Sunday, October 4, 2009

Preparing Plot Archs and Character Archs

One of the most satisfying plot twists in The Empire Strikes Back is the moment when Luke and Darth Vader are finishing and intense light saber battle and Vader reveals a life altering piece of information, "I am your father."

For those of us that saw this in the theater before the information was leaked, it was a powerful moment that was emotionally jarring and instantly opened up new avenues for the plot and character development. You were left wondering what would this mean? How will Luke react? Is it true?

To me this is still one of the best examples of how a writer that plans into the future is capable of bringing more to the table than one who just writes in the moment. When you go back to the first movie, you see clues like when Uncle Owen responds to a statement that Luke has too much of his father in him by saying, "That's what I'm afraid of." I remember in the theater thinking this was an obscure thing to say but after Darth Vader's revelation, it all made sense.

I wish I could say I know how to pull this off in a magical and compelling way, but as you know, I am only learning. Here are the things that do seem important to me when approaching a story which you are sure will span over several books.

1) Write Detailed Character Sheets. This helps when you only plan to write one book with the characters, but when the story will stretch on, it is critical. The more time you spend developing these characters on paper, giving them an interesting background, the more material you have to sprinkle through the books ahead.

2) Write History Overlap Sheets. Consider this an addendum to the Character Sheets. Here you will document the ways in which the various characters have crossed paths in the past, before the beginning of your first story. These interactions will provide insight to you as the writer to explain why Judy hates Steve, or Phil is tortured when he is around Judy.

3) Write a Goals Sheet for each Character. This is from the character's perspective, and can include an old set of goals and then a newer set that changed due to some events that occurred. This gives you a clear starting point for motivations of your characters. Whenever you get stuck writing a scene with that character, go back to their goals and see if it helps you find the character's next move.

4) Write an Author's Goal Sheet for each Character. This is a guideline that you may have to scrap as your plots unfold, but it can be a useful guideline. Within each story, you want a character to make some movement as a person. It may be the realization that they will never reach their goal, or it could be the fulfillment of something unexpected. Whatever it is, if you write it down and modify it as you work on your plot, it will be a helpful reference.

5) Map the Big Pieces out for the Series of Novels. I don't know how many writers actually do this, or have the time for that matter, but I can see how good initial planning will result in a richer more fulfilling plot. If you know which pieces of character background will be revealed in which book, and which major plot points will occur and when, it can allow you the freedom to fill in the blanks knowing that you have a strong overall story map for both plot and character development.

I can only hope these steps will prove true as I work on my story and characters. If you read this blog regularly, I am sure will find out if I was right or wrong about my instincts.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

No comments: