Posted in writing

Creating a Plot

Plot is often the one element that makes or breaks a story. Essentially, plot is conflict. Even in existentialist stories, the conflict is often hidden in the discussion of what life and existence means. For almost every other story out there, the conflict is easier to see.

Usually the basic plot structure is something along the lines of Character wants something and someone or something is stopping them from getting it. There are several variations of the basic plot premise as well, such as:

  • Character must stop someone or something from happening.
  • Something has happened to change Character’s life and they must adapt.
  • Someone broke something and Character must do something to fix it.
  • Character must complete a task or face severe consequences.

Regardless of your variation, your plot is driven by your conflict. Knowing that makes it easier to create a plot. There’s three simple questions you can use to help find your plot, even if you don’t have a plot structure yet.

  • What is your conflict?
  • Who is trying to resolve the conflict and why?
  • What actions are they taking to resolve it?

For example: the three little pigs. The wolf wants to eat the pigs, which the pigs don’t want. Character (the Wolf) wants something (to eat the pigs) which someone or something (the pigs) is stopping them from getting. Just by looking at that, you already know who’s involved and can take a pretty good guess at why these characters are specifically involved. The wolf is hungry and the pigs want to stay alive. That leaves you just one question to answer.

What actions are they taking to resolve it?

In most forms of the story, the pigs try to protect themselves by building houses. First of straw, then of sticks, then of bricks. Their actions cause the wolf to react, mostly by huffing and puffing to blow the houses down. Depending on the version of your story, the wolf either wears himself into exhaustion and is killed by a hunter or woodsman while the pigs keep their hooves clean, or his efforts to blow the brick house down somehow injure and kill him without anyone else interfering.

However your wolf comes to an end, the actions he takes to reach that end still create your plot. If you’re a planning-type writer, those actions can be plugged directly into your preferred story structure. If you’re finding gaps between those actions, remember that your characters will react to each event.

Back to our example: the first pig reacts to the destruction of his house by running to his brother’s house. The wolf reacts to that by chasing (and potentially getting a two-for-one meal). Upon arriving at another house, he uses the same action that worked the first time, forcing both pigs to react, again by running away.

These actions and reactions create the try-fail cycles which push your plot forward. The pigs tried and failed to protect themselves with simple houses. The wolf tried and nearly succeeded at catching the pigs by blowing their houses down.

Although creating a plot can be work intensive, at it’s base, you’re dealing with conflict. Take a look at your own story and ask yourself the above questions. What is the conflict? Who is trying to resolve the conflict and why? What actions are they taking to resolve it?

Posted in General, writing

Camp NaNoWriMo

Three months a year, NaNoWriMo hosts a writing event. For the regularly scheduled NaNoWriMo in November, the goal is set at a solid fifty-thousand words within thirty-days. For the two Camp events in April and July, you have the option of setting your own goal.

Because I have such a bad habit of start ten million projects and simply never finishing them, I’ve opted to only work on new projects during the three NaNoWriMo events. Technically, this is something I started last year, by trying to finish at least a few of the continuously unfinished projects I have on the list.

So far it’s worked out decently. Although we’re only a few days into April, I’ve found a lot of the ideas I’ve had on hold are better fleshed out even though I haven’t been working on them. I’m aiming to get two novellas written this month.  

Are you doing Camp NaNo? What project are you working on for the month?   

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: A Sister’s Love

Crown was resting, though buried under half a dozen blankets. Blade sighed a little, happy she’d finally managed to get to sleep. For now at least, she was resting comfortably.

Getting enough rest would be at least half of a long battle. The diagnosis was grim.

Mana sickness.

Trapped in a well of magic for almost three hours, Crown had been hit with so much raw magic her body was rejecting it. For someone who didn’t have any magic of their own, that would have been fine. A temporary ailment, gone in a few weeks.

For someone with budding magic of their own, it was a chance to permanently cripple any magic they had.

A sniffle from his eldest daughter’s room made Blade pause and turn. He’d thought Snow would have been in bed and asleep hours ago. At least, she should have been.

He heard the shuddering breath as she tried to hide a hiccup. She was laying perfectly still, faced away from the door and curled tight into herself.

Blade inhaled slowly as he came to the bed. “I know you are not asleep, ehla meh,” he said as he settled on the edge.

This time Snow hiccupped. “I’m trying to,” she muttered.

“Mhmm, and not succeeding, are you?” His hand was gentle as it landed on her shoulder. “What bothers your dreams tonight? More ice snakes?”

She shook her head and curled tighter, pressing her face almost into her knees.

“I cannot fix what you don’t tell me about,” Blade said. “What is it?”

“Crown’s not going to have magic.”

It startled him the way she said it. “What?”

“Crown. She’s sick and it’s my fault and she’s not going to have magic because of it.”

Snow had been there. She’d tried to get her sister out of the well first. They weren’t supposed to have been playing in that area anyways, but neither could resist exploring just once.

No one had known about the well, just about the decaying ruins over it. Snow and Crown had been the ones to find the well when part of their game had dumped the younger sister into it.

“Sit up,” Blade said gently and Snow grumpily complied. “What is this about it being your fault?”

“It’s my fault. You told us not to be over there and she hates playing chase. I’m the one who chased her over there and I tried to get her out and I should have gotten help sooner. Now she’s sick and she’s not going to have magic and it’s my fault. I’m supposed to help look after her.”

Ehla meh,” Blade said gently. “This is in no way your fault. True, you were not supposed to be playing there in the first place, but I know the two of you and Crown has already admitted to being the one to suggest that as your game area. No one knew about the well of magic.”

“But—”

“Enough,” he cut her off. “You did what you could to help your sister. You recognized the well and you knew enough to know it could do some harm if she wasn’t retrieved quickly. We were lucky you weren’t hit with it as well.”

She sniffed and he reached over for one of the small cloths from her nightstand drawer. “Crown’s sick.”

“She will get better,” Blaze replied. “It will take time, but she will recover. Snow, there’s nothing crying will do to fix it and it isn’t your fault. No one knew there was a well of magic.”

“Then what will fix it?”

Her love for her sister made him smile as he smoothed her hair back behind one pointed ear.

“She’ll need lots of care,” Blaze said gently. “She’ll need rest and she’ll need to be kept warm. Lots of tea and for a while she won’t leave the house much. She’ll need someone to keep her company and tell her stories. Do you think you can do that?”

Snow nodded, eyes still bright with tears and Blaze smiled. “She likes animal stories best,” Snow murmured.

“That she does. I also happen to know she loves her sister a great deal and wouldn’t want you crying like this.”

“I just want her to feel better.”

“She will get there. Come here.”

Snow was almost too big for him to carry properly, but he managed to scoop her up anyways, letting her wrap around him while he carried her down the hall.

Crown was asleep, true, but Blaze settled Snow down next to her. “See?” he said gently as Snow automatically nestled in with her sister. “She’s sleeping now.”

Snow shook her head. “She’s not asleep,” she said.

“Oh?” Blaze couldn’t keep the amusement out of her voice.

“It just hurts too much to move,” Snow said and kissed Crown’s cheek. “I think she needs some water.”

“Is that so?”

Crown opened one eye, surprising Blaze. He could tell she tried to speak, but no words formed, only a gentle pursing of her lips.

“Let me get a glass for you then.” Blaze murmured. Perhaps he’d add something to help with the pain.

By the time he got a glass and a spoon of the pain reliever his wife kept on hand, Snow looked to have settled comfortably in with her sister. “You’ll have to sit up,” he said gently, and Crown squeezed her eyes shut for a moment.

And yet, Snow shifted and shimmied under her sister, using her own body to help lift Crown and her mountain of blankets upright. Crown smiled, leaning her head back on Snow’s shoulder while Blaze smiled.

“This first,” he said. “Open.”

Crown complied, and Blaze popped the spoon in, letting her take the potion first. He knew it tasted bitter, but Crown never reacted. Once she’d swallowed that, he helped her hold the glass to her lips, taking little sips until she’d had enough to satisfy her.

By then her eyes were drooping closed and Snow had taken to petting Crown’s hair gently as she finally fell asleep.

Blaze smiled and watched while Snow helped lower her sister again, tucking blankets and pillows back in around her. “You see?” he murmured. “You can do a lot to help her.”

“Can I stay with her tonight?” Snow asked. “In case she needs anything?”

He nodded. “As long as you get some sleep too,” he said and leaned forward to kiss her temple. She flinched back a little. “Are you alright?”

“My head hurts.”

He chuckled and pulled another blanket over, draping it over both his daughters. “That’s what happens when you miss out on dreams in favor of worrying yourself into tears. Sleep, ehla meh.”

She smiled a little and settled down, head tucked under a pillow the way she liked to sleep. Blaze slunk out again.

Strange how Snow had known what Crown wanted, even before she’d managed to ask. Then, he decided, Snow had been ecstatic when she’d learned she would have a little sister. Even more so when she’d learned it meant she would need to help look after and care for her sister. Growing up out here in the Frozen Wastes around ruins of what had once been the frost elf capital had sometimes been lonely for Snow.

It was no surprise she knew what her sister needed or wanted. She loved her sister.

 

Posted in writing

Writing as Exploration

One of the most alluring things about reading fiction is the glimpse it gives us into other worlds and possibilities. Although most of us probably won’t get into a swordfight with a tyrant, or travel to another world, we can read about the possibility of doing just that.

Unfortunately for us writers, we still have to come up with some idea of what that possibility might mean. The trifecta of writing includes characters, setting and plot. We might have an idea of one or even two, but what happens when we just don’t have any ideas for that third part? This is where you might find something like flash fiction coming in handy. Take the ideas for plot, setting or character you have, and start asking questions.

Think of things like how an average joe, everyday character might be forced to take part in your main conflict. What’s the first major law someone from another country or world might break, intentionally or unintentionally? What do the basics of life like grocery shopping, housekeeping and even hygiene look like for your everyday people? Jot down at least three or four questions and write a page of a scenario that answers those questions.

This even works for fiction stories that take place in the real world, without the addition of magic or anything else. Start asking questions about who might uncover a secret? What secrets might they uncover, either from their family and friends, at their job, or from a passing stranger. How do they discover these secrets? How do they handle this new information? How does it affect their life?

If you’re really struggling, it might also help to take a scene or a chapter from another story you’ve enjoyed, and rewrite it as if it’s happening to your characters in your setting. Use that other scene as a skeleton structure. Copy the basic elements such as number of characters present, general location (like house or hospital) and major goals or events of the scene.

Even though these exploratory pieces may never make it into the story itself, it still gives you as the writer a good way to immerse yourself in the possibilities of your story. Your readers may only get a glimpse of the story’s possibilities, but the more details you can find, the more enticing the glimpse will be.

Posted in General, writing

Book in a Week Challenge Update

Although I still technically have until tomorrow to write a complete book in one week, I have to admit defeat. While I was able to knock out a good chunk of it, coming in at just over twenty-one thousand words, I also hit a massive plot hole, which took a little extra research and time to sort out.

Ultimately, that resulted in an entire day of no writing as well as the loss of about three thousand words.  Alone, either one of these might have been recoverable, but compounded together it was admittedly disheartening to realize there was too much I’d have to recover.

That being said, although I didn’t successfully complete a book in a week challenge this time around, I’m definitely earmarking opportunities to try it again. It’s been a while since I’ve found a challenge that pushes my limits the way this one does.

In case you’re curious, I’m calling it quits with a total of eleven hours, thirty-one minutes of writing time to reach a grand total of twenty-one thousand, four-hundred and ninety-one words.

I’m looking forward to finding more challenges as well. If you know of any, leave me a comment below!