Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How I Plot My Novels (Part II of Some Number, Might be III, Might be More)

Back again with more novel plotting! I'm using my book Queen of Swords as an example, so if you haven't read it yet, there are spoilers, massive ones, so read that first, then come back and read the blog post.

Act II: Confrontation and "Rising Action"
So, now we begin act two, and in Queen of Swords, it was pretty non explosive. At this point in a movie, the big bad has been revealed and the heroes are working towards defeating it, which will be resolved in the third act or the climax of the movie. For Queen of Swords it was a little different. I think in general writing about villains is a little different because they are active while heroes are reactive. I wanted to keep Caprice active. She's working towards a goal, she's doing things, and thus I had her go out to find her sword.

I just want to stop for a moment and speak about that. Many people don't consciously realize how passive heroes are for the most part. And when heroes turn active, that's when it starts to delve into areas which speculative fiction excels. For example, Superman cannot catch criminals before they do a crime. If he were to do so, then he would be the villain because he would 1) be breaking the law and 2) turning active. There are positive ways in which heroes can affect the world, through inspiration, through community programs, and through education, but in general, all of those are passive. They sow the seeds and wait patiently for change. When Superman decides to go and change the world actively, he's seen as a tyrant who forces people into obeying the law. He's no longer a hero, but a villain. For a more complex look at this, I suggest the movie Minority Report. I haven't read the story it was based off of, but even the movie raises questions about criminalizing thoughts and behavior before it actually happens.

Anyway, even if I had decided to keep Caprice reactive, there would have been some things which would have happened anyway, spurring her to action. She would still have lost her sword, and Nosferatu would have come out once dark hit anyway... but Harry would still have been missing, and Emily would have still confronted her. Taking that line of thought further down, Emily would likely have kept harassing Caprice until Caprice decided to either end her (more likely) or found Harry (way less likely). So, for a villain, while the story would have been extended a bit more, it would not have been as provocative. For a hero, the story ends when the big bad is defeated. When the protagonist is the big bad, it's a little harder to keep them motivated and moving.

At this point, I had decided that Caprice, as all protagonists, is something special, something extra. I didn't know what exactly, so I hinted at it saying these people were trying to get her for whatever reason. I also knew she had to keep moving. To this end, I used her desire to get her sword back to lead her to Alistair. Alistair gave her the complication of it wasn't just one thing she lost, but three. The first was her sword, and this was an easy thing for her to get. Someone brought it home from work. She killed the people in the house and reclaimed it. That is a complication which bears fruit in Prince of Cups as a consequence. Using the consequence in this way too gives Caprice a realization that she can't always work alone and needs someone to watch her back, which is an opportunity for character growth.

The second thing was Nosferatu. This helped me to define his character and limitations a bit--he can only change back when he's got enough blood in his system--and made for a sexy time in the basement, sort of. They negotiated a deal, and there is another complication (and betrayal! Keeping in with the theme of our book) when she finds out that now that he's bitten her, he can find her whenever he wants. This complication will also arise in Prince of Cups, and in future books as well. The last was Harry, of course, having been captured and having the tech taken out of him. Well, that was their intent anyway, but they had to keep him alive until they could extract the nanotech, and thus he was put into a storage tank, effectively neutralizing him.

To get to this, Caprice had to sneak back in. When she rescued Harry, they did have a bit of a fight, but it wasn't too horrible, and escape. Seems like it should be the action part right? Part of this rising action? The rising action in this case is the rescue AND being confronted by Emily afterwards. Those two things make Caprice realize what is going on here, and that he sold her out in some way. After that, it leads to the climax of the book. Events that lead directly to the climax is the rising action. They should, if you can, always escalate. In this case, it actually de-escalated a bit, and while I wasn't happy with how it came out, it had to be this way. There had to be an outside source telling Caprice what was up, and the character of Emily had always been planned as the hapless girlfriend. Harry "cheating" on her tells us more about his character, and it tells us about Emily as well.

I know if I had thought of a more actiony way to do it, I would be happier with the book for it, but sometimes... there has to be a side character guiding your protagonist. Shit does just happen in real life. Coincidences, bad timing, all of that. It was bad timing for Harry, cause his secret got revealed.

However, let's say that didn't happen. Let's say Caprice rescued him and Emily didn't find her to confront her. Eventually, Caprice would have figured out she hadn't been paid, and if Harry is smart (he is pretty crafty), he would have just paid her and been done with it. Either that or try to lure her into a trap again. I think the reason why I didn't choose this option is because it avoided Emily altogether and while she's not important NOW, she will be making at least one future appearance. The second is that getting a payment is not interesting. If she had beat it out of him, sure, but the character of Harry is smart enough to know when to cut his losses. If he had tried to lure her into a trap, he would have done so in such a way she wouldn't be able to escape easily. That might have been more exciting... but in all honesty, it would have been the end to the series. These guys after her aren't fucking around. They would have been prepared. She would have been caught, and that would be that. Without back-up, operating as she did at this point in the series, no one would have missed her.

Thus, I went with the less interesting option in this particular case. It serves a purpose, and while I wish I could have come up with a better option, I stand by what I wrote.

The confrontation with Emily, of course, seems pretty one-sided, but Caprice is the narrator and we understand things from her perspective, filtered through her sight. Even though the other woman is harsh, it tells us she knows Harry's a cheat, and knew he was planning something. It also tells us that for whatever reason, Emily is his confidant. There's a more complex relationship going on there which is only hinted at, but from Caprice's POV it's one of a shrill and jealous girlfriend keeping tabs on her man.

I think I'll cover the climax in the next segment, which will probably be the last. Or second to last. I might make a separate post about the metaplot, and perhaps give away some spoilers to come in the future.


  1. The whole active vs. reactive thing is very interesting to me, since I also write about what should be "villains" (vampires).

    1. Exactly. Although I think your particular protagonists would fall under the "heroes" in this case. The "villains" would be the old coven vampires who want to exterminate (active) the futa vampires, who are defending themselves by gathering power/people (reactive). I think if it was people versus vampires, then it might be a different story!

    2. Maybe it switches when I focus on them drinking and taking victims. They're villainous in those moments. Hmm. Food (or blood) for thought.