How to build a complex plot based on a simple message (Part 9)

Part 9: The devil in the details.

Plotting is a never-ending process. Even after you have the crazy novel actually written, you can still go back and find plot holes that need to be filled. Or you can find plot points that need to be repaired.

The crazy, ridiculous thing I came up with in the last couple of installments of this blog is something I created on the fly. It’s random, and I just threw it together for example’s sake. I’m sure if I were to go back through it a page at a time, I would find all sorts of thigns that need to be fixed.

But the fact remains, that it’s a writable story with a decent plot. It may not be the best, but it’s workable. Let’s review:

Message: Stealing is wrong.
Direction: External.
Genre: Steampunk.
Character: Confused Robin Hood.
Conflict – Turning Point One: Confused Robin Hood chooses to accept the accolades of his people even though he neither wants nor deserves them in order to preserve his relationship with his Beloved Uncle and Unlikely Maid Marian. We learn that Sheriff wants the Golden Arrow for himself (maybe we learn this, maybe we don’t, but either way it’s understood) and thinks that Confused Robin Hood knows how to use it. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Conflict – Turning Point Two: Confused Robin Hood is forced to admit his crimes, and the people blame the Professor’s death on him. And by putting him in prison, it puts Sheriff in charge.
Conflict – The Point of No Return: Confused Robin Hood realizes that Sheriff is the one who killed the Professor and Unlikely Maid Marian, but because his own actions started all of the trouble, he is willing to accept the blame. But he wants to take Sheriff down with him.
Conclusion: Confused Robin Hood is able to prove that Sheriff is guilty, and he not only kills Sheriff but is able to rejuvenate the soil in his town for the sake of the people. But they are still angry at him, so he steals Unlikely Maid Marian’s necklace and runs for it. He returns months later to give the necklace back. And he disappears again.

The point of the story is that stealing is wrong because you can get into all sorts of trouble. Who knew that just by stealing something random from the bottom of an eccentric man’s house that Confused Robin Hood would end up in so much trouble?

And Confused Robin Hood got what he wanted in the end because he got to be just like everyone else.

But just because you reached the end of your first plot draft, does that mean it’s the one you should go with?

No. Way.

Actually, that’s a terrible idea. Your first plot should be a foundation you can build on, the basis for the work that is yet to come. You have some idea of what you want to accomplish and how you can do it, but if you read back over it and you don’t like it, guess what? You can change it.

If you think Confused Robin Hood would be more fun if this were an internally direceted story, change it. If you think it would be more powerful if Confused Robin Hood were Confused Robin Hoodette, change it!

This is your world. It’s your story. Nothing is set in stone.

Build your first plot out. Add more supporting characters. Flesh out your main character and your villain. Write their back stories. Write whole descriptive paragraphs about your setting. Figure out the history of your world. Once you have all of those things figured out completely, go back over your plot and see what you can add. See what you can change.

Deepen it. Add connections.

If you’re going to have someone help Confused Robin Hood prove his innocence, bring that person in randomly at the beginning.

Add a village idiot for comedic relief.

Why not?

Just remember that the devil is truly in the details.

You have to know your world. You have to know what the sky looks like and what the ground looks like and what the houses look like. You have to know what songs are popular in the culture, what clothing is popular on the street, what food sells the best in the market. You have to know what technology is common and what technology is expensive, especially in a steampunk book.

You have to know your characters. You have to know what they wear and what they eat and how they dress and what they say and what they think.

Do people fly in zepplins? Do they wear goggles? Do they drive steam-powered cars? Do they walk everywhere? Do they listen to Big Band era music? Do they dance? Do they eat apple pie?

You have to know your world and your characters backward and forward, and then it will be easy to slip into their world and create a story about them.

The more tiny details you can slip in (unobtrusively, of course), the more real it will seem to your readers. The more you know about the world you’ve created, the more natural it will feel to step into it.

Once you understand the culture you’ve created, your characters will flow more naturally. Once you understand the world you’ve created, your characters will seem at home there. Once you understand the limitations of the universe your story exists in, you will find that your entire plot will come together seamlessly.

But all of that doesn’t happen overnight. And it doesn’t happen by itself either.

Plotting takes work. Hard work and research. You have to dig deep into other genres of the same sort to find out what makes them work. You have to know a lot about a lot of things. You have to pay attention to the finer points in life, especially the ones that take a second glance.

Don’t Forget Perspectives

Who is telling the story?

What voice do you envision telling your story? Is it told from the perspective of a bystander? Is it told from the perspective of someone close to the action? Is it told from the perspective of the person who the story is about? Whatever you choose will affect the whole tone of the story.

First, you need to decide what Person is telling the story. First, Second or Third person options will change the tone of your writing immensely.

Second Person narration or exposition is very difficult to do and oftentimes really annoys your readers. The only example I’ve ever run into with Second Person perspective is A Prayer for the Dying. Second Person would be something like this (I find it annoying):

You wake up in the cold morning air and watch your breath turning to clouds as you sit up in the bedroom of your old, unheated house. You scramble out of your bed and dress quickly and hurry downstairs to eat a warm breakfast before you go out to do your chores.

Third Person is the most common perspective, but First Person is becoming more popular. The Twilight books are written in First Person perspective.

Excerpt from Twilight by Stephenie Meyer:
My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt — sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.

The Harry Potter books are written in Third Person Limited.

Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they didn’t hold with such nonsense.

You can also choose present tense or past tense. You can also choose limited or omniscient.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is written in First Person Past Tense Omniscient. It’s a story about someone else narrated by Death who witnessed it and who knows how the story is going to end.

Excerpt from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak:
As for me, I had already made the most elementary of mistakes. I can’t explain to you the severity of my self-disapointment. Originally, I’d done everything right: I studied the blinding, white-snow sky who stood at the window of the moving train. I practically inhaled it, but still, I wavered. I buckled — I became interested. In the girl. Curiosity got the better of me, and I resigned myself to stay as long as my schedule allowed, and I watched.

A general rule of thumb to follow in choosing a point of view is to choose the perspective of the person who is going to change the most in the story. Or the person who the story will impact the most.

In my opinion, in the plot that I laid out in the last couple of posts, the person who will be affected the most is Confused Robin Hood.

So the next question would be First Person or Third Person. In either case, Omniscient forms of writing are really falling out of popularity unless they are done extremely well. It’s just not usually a good idea to try to explain everything that is happening and why to your audience, unless you have a really good reason.

A unique example of perspectives is The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, my favorite new author. He uses Third Person Limited, but because his plot is so complicated, he employes both a Narrator to introduce the story as well as a Main Character to live the story. I dont think I can do an excerpt because they are both so complicated, but I highly recommend both of these novels. Incredible work!

And that’s about it.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering how I ever wrote anything because my brain is so screwed up. But I’ve met a lot of really odd writers in my day, and I’ve discovered that not many people even know how to start plotting. So this series was an attempt to write down my un-process to see if anyone could use it for themselves.

Thanks for reading!

A.C. Williams

Amy Williams left a lucrative career in marketing to write novels about space cowboys, clumsy church secretaries, American samurai, and alternate dimensions. Along the way, she also discovered a passion for teaching other creative professionals how to use technology to make life easier. Through video instruction or one-on-one coaching, she teaches software, blogging, basic graphic design, and many other useful skills that help creative entrepreneurs get stuff done minus the frustration.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. *Bows*

    Thx for putting the essential parts of plotting together in such an entertaining way!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Thanks so much for posting up this series! Conventional or not it’s helped me more then you’ll ever know!! 🙂

    1. You’re very welcome. Thank you for reading!

  3. This is genius, Amy. Thank you for sharing your process!

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