“Hi. My name is Pam. I am a disorganized writer.”
I rarely plan books at all, let alone in detail. A character springs, fully formed, from the black depths of my creative self, and next thing you know, it’s fingers on the keys writing all about where he is and what he’s doing. A Classic Pantser. But at some point, if your gateway writing isn’t producing a coherent narrative, you need to consciously analyze your story and organize the chaos. Your readers will thank you.
Now, in my current NaNoWriMo story that I’m working on, I at least know from what seed the Main Character sprouted. Cue Audioslave “Like a Stone.” Add in less than accute hearing, a silly sense of humor, and you can pick out lines . . .
“By a freeway, I confess I was lost . . . ”
Ah Ha! A poor lost dog!
” . . . you led me on . . . ”
Rescued by a young lady!
“In your house I long to be
Room by room patiently
I’ll wait for you there
Like a stone
I’ll wait for you there
Yep, the plaint of all dogs, when the people go off to work . . .
But you know? I can’t blame Audioslave for him turning out to be a werewolf.
So anyway, with no planning whatsoever I’m tapping away at this story. Or whatever you call it at this stage. And I hit the first problem. Which is a serious lack of a problem. There’s got to be something that matters to Stone, that goes horribly wrong. This is the first point at which I have to grit my teeth and, ugh! ORGANIZE!
At this point I become a plotter. But just for a little while.
Well, okay, for once the story problem is pretty obvious. He was limping down the road after a fight with other werewolves. So they just need to show up again and threaten the (yes, yes, of course she’s a beautiful young blonde) woman who picked him up and took him home with her.
Umm, we may need some extra character development here. Is Stone a Bad Boy who’s changed his ways? And that’s why the pack tossed him? Or was he . . . orphaned and raised by a sweet elderly couple? And he has foolishly sought out his blood relatives to find out what he is? And discovered that werewolves aren’t very nice people.
Okay, we’ll go with that. And kick the plotter mind out the door.
And we write and write and . . . come to the end of the story.
And realized it’s pretty much a disorganized mush.
Now, darn it all, it really is time to get organized. Get back to being a Plotter. This is where I drag out “The Hero’s Journey” and checking to see how many points I’ve hit or missed.
The Classical Hero’s Journey
(1) Start in the ordinary world. This establishes what your hero’s life is like, before the adventure. Often, these days, stories open with an action sequence to hook the reader, then show the more normal life. Think about the opening of most James Bond films. Most of them are not _just_ a fantastic action scene, but help set up the main story problem.
(2) The call to adventure comes. “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you are my only hope.”
(3) Refusal of call. The character refuses the call or hesitates to go. This is sometimes short or even implied. “I can’t go to Mos Eisley!”
(4) Meeting with the guide. This is not necessarily a guide. Some processes call him a mentor. Think Merlin to Arthur. Gandalf, Obi Wan . . . they tend toward short lifespans, as the Hero needs to take over and be the leader.
(5) Crossing the Threshold. “Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru?” There’s no going back now.
(6) Tests, Allies, Enemies . This varies with the novel, but think of the classic fairy tales. The character meets with three people. Each of them gives him or her something that can be used on the journey, or teaches him a skill he will need. You get the point. Send your character to school, hand him a magic sword or BFG 3000, have him find companions, vehicles, whatever your story requires for the MC to win.
(7) Try-fail sequences. At least three for a novel, some of the low points being caused by the previous attempts. Interleaving these with the acquiring of allies, skills, knowledge and equipment is useful.
(8) Approach to the inner-most cave—the black moment—the nadir—the “mirror moment”—the realization—the reimagining—the commitment. Call it what you will. Your character needs to emotionally crash, then come out of it energized and determined.
(9) The TEST. This is the greatest battle. The biggest love trial. Whatever. This is where your character is put through the white hot furnace and melts or not. What the trial is has been set since the beginning – the meeting with the villain, the crossing of the perilous chasm. The hero wins, story over . . . except if you do end it immediately the reader will be upset. A gradual let down is needed.
(10) Reward. Show what the hero gets out of it, immediately. Freedom, money, kiss, whatever. The awkward version is the end of the first Star Wars movie. Try for something more emotionally satisfying than an awards ceremony.
(11) Return to the new normal.
This can be going home—or not.
Or a marriage proposal. Or goodbyes.
It needs to show the development the characters have gone through, how they adjust. Give the reader a glimpse of the future.
(12) And sometimes, the refusal of the return. The character isn’t ready to go back to the ordinary world. This can inspire your readers to reach for something beyond the ordinary. Or it may be a sign that you have a series on your hands.
This is, if you want to analyze a story, a very useful framework.
It doesn’t have to fit well. But if it fits badly, look especially at (6) and (7).
If your MC is not meeting people, learning things, or gaining useful tools—that’s something you really need to look into. While it sounds like a Fantasy Trope, it’s also extremely important in Mysteries. Interview people, find clues. Get emotionally attached to the Women-who-everyone-thinks-dun-it, pick up an amusing sidekick . . . whatever.
And the try-fail sequences. (Ouch! Think I’ve just found a problem!) In a short story, even one failure, followed by a deep dark emotional dip and finding determination before winning gives a story some emotional impact. In a mystery, you’ve found proof someone else did it, only to find out contradicting evidence (three bloody times!) Black moment. “She’s going to be convicted and executed!” Then you put the clues together differently, and Voila! You arrest the amusing sidekick! (Sorry about the sense of humor, there’s a reason I’m not a big time mystery writer)
Well, going back to my werewolf, how do you actually fit a story into the HJ?
I’ve found that I have to physically manipulate the scenes.
I print out the first paragraph or so of each scene, just enough to bump my memory. A separate page for each scene. Lay them out in order and write on them, where they match one of the steps.
What’s missing? (What? Zero try/fails? C’mon, Pam you know better!)
Would it work better in a different order? (Should the blonde find out earlier that he’s a werewolf? When should her brother-in-law the FBI agent find out?)
So I shuffle pages around, make notes. Figure out where to put in the try fails . . .
Another thing to look at, somewhere in my—and possibly your—disorganized flailings, is a look at the genre, and the genre expectations. For instance, since this is showing signs of at least a strong romance thread, there needs to be a lot more togetherness. And if, as I fear, we’ve fallen into a Sweet Werewolf Romance I’m going to need a lot more togetherness. And probably a pen name.
I fear it may wind up as silly as this one:
Quick c4c before sleeptime ^^
Thanks for the HJ lined out. Think I need to look at this in some of my other stuff.
“wind up as silly as this one” That would be no fail.
Thanks. Apparently, I’m the same, without the organization. This will help.
“And I hit the first problem. Which is a serious lack of a problem. There’s got to be something that matters to Stone, that goes horribly wrong.”
This is where I always am these days. I’ve got characters intent on one thing and one thing only, fooling around. Surprising how difficult it is to get people like that fired up about something. 🙂
Yeah. Stone just wants to find a job and get on with life. He wants to avoid problems.
I recommend something he can’t just walk away from. You know, parents, a child . . . taxes.
Or, you know, just have something happen. An avalanche isolates them when they were just fooling around in the wood. They disturb a pagan celebration in just the wrong way and bring a demon into the world. Space Aliens kidnap them.
The first problem doesn’t have to be their fault. It can just fall out of the sky. After that, the things they try to make it better can in short order make it worse. But the _first_ thing can be a complete sucker punch.
I’ve sometimes joked that my Epic’s Book 1 lacks a plot (and it was written scattershot, which is way out where they’ve never even heard of pants), but laid out like that… it maps directly onto the Hero’s Journey. And the initial disaster does pretty much fall from the sky, even tho Our Hero kinda brought it on himself. Well, that’ll teach you!!
Aliens! Did aliens the first book. Second book, government zombies. Third book, more aliens and more zombies. Fourth book, demons!!!
This time, more aliens, possibly doing deals with the demons, possibly not. Haven’t found out yet. Planning? HA! As if. I wish I could plan.
Aliens are about the only thing that will get the characters out of bed in the morning. Except Mario Kart. They really like them some Mario Kart.
Okay. We need names and titles, here.
I had that problem in my first NaNoWriMo.
Then I took the slightly creepy stalkerish alternate-love-interest and made him a serial killer. My characters planned a romantic night on the beach and I gave them a dead body under suspicious circumstances in which they would be the prime suspects.They stopped trying to fool around and made plot happen really fast after that.
Atta boy! Whip those characters into motion!
The obvious angle I saw was the romance one, pack or no pack:
Girl rescues hurt dog, takes him home, tucks him in, goes to bed.
Guy wakes up on her couch–either as dog or human–and escapes.
Meet-Cute as humans.
Plot problem: how does her would-be beau let her know that he’s also her stray dog? Conversely, how does The Dog she loves as a dog tell her that The Guy inside wants a different sort of relationship?
No squick nor kink, just a Mistaken Identity romance.
Well, she just caught her dog doing his laundry, so all proceedes along the path to utter disaster.
Disaster? Now we’re talking!
It seems like it could lead to an airing of dirty laundry.
Is he all-human or maybe half-human? If he’s only partly changed she -might- believe him. If he’s all-human, she’ll shoot him for sure.
She’s trying to convince herself that it wasn’t actually the dog doing laundry. Clearly her stray dog found his owner and he’s probably hiding in the bushes. Maybe he’s dangerous, or maybe he’s just homeless and took an opportunity (they went out to dinner) to wash his clothes.
I mean, it can’t be the dog. There’s no such thing as werewolves.
And the dog’s sleeping outside, and a very stout handled broom is just going to happen to fall across the door . . .
This helps with the Nano, pretty well, as well as the WIP-that-will-not-be-tamed. *needs a bigger whip.* I’d been missing some of the steps and some of the peril and was rather stuck in the ‘MC dinks around until his time is up and collects from the Devil’ rut. (NEVER works that way. NEVER.) I’ve got a couple scenes I need to make notes on. *runs off to scribble away*
I’m just disorganized.
Huh… I thought I had everything but the mentor… until I realized that the “secret villain” totally fits that role in the initial part. Go fig.
(She doesn’t like him or anything. But she does point the way for a while.)