>The Hard Questions

>So how do I plot: first the hard questions…

Sometimes what is missing in creating a book outline are the hard questions. Your milage may vary of course, but for me that is often who is getting hurt, who is afraid and of what and why should I care… and of course, just how do the characters do anything about it.

So, for example, in Dog and Dragon, Meb, now returned to Lyonesse seventy years after her mother was supposed to have flung herself and babe from the window of the antechamber to the royal bedroom of Dun Tagoll, hurts in many ways. Principally she hurts because she has given up her love — and — to save him. Or so she believes. She’s in a mileau where she is despised, feared and resented by the nobility who are now the court of Lyonesse, which in itself is despised and hated by the other realms around it. Meb has no experience of being aristocracy — and has suddenly been raised above all of them, blighting lines and hopes.

Fionn hurts because he has lost her. He is for being near as old as the great planes of existence, a naïf at love and being loved.

Dileás hurts because he is loyalty — to one person and one person only. She’s been taken from him, and he will follow and find her, no matter what it takes.

Prince Medraut hurts and fears because she must outrank him. His regency and long plotting are brought to nothing by her. He seeks to use her, and yet is truly afraid of her. He would see her dead, or at least enchanted if he could. Why is he merely the Prince Regent? Is he a villian? And what happens to the future king Meb displaces?

The court magician Aberinn is afraid because Meb seems to be deliberately fulfilling his entirely false prophecy. Besides, he carries old and guilty secrets. The last thing he wants is her back. What are they?

The First are afraid, because they see possibilities of the intelligent races — species created with aspects of themselves interbreeding and becoming something which could be a threat to them. They can’t – by-in-large interbreed – they are mostly not interfertile.
But Dragons are.

Toss in that the sunset land, Lyonesse, once uplifted from the abyss and surrounded by moaning sea, shifting sands, and guarded by grim mountains that march to the coast, has become a pariah state, because it has made up for the loss of magic to Tasmarin, the place of Dragons, by leeching off the other nineteen worlds of Celtic cycle.

And the mad witch wreaks havoc on all of them – why?

By the time I have finished answering the questions I have the bones of the story. By the time I have identified the alliances, the minor characters who hurt and are hurt too, I have a strong idea of where it goes.

At this point I’ll write the first 5k or so, getting the setting, the characters, the different points of view. I’ve found that limiting these makes it less confusing for the reader, but you do need the ‘off stage’ones for many stories — I tend to use them to broaden the picture and also to have the reader expecting the cataclysms. Of course, these are not quite what is expected but they do prime the reader nicely.

And then I go back and add solutions/ reactions to the fears, and I have something of a plot.

So: I cannot be only plotter on this forum surely? How do you work it?


  1. >I tend to start with the setting and characters. And then realize I need a problem, complications and a solution.Sometimes the setting makes the sourse of the problem clear. Earth rediscovers the parallel earth they exiled all the genetically engineered people to 1300 years ago. Or three waves of imigrants reach the same planet. The third wave is far enough behind that the first two have staked claims to all the land and having fought over it, aren't inclinded to share.Some times the character is such that the problems come with him. A roving soul lands in a souless body. Bodies without souls tend to either be technically dead, hense the original soul has left, or if functional, seriously psychopathic. Apparently this body he's landed in has just been ordered to committ a murder. Or the Retired Evil Wizard gets drunk and his prisoners escape.My plots tend to be very loose. But with the idea in my head the stories seem to make some sort of sense. Mostly. When I try to plot things out in greater detail, outlining and so forth, the writing seems to get jumpy, hitting all the points in the outline but not flowing between scenes.I notice in your example that you are concentrating on the pain and emotions, not the mechanics of the problem. I think doing the opposite may be one of my problem areas, in writing.

  2. >Matapam, I have certainly found that until I know how the problem affects (and hurts) the people, the plot is rather boring and mechanistic. And once I have their motivations it is much easier to work out what they will do. situation /(motivation X character) = path of action. ie if motivation and character are large a large situation or problem can be dealt with. And often motivation is inextricably tied to character.

  3. >Dave — I start with the pain and with the character in the most pain, and then I figure out what he'll do about it. And for a while, all his efforts will make it worse. Sometimes the hard part is finding the "closure" — the point that brings everything together.I am a plotter and I hate it when novels come on in pantsing waves. Or when they deviate.But the important thing is the pain. The novel is as large as the pain. DST worked because Athena is in a huge pain (which she tends to pass along to others ) because she doesn't even believe she's human.

  4. >I usually find that the character's suffering – acknowledged or otherwise – effectively is the plot. Character has need, character tries to get need fulfilled in ways that make sense within the framework of the world. Other characters and their needs get in the way.If I know who, why and enough about the world, the rest usually manages to fall into place. Of course, I may just be weird that way: it wouldn't be the first time "Kate-weird" was used as the description and the explanation.

  5. >Sarah,We all know Athena is a huge pain… What? Oh. She's IN huge pain. Sheesh. I've been back at work for all of one day and I already need a vacation.

  6. >Dave, sorry for the late response, but I guess I'm a bit of a plotter and a bit of a pantser. I have to know the problems and troubles my characters are going to have to deal with — or try to deal with. After all, it is soooo much fun torturing them — but I don't have everything mapped out. I've tried the whole plot it out before you write and I tend to lose interest, feeling like I've already written it.I really do have to agree with your comment in response to Matapam's comment, "I have certainly found that until I know how the problem affects (and hurts) the people, the plot is rather boring and mechanistic. And once I have their motivations it is much easier to work out what they will do." That's exactly how it works for me.

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