Writing 101: and then THAT happened!

Let’s recap, shall we?

In the first installment, we discussed how if you want to write a story, you should first figure out what it was you wanted to say. Then we went over who it was that was going to say it. Now we’re going to deal with the how.

The ‘how’ of a story is called the plot. The word plot is thrown around quite a bit, but it basically means getting from point a to b and any other digit/alpha-numerics you may have along the way. Just saying “John woke up” isn’t a plot-unless John is waking up from a coma to find the world devastated by gummy worms. Saying what someone is doing is just a description.

Plot-lines are like blueprints.

There has to be an essence of “why the story matters” somewhere in there. In EY2k’s “Aftermath”, soldiers are trying to catch a guy and bring him in. If we never ask ‘why’, then it’s just a lot of running around and cool fight scenes, but it gets nowhere and the reader soon turns for his/her fix elsewhere. (Yes, girls/women read comics. I have proof.) A lazy writer will assume his plot will develop along the way. They spend an extravagant amount of time telling everyone what might or may happen, but in most cases nothing will ever come of it and the person drifts into obscurity. An inexperienced writer will think that developing strong plots is too complicated, not really necessary, or they don’t research theory or example and they eventually become intimidated by their own creation and eventually run into a dead end, quickly starting a new story and repeating the process all over again. They repeat a cycle and in time go the way of the dodo. Novice writers have burned a bit of midnight oil, and amidst a few notebooks full of jotted down ideas and illegible bar napkins and post-it notes, have a few stories that they wish they could get out of their head or off of their hard drive. Friends will ask them “What ever happened to that story?” because the friend knows a good story when they hear it. The novice writer will look into self publishing and buy lots of books on writing, even though they all say the same thing, because they hope they’ll find that one clue that will explain everything for them and make it easy. Sadly, though they may have good stories, they never make it off of the drafting table or out of Microsoft Word. Maybe a poem or two in the neighborhood newsletter, but after that a lot of regret. A seasoned writer will write. They’ll keep journals by their bed so that when they wake up talking about vampire pancakes from the moon, they can quickly write it down and go back to bed. They’ll have notepads in every room of the house, and small composition pads in the inside jacket pocket for those bus rides they take just to write. They develop callouses from writing (because typing is for amateurs), but they don’t mind, and they forget to comb their hair sometimes. Cracks in the bathroom wall turn into full blown epics, spontaneous conversations will erupt from total silence, and the writer will put themselves into the characters they’re writing, even using a mirror for facial expressions. These people have submitted work to various places, and despite rejection, kept at it. They weren’t good at first, but they refused to be silent. They just couldn’t keep it in.
Well, that was a tangent, but still. Plots are important. Research the meaning, and browse some Cliff Notes to catch the plots of your favorite books.
Sometimes you’ll hear the words “plot device”. These hail from the fact that there are only so many things that can take a person from a to b. If the prince is trying to gain his kingdom back from a wizard, it’s inevitable that they’ll eventually have to do battle. You take the problem and the final outcome and build a bridge between the two, thinking about the pillars holding the bridge up. These are your “devices”. What is it that makes us want to cross that bridge with the prince? Perhaps the wizard’s daughter loves the prince, and sneaks out as a spy. Maybe the prince hired the wizard in the first place. If the idea helps get us across the bridge, it’s a plot device. A good writer knows how to make the bridge invisible, Final Crusade style. (look it up.)
One tip i can give is to never excommunicate an idea simply because it doesn’t currently make sense. I’ve drawn characters that seemed needless, until much later, and I’ve found scraps of paper I’d left for dead, only to realize it was just what I needed. In brief sentences, try running your plot scenarios through your head (and on paper) and see how far you can get. Even if it doesn’t make sense. But whatever you do, don’t jump points, going from a to c, thinking you’ll fill it in later. One step at a time, or you’ll be on the wrong side of rock when the tide comes in. Some people recommend trying to tell your story in 13 complete sentences. (We’re talking comics here, but it works for books, too) Some say 26. Either way, the point is to make a plot per page and get from a to b that way. I’ve done this type of writing and it can be fun, but it becomes difficult to maintain on every page. Sometimes an idea just won’t fit on one page, no matter how many panels you draw. To example this:
1) John wakes up from a coma
2) John struggles, as he has no muscle mass from being in a coma.
3) Nurses aid John, but he resists
4) and so on
5) and so forth
Looking at 2, we know where 1 needs to end. Somewhere on page one, John awakes and by page two, he needs to be sprawled around due to lack of muscle. The nurses need to be in by page three, but we can bring them in anytime prior as well. maybe mid-2. Or maybe the nurses cause the sprawl. See what I’m getting at here?
This is another type of device, but it’s for you. You can use it. I don’t mind.
O.K. It’s late. More later. Until then, write, write, write! And write some more!

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