now I take all steps to prevent this (see my blog about writing about real people). Writing fiction about things that make me angry or events that have caused me pain has become very liberating. Doing so, I have to look at a situation, what caused it, what led to it, the effects it caused; I have to analyse the entire situation. This can give me insight and understanding, it is amazing how the negativity of a situation is diminished by understanding it. I do the same thing with attitudes and beliefs that I don’t agree with and that make me angry. Understanding an attitude doesn’t mean that I will agree with it, but it does mean I can understand where it comes from and the harm it does. Writing against it I can explore the human effects of it. I have a relative who has very conversative and Evangelical Christian views. Her views are very black and white, no shades of grey, and very simplistic. She bluntly doesn’t engage with any challenges to her views. She is also someone I have known most of my life and, as such, I have been able to study why and who she is. She has given me so much opportunity and understanding of why someone would hold her views. Her attitudes have appeared so often in my writing, giving me the opportunity to explore them and the harm they cause. Saying all that, this approach isn’t easy and I do not always get it right. Years ago, and several jobs ago, I was subjected to a rant by an Evangelical Christian colleague. She objected to the Equality Bill, claiming wrongly that it would give LGBT people more protection than Christians and that Christians would be persecuted under it. She claimed that Christians were the most persecuted minority in the country (not true). When I tried to reply to her, she bluntly refused to let me speak, refusing to listen to any view that didn’t match her own. I was so angry at her. Through my anger I began to wonder why someone would take such a blinkered and untrue view and the harm such views were doing. The result of this, after much thought, was the short story “Easter Witness”, which was published in my collection Case Studies in Modern Life. I am very happy with this story because I was able to show the negative effects of those views as well as punching holes in that argument. But I don’t always get it right, especially if I write too quickly about it. During the Marriage Equality debate here in Britain, there were a lot of untruths and downright lies told about what would happen if same-sex couples could legally marry (all of which have not come to pass). I was so angry that I wrote the short story “To the Heart of Marriage”. Unfortunately, I wrote it too quickly and I was too angry when I wrote it. Its arguments are simplistic and it tells the reader what’s wrong, not showing the effects of these negative untruths. It failed. Revenge does need to be written with a cool mind. But also there shouldn’t be a wish fulfilment element to this, we shouldn’t be using fiction to rewrite history so that we win, so we come out on top, to enact the revenge we were never able to do in real life, because that is so hollow and untrue, and what service are we doing to our readers? Many years ago, I was a member of a gay men’s writing group. One of the members was writing a novel in which he rewrote his unhappy and repressed childhood. His novel made him, as a young teenager, the winner and always coming out on top of his family’s fights and wars. He had created a thirteen-year-old boy who had the debating and arguing skills of a thirty or forty-year-old man; this child was impossibly wise for his years. That novel made me feel uncomfortable because it was so untrue but he, the writer, couldn’t see that. He was actually taking deep pleasure from it. I realised the discomfort I felt was the discomfort a reader would feel and that it would make a reader stop reading. My fiction has to be honest about human emotions and reactions, otherwise how can I ever hope to hold a reader’s interest? After all, they are the ones giving me their time to read my writing. Art is the best revenge but only if it’s done honestly, not to settle old scores but to explore the events. Happy reading Drew (*) Not his real name.
I believe that one of the best ways to spice up a certain type of story, depending on what you happen to be writing at the moment...is to grab your audience and turn them upside down with an effective plot twist. As many of you have heard me say in past articles...the readers that you are doing your very best to entertain are much more savvy and experienced when it comes to reading fiction these days. This is the information age, and things keep speeding up. You're not speaking to folks with a local library card and a few notable classics sitting on their bookshelves at home anymore. Many of the people in your target audience have read story after story after story after STORY, and consume multiple concepts as though they'll STARVE without them! They gobble them up, ten to fifteen chapters at a time, before you can even post them! And that was probably in the last two or three weeks alone. There's no way humanly possible that you can keep up with that kind of hunger. They've seen the tricks, they know the character arcs, they're looking for clues the whole time that they're reading and attempting to beat you to the punch before you can give it to them. Let's face it...a lot of readers are like 'Neo' seeing the lines of code in "The Matrix", and now they're clicking on your newest project and looking at the first page with their arms stubbornly folded across their chest...saying, "Show me something NEW!!!" Well...what's NEW to them at this point? You know? How is anybody going to meet their expectations when their expectations are...godlike? Hehehe, now, I don't say all this to intimidate you guys! Honestly...as writers, you still have complete and total control over your own story. And if you're speaking from the heart, from your own personal perspective, you can deliver, satisfy, and entertain, your readers just the same. In the best of ways. But as your audience grows more sharp-witted...you have to try your best to do the same. Find ways to finesse your story around their watchful eye, and see if you can still sucker punch them with a few unpredictable twists every now and then. It can be done. Promise. This is the beauty of creating an effective plot twist in your stories. Or even multiple plot twists, if you think you're confident enough to pull them off without any loopholes or missteps along the way. (You know...the 'hard' part!) So let's talk 'plot twists'! What they are, how to create them, and what they can mean in the long run when it comes to giving your readers a thrill that they (hopefully) didn't see coming! What is a plot twist? I'm sure you all know what a twist is, but to put it into words...it's the art and craft of being able to sell your readers on one story...all while preparing to blindside them with a change in narrative that they didn't know was coming, originally. It is a vicious change in your story that suddenly shakes everything up and snatches the floor out from under your most careful and clever readers as they reel from this new dump of information that they didn't have previously. It's something that can really add a whole new layer of depth to the story that you're writing, and drop the jaws of your readers, if you can pull it off. Not only that, but it also creates a desire to read the story again after it's finished, for readers to look back and see what they missed the first time around. It's a total win/win situation. But it takes planning. And, as always...it takes practice. I realize that there are authors out there who aren't really interested in dropping any bombshells in their fiction, and others that may feel a bit skittish about trying to pull off such a feat for fear of messing it up or having it fall flat...but I'm willing to bet that you guys have written big plot twists into your stories before without even knowing it. It's a part of life. How could you avoid it? And what are we writing...if not a representation of life in general as we understand it, right? Plot twists are merely a method of addressing and dealing with unexpected circumstances...as told through the eyes of your protagonist. If any of you have ever tragically lost a parent or a family member? That's a plot twist in your life, or your personal 'story'. You didn't see it coming, and there was no way for you to prepare for it ahead of time. Even if you expected it on some level, through an illness or injury...it probably didn't happen on the exact day and at the exact time that you thought it would. If you've ever been suddenly laid off of work, had your heartbroken, discovered that you've been cheated on, found out that you or your spouse was pregnant, came out of the closet to those close to you...hell, the whole 2020 pandemic was a HUGE plot twist for a vast majority of us! It's, quite simply, of thinking that things are going to head in one direction, and suddenly having a monkey wrench thrown into the works...causing you to veer off course and take an unfamiliar detour into uncharted territory. That's all it is. It's not as difficult as some people make it out to be in their heads. The first part of crafting a proper plot twist in your writing is just understanding what it is. It's that car accident on the side of the road when you're driving to work in the morning. It's having your boyfriend coming home from work in a bad mood and starting an argument for no other reason than he needs to let off some steam. It's accidentally burning the macaroni that you were making for dinner. It's not as big of a leap of faith as you may think it is. The best way to surprise your audience is to think about your story and its characters...and end up surprising yourself. Hehehe, I've done it many times. Honestly! I've had some of my best ideas at random, and I LOVE that unexpected spark taking a hold of me and guiding me towards something even more awesome than what I originally had in mind! It's crazy. That's why I keep a pen and some paper with me at all times. Like, "Omigod! Let me write that down before I forget it! That would be awesome!" Here's the thing...while I was thinking about posting some of the BEST plot twists that I've ever read in books or seen in some movies or TV shows...I decided not to list them here. As, for many of them...the twist is the best part of the fiction. ("WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!?!?!") And everybody might not have seen or read them yet. So I'll save those thrills for you guys' enjoyment, so you can all experience them on your own time, and get the full effect. However, I wanted to give a few examples of what plot twists look like, how they become an organic part of the story itself, and how a slight or super sharp 'shift' in your story can immediately subvert expectations and force your audience to go back to see how you were able to trick them into believing something that wasn't true. I wanted to show a few effective plot twists at work, to help me bring the whole point home in some way. These are two short horror films that I've enjoyed sharing with a few other people online. I chose horror, because plot twists and big reveals are a staple in that particular genre. But DON'T worry! Hehehe, k? Nothing overly gory or something that will scare the living shit out of you! Promise. It's not anything more than anything that you would see in a Twilight Zone episode. Watch these two short films in their entirety, and pay attention to the methods and techniques that are being employed here to create the desired effect in the end... 00 Now, after watching those...do you kind of get the idea? Plot twists aren't really that difficult to pull off as long as you build up to them in your story in subtle ways and, eventually, deliver an ending that has a significant impact on your story as a whole. It breaks down into three simple steps... Groundwork. Gut Punch. Payoff. What you're doing here as a writer is merely creating a narrative where a potential 'secret' is being exposed at a moment that your readers weren't expecting to see it. And you accomplish that by getting your readers to totally invest themselves in one story...and then showering them with a bucket of ice water by introducing another story entirely. You are deconstructing everything that they thought they knew from the very beginning, and sending them on a different course from the one they expected to follow. There's a shattering of the story's reality and the rules that you have put in place to guide that particular narrative in a certain direction. And now...oh shit...there's an upset! The scheme of things that people were planning on and trying to figure out before you did...has now been turned upside down, and you've gained a new level of interest within them as they watch to see what will you will do next. I believe that the art of telling a compelling story, one that spans over multiple chapters, comes from the ability to occasionally surprise your readers from time to time. As I always say, the stories are all about a simple question. 'What if?' Plot twists work the same way. It's a bait and switch, but in a good way. Like..."You thought I was telling THIS story...but I was actually telling this OTHER story all along!" Or some personal variation on that concept. Hehehe! The way to pull this off comes from planning ahead of time. Now, you don't have to struggle with a heavy plot twist when thinking up the initial theme of the story itself. I mean, if the twist is going to be the defining part of your whole project...then yeah, plan that out waaaaay ahead of time. But, while I feel there's a need to be 'flexible' with your craft along the way, I think that truly effective plot twists should, more often or not, be a part of the original planning process. Know where you're going with your story before coming to that particular fork in the road so you can have a touch of build up to it. That's what makes it meaningful. And nothing ruins a good plot twist than just having it randomly appear out of nowhere without any apparent reason. That can make your twist more 'jarring' than surprising or exciting, and it takes away from the overall feel of your story while your readers try to recover from that sudden stumbling block and readjust to get themselves reattached to the story again. And since many big plot twists happen near the end of said story...you're not really giving them a whole lot of time to do that. That brings us to our three techniques... - Groundwork. This is where you begin to build a structure for your plot twist later on in the story or series. It's the act of knowing whats ahead for your readers...without letting them know that there's a big surprise just around that next corner. You leave little breadcrumbs along the way. You drop a few hints, a few clues, a few strange behaviors from the characters that will ultimately be involved in the big finish. But you have to be subtle about it. Not too obvious. If you're telling a zombie story, and you show your audience a giant machine that is specifically fitted with grinding razor blades and flamethrowers attached, and then you just walk away from it in your story...yeah. Some savvy readers will roll their eyes and immediately think, "Gee...Ill just bet THAT wont come into play later!" And they'll be looking for it. However...there are ways around that too. Which leads us to part two... - Gut Punch. Now, how do you deliver a big gut punch to your readers without them expecting it ahead of time. Hehehe, simple! You end up using their own strength against them! Like a 'Judo' move! If you truly have a collection of readers who have taught themselves the ins and outs of reading stories or watching movies or whatever...you can use that to your benefit. You can accomplish this by using certain tropes and cliches in your stories that you, yourself, might have seen a million times before. You know the ones. The damsel in distress getting saved by the hero...the untrustworthy ally that betrays the protagonist at the last minute...the villain that ends up shouting 'what have I done?' in the end and has a change of heart. You know how to build up these story tropes and you know where they lead. But...if your readers recognize them and the path that they're on...what happens if you completely upset the whole thing and shock the living shit out of them? Hehehe! The gut punch is the climax of your plot twist. This is what really counts when it comes to whether or not it's going to be successful or not. Reveal the secret. Decode the message. Shake things up, and send your audience reeling when they least expect it. And no matter what you do...make sure that you commit to it. No matter what. And enjoy the gasps to follow. Payoff. This one is the fun part, but just as important as the other two. When I'm talking about a payoff here...I'm saying that your plot twist (if you choose to pull one off) should have some deeper meaning, and a true impact on the story from that point on. Don't just toss one out there for no reason if it isn't going truly change things for your story and the characters within it. That's a plot twist wasted...so don't build up to something that doesn't really make much difference one way or the other. And don't use fictional breadcrumbs to make promises that you can't cash in on later. It'll come off as disappointing to your audience...and if this takes place near the end of your story, that will become a big part of the lasting impression that you lead with them. Even if the beginning of your project is mind-blowing...if a plot twist isn't adding another level to your narrative and changing the plot and behaviors of your main characters in some significant way...it wont matter. The end of your book is what they'll remember most. Hehehe, again, I don't want to discourage you in giving these methods a try. Like I said, if you decide to create one in your next story...they don't have to be anything HUGE! Just effective. The whole idea is, again...to sell your audience on one story, and then completely wreck that story by revealing what was really going on all along. It doesn't take any big speeches or exposition or explanations before or after the big gut punch. It's merely a way of causing your story to completely change course from what people were sure was going to be end that they were looking for. With that said, I'd like to end this article with a video where I think this is best displayed for you to see and think about for later. Once again, I'm using a horror/thriller model, as plot twists seem to be a special part of those particular genres. This video is an animated version of these stories that you might be able to find on Reddit or elsewhere online. There's only one rule...the story can only be TWO sentences long. So check out the video collection below, and notice how every story can easily use the groundwork, gut punch, payoff, method in such a limited space! As always, I hope this helps you guys out with your writing, especially if you're going out there and looking for new ways to grow or try out new ideas as an author. Take care! And I wish you well!
One thing that I've discovered while writing my own stories over the years, is the 'lacking' presence of added depth when I only have one situation going on from beginning to end. Now, this may be just a personal preference of mine...but when I'm focused on two boys and one issue, the theme of the story itself feels really basic and seems to fall 'flat' to me sometimes. Like something is missing. Nothing major, really...but it's similar to a cook tasting their food and thinking, "Hmmmm...I need a little more salt. Or butter. Or garlic." Etc. I like to build a story that feels a bit more full when it comes to the plot that I put together. This is when I begin thinking of some of the other characters in the story, and what's going on around them as well. Seriously .What's going on with them? This is when I begin wondering about certain 'subplots', and how I can, maybe, weave them into the overall plot and include them into what's going on with the main characters. Now, if subplots seem distracting or unnecessary to you, then I won't tell you to force it into a project where they aren't needed. That's an instinct that you can choose to develop or not develop as you see fit. Sometimes a short story is just fine as a short story, and it doesn't need to be overworked with anything extra, bogging the story down. But, whenever I'm writing anything longer than a few chapters, I like to add a little more meat to the world that my narrative takes place in. It's just the way my brain works, I suppose. I often write in the first person perspective, so all of the story's major events are basically surrounding that one character and how he sees the world from his point of view. But when I introduce a love interest, or a best friend, or a parent, or a few co-workers...I'm always thinking about ways to flesh out those characters in ways that will keep them from just 'being there' as background for no apparent reason. Who are these people? What are their lives like? What are their motivations and why are they important to the plot? In my head, every single character that I use to populate my story has a fully fleshed out backstory of their very own. Something that gives their character a few added layers and explains who they are and what their purpose is. Even if they only show up briefly from time to time, and none of that backstory ever shows up in the story itself...it's right there in the back of my mind the entire time. And, if any of you read my article on 'Show, Don't Tell', then you'll remember that it's not enough to just tell the history of this character in passing in order to reveal their motivations and give them a meaningful personality. If they're in your story, give them something to do. If they have nothing to do...cut them out. You won't need them. I can't stress that enough. I know you might be attached to them in one way or another...but don't cradle useless characters in your project if you can avoid it. It will only drag you down in the long run. BUT...if you have people populating the world that you're trying to build, and they're pushing the plot forward, even if it's in a minor way...then their presence will have a purpose. And your story will be that much better for it. For this article, we're talking about 'subplots'. How to craft them, what they mean, and how to use them to enhance your writing to further flesh out your story and make it all that you intended it to be. So, question number one is simple...what is subplot? When writing your story, you have a main focus and a series of goals that you want your protagonist to accomplish. This is your plot. What is it that your main character wants to do? He wants to get his dream job in Hollywood. He wants to ask that beautiful stranger out on a date. He wants to come out of the closet to his friends. He wants to find the one weapon that will help him defeat the alien horde that is arriving within the next few days to take over the Earth. Whatever. This is what you should concentrate on the most when it comes to your writing. Figure out what the most important part of your story is, and use that as a guiding light to take you from beginning to end. Now...what is the subplot? Subplots take part just on the outside fringes of the story you're trying to tell. It's a third dimension to a two dimensional plot. There are going to be times when simplicity is the best way to go...but for longer stories or series, I think subplots really do help out a lot. And it's great for solving any 'pacing' issues that may pop up when your main story is moving from one major event to another. So keep that in mind. Take a moment and think about your own life. You have thoughts, dreams, and desires, right? You do things, you say things, you win, and you lose. But you're not alone in this world. If you have a close friend...how do these things affect them? How do they affect your parents? If you're gay, but in the closet...your new romance with the cutest boy on the block may be your main goal...but the struggles you may face with coming out to your other friends and family may play a part in you being fully happy. That's not the main focus of your story, but it definitely factors in to every situation that you're dealing with as a whole. Right? Maybe the 'best friend' character rejects the protagonist for his feelings, or for keeping his true feelings a secret. Maybe the parents aren't really 'gay friendly', and your main character is struggling with the fear of being kicked out of the house or simply disappointing them by being different. Now, these issues aren't meant to be a major distraction from the main plot, nor is it meant to overshadow it in any way. Instead, they are just giving your readers a different perspective of what's going on from an entirely different angle. Can you tell a short story with just a boy that wants to meet another boy and fall in love? Of course you can. And you don't have to stress yourself out too much, over complicating the story with extra details when you can just tell a simple story and be done with. But if you're writing an extended series, I personally think that it gets to be a little bit boring after a while, just dealing with the same main character's thoughts and his constant gushing over the love interest. How many ways can you come up with to say, "He's so beautiful and I love him!" before your readers get a little exhausted with it? (Guilty of this myself. So I'm not throwing stones. Trust me!) By introducing a strong and effective subplot into your story, not only does it spice things up a little bit, offering opportunities for a few surprises and added drama...but it can be used to give your readers a much needed break from the monotony of two people saying, "No, I love YOU more! Mwah mwah mwah!" That gets old pretty quick. It's fine for a short story, but for a longer series...you're going to need to thicken that gravy a little bit more to keep your audience locked in. To give an example, I'd like to start with the movie, "Titanic". Now, I'm sure that most of you reading this know about the tragedy of the Titanic, even if you haven't seen the movie. The ship hit an iceberg, sank to the bottom of the sea, lots of people died. (Sorry, spoiler alert! Hehehe!) However...the one thing that audiences know about the Titanic and what happened to most of the people on board...is not the plot of the movie. It's the subplot of the movie. What is taking center stage here is the romantic love story between a lower class boy who was able to sneak on board the ship thanks to a lucky gambling hand, and a very wealthy upper class woman who is unhappy with her life but doing all she can to basically sell her soul for the sake of living a better life. THAT is what the movie is all about, essentially. The subplot adds a sense of anxiety and dread, sure...and it makes for one hell of an action set piece near the end of the film, but it's not the main focus of the story. It is the third dimension that helps to support the main story and create tension and and a powerful impact to the story you're watching unfold before your very eyes. It 'thickens the gravy'. Here is the trailer... The whole point of a subplot is to enhance the main focus of the big picture. It gets other people in your story, or sometimes just the environment itself, involved in a way that will bring your narrative to a head, and give some sort of backstory, as well as some foreshadowing, simultaneously. When you're adding other people into the mix, things become slightly more complex when it comes to storytelling. You now have another person to deal with. Ok...so how are the current events affecting him or her through all of this? What are the stakes involved when it comes to them being a part of your main character's life? And what issues of their own do they have to deal with? It doesn't have to be a huge deal or something that's going to take over the whole story on its own...but I always feel that you should have something going on with this other character if they're going to be a part of your plot. Otherwise, they're just a mask for random exposition. A very thin one at that. People can tell when someone is just there to provide the reader with information to move the story forward and nothing else. You don't want to let the audience see your secrets. Not if you can help it. I've found that when I'm writing subplots for my stories, there should be a certain cohesive feel to them when it comes to the main plot. I like for things to come full circle in my work. So I may stray from the main focus to concentrate on some of the side characters for a chapter or two...but I always keep the main characters involved. Don't ever let them disappear from your story completely...or it's going to feel like a total off ramp from the road you started on. Don't stray too far from your original story. One problem that I've come across in some of my writing over the years is that my subplots sometimes get to be more popular than the main story. I had to work and practice to make both stories relevant to my readers, without letting either one fall so far into the background that it's no longer of interest to my audience. The best example of this is what happened with "New Kid In School", where the story of characters like Tyler and Ariel was the only thing that people were really looking for...making it hard to get back to Ryan and Randy, who were supposed to be the main draw. Subplots are all about figuring out who is going to take center stage and get the spotlight from chapter to chapter. Just remember that when one person is in the spotlight...the others are in the dark. Leave them in the dark for too long, and your readers will forget about them. One of the very FEW complaints that I've ever had about James Cameron's films, deals with this particular issue. And I love James Cameron's work with a passion. However, if you've ever seen "Terminator 2"...there are a few subplots about John Connor bonding with the cyborg, and Sarah trying to prevent an apocalyptic future from ever happening. Interesting and engaging subplots, indeed. But after about 40 minutes...the actual T-1000 terminator shows up again, and I was like..."Oh yeah! I forgot he was even in this movie! Yeah, they're being hunted, aren't they?" Now, why did I lose sight of the main plot of the movie? Because the subplot took center stage for so long that it put me into an entirely different frame of mind. And it takes some practice and discipline to find your own particular balance with this kind of writing, but you're going to want to figure out how keep your main plot and your subplot running alongside one another smoothly at the same time for future projects. It's one of those things that you'll need in your utility belt for later. I feel that the best way to do that is to have both of your plots run, equally, while you're writing, and make sure that they intertwine and connect in ways where each individual story boosts one another up to the next level with added depth and meaning. That's been my technique for years, and I always stick with what works. Down below are a few more trailers, where the subplots run as a parallel to the main story. You'll see, the major plot of your story can be very simple, straightforward, and to the point. It's simply a matter of detailing who your main characters are and what it is that they want to accomplish by the end of the tale. Subplots merely add a bit of finesse and enhance your characters' motivations by explaining why they're doing whatever it is that they're doing. In the first movie, "Saint Ralph", the goal of the main character is to rise up from being a troubled youth at a Catholic school, and training to run a marathon in hopes of winning it despite all of the people who are doubting him. Very simple, very easy to absorb. But the side story or subplot deals with the fact that his mother is very sick. And he needs a holy 'miracle' in order for her to get better. So the whole movie is not just about him training for the marathon and being ridiculed or discouraged by the people who say he can't do it. The real heart of the film comes from the 'WHY'. Why is he doing it? What are the stakes? What's his motivation? With that extra story running alongside the main plot, the audience gets much more invested in what's going on. Now you've got yourself a cheering section, because they know a bit more about what's going on here. In the second movie, "1408", we have a writer who goes from place to place searching for definitive proof of the paranormal activities that people claim to be witness too. A pursuit that has never produced any results for him...until now. And he's forced to question whether it's real or not. Now...how do you add an extra layer of meaning to a movie like this? With a subplot that introduces the question of 'why' he's doing this. It just so happens that he lost his daughter to an illness, and is skeptical about whether or not her spirit lives on or if she's in a better place. That adds a lot to the story. It increases the stakes, whether he's proven right or wrong. It gives the main plot a level of depth that it didn't have before. And that's what you're trying to accomplish when writing subplots of your own. Check out the trailers... 000 I've found that telling a variety of stories all at once, switching from spotlight to spotlight, but still having them all exist in the same literary 'space', can really keep your readers engaged and invested in whatever story it is that you're trying to express when it comes to writing a longer story. Readers are looking for things to interest and excite them when it comes to your project. You've allowed them to learn your main character first, then allowed them to get to know your love interest. That takes, maybe two chapters? Three? So now what? What will you add to keep their interest once you've got them hooked. You won't make another ten chapters with just that one pursuit being the only focus of your story. I wouldn't be able to do it either. There's got to be something more happening behind the scenes. I have a story called, "A Class By Himself", which is a tornado of different stories all going on at once. The main character and his mother, the main character and his love interest, the main character and a 'third party'...then there's bullying at school, and his friend from back home, and a love triangle, an internal struggle with his own sexuality, and his financial limitations...but they're all tied together in a way where all of this manic situations are all spinning in the same literary 'space'. If that makes sense. They are all a part of the protagonist's growth and his ability to overcome the obstacles in his way to finally reach the end of his story arc. (At least, I HOPE that's how readers will see it, after all those years of planning! Hehehe!) They are all leading somewhere. And that's exactly what I wanted. I know that it takes me forever to update 'this' story and 'that' story...but when people see the finished product, I really do hope that they'll see where all of the puzzle pieces fit together at some point. And how I've been building up to the grand finale gradually over time. Something to say, "Ohhhh...NOW I see why Comsie did that!" You know? Again, not easy...but far from difficult once you've gotten enough practice at writing stories of your own. You've always got to keep the past, the present, and the future, of your story in your mind at all times when you're writing. It makes for a better story. And your readers will thank you for it in the long run. K? I hope this tidbit of advise helps you guys out! And keep writing! You guys are the future of this shit! So make it count! Love you all! Now go out there, and do it better than I ever could! Comsie needs entertainment too! Hehehe!
I was having a fun time reading one of the topics the other night that my reply might derail from the main subject. So I decided to make a separate thread for this particular topic. For the main question: Have you tried and categorize your characters (main/minor) into personality types? For me, yes. Not just because I am a Psych major, but also because it can create potential clashing between characters and their archetypes. This can really set a story into motion. It can set a certain standard for them and for you as well. Downside is they can be quite predictable over time. But it could also help you as the author to bring them out of their comfort zones for them to grow as your characters. In case you're interested, the easiest for me is studying the Myer-Briggs Personality type which has at least 16 archetypes. (I am an INTJ btw. 3rd rarest type so I am hoping to find a fellow INTJ here.) Personally, I aligned my characters via Myer-Briggs and Gallup Strengths Finder. The former will be their default standards and the latter test will bring about their true potential as characters. It sounds so very detailed and complicated but for me, I have fun while creating the character and setting up scenarios that can be very stressful in accordance to their types. Example, as an INTJ, I don't like being disturbed while working. All of the sugar, spice and everything nice will easily be spilled on the floor if you do. And that can be a scene that can cause a clash between characters. Like what I have said in that other thread, the rule I made in my head will always be this: What would a whole neighborhood look like if every single person in there thinks and exactly like me? And my answer is: Everyone is noisy and would always be in a heated philosophical debate (and probably a lot of orgies). I would always think that way to individualize my characters and show their uniqueness to the world.