Friday, October 30, 2015

How I Plot My Novels (Part IV of IV)

The last thing I want to talk about for novel plotting deals mostly with a series of novels. As I look this up on Wikipedia, I'm rather shocked the idea of a "metaplot" is only linked to role-playing games! If you look around, metaplots are everywhere. As before, this contains spoilers for The Queen of Swords, and the upcoming The Prince of Cups, and in general the Villainess series. They won't be too bad, but I would highly recommend reading the first book so you know what I'm talking about at least.

A metaplot is an overarching storyline which each of your novels in a series goes towards building. A great example of this is the Dresden Files, where each novel adds to Harry's knowledge of this secret organization which is doing...bad things. He finds out through the course of the novels that even the enemy at the very beginning (in Storm Front) was somehow attached to the "big bad". TV series do this all the time, both with the entire series (the first 5 seasons of Supernatural were supposed to be IT, everything lead up to that finale, but the show was so popular they extended it and... well, now it's season 11; another example is Babylon 5... each season builds on the last, adding more to the lore and more to the overarching plot, but sadly that show was cancelled before it got to really resolve its metaplot) and within each season. Buffy is a great example of a season to season metaplot. Each season has a "big bad" which will ultimately be defeated on the season ender. First season, the Master. 2nd, Angelus. 3rd, the Mayor. 4th, Adam, and so on. While some books may not directly touch on the metaplot directly, each book will add to the whole.

Villainess' metaplot is tied directly to the series name: it's about Caprice's journey through life as a villain. All in all, it's a series about self-discovery, and the ups and downs of it. She starts on what people would call a "down", as she's a psychopath. Not exactly heroic material. However, I think you need to start at the bottom and work your way up. I could have started at the beginning of her career, and while I might explore that later on, for the beginning I wanted her to be confident and in control. Just like with a regular story, your metaplot needs to follow the three part act: introduction/exposition, rising action, climax. It also needs to have complications and consequences, which if you do it right, will be built in with each book.

I've the vague metaplot in mind already for Villainess, and I did when I conceived the book. I almost never do a series without a metaplot in mind, other than the anthology series I do, that is. Delilah Devilshot has a definite metaplot, the Janus Key Chronicles have a metaplot, and hell, even the Witches of Back End has a metaplot. It's lighter than the others and not as needed, but it's still there. Villainess in particular I view as a comic book, with each book serving as say, issue X in a Y part limited series. This one, because of the name I chose, is going to have sixteen books. No more, and no less. Each of the titles will relate to a particular character in the novels.

For example, Caprice is the Queen of Swords. Regulus is the Prince of Cups. Those names are chosen for a reason, and each tarot card meaning directly bears on the character. I use that site in particular, because I'm using the Aleister Crowley deck of tarot, and thus the interpretations of the cards are slightly different than if you use a different deck, like the Rider-Waite one. If we were to be specific, Caprice would be a negatively accented (or perhaps reversed) Queen. To quote:

The Queen of Swords indicates a woman who is blessed (or cursed) with sharp perception, and highly honed intuition. She is acutely analytical, with a razor-sharp ability to get to the heart of a situation, seeing exactly what is, rather than what others would wish her to see. 
She is a private woman, unwilling to let people too close to her until she is satisfied she thoroughly understands their motivations. But once won as a friend, she is unfailingly loyal, honest and supportive. 
She's usually very intelligent, with a dry sense of humour. Her penetrating insight will often reveal aspects of themselves to others that they had previously been unable to grasp - thus she is a capable therapist, teacher or leader. 
The woman represented by this card will be experienced in the flow of life, understanding a great deal about both the great triumphs, and the deepest failings of the race. Her clarity and measured expression will be of great value at times of confusion and sadness. 
Sometimes in a reading, this card will turn up to indicate a woman in a particular phase of her life, where she temporarily becomes a Sword as a result of what is happening to her. In that case the card is not quite so positively defined, for it can indicate a woman left alone, and perhaps embittered. She may be a widow, or a woman passing through the aftermath of divorce. 
In this case we often see the more negative aspects of the Queen - coldness, judgementalism, criticism. At these times there is a certain sourness about her, with cynicism and sharpness making themselves felt. 
It should be said that these qualities are inherent to the woman who is a Queen of Swords by nature too - if the woman concerned has not evolved sufficiently you will often find that the card represents a person who is hard and cold toward others.

I italicized the text which applies to Caprice, and bolded the stuff that REALLY applies to her. She's intelligent and sharp, and she "deals honest" so when she knows you're trustworthy she'll defend you. Perhaps not quite to her dying breath, but still. However, she's full of rage and bitterness because of her circumstances, some of which will become more clear in Prince of Cups.

So, looking at the next book, let's take a look at our next title character, Regulus, our Prince.

Men represented by this card are complex and powerful beings. They are self-contained - even secretive - giving an impression of calmness and serenity. However under that veneer they can often be intense and volatile. They tend to hide their deepest passions, and to protect them fiercely. 
They are often creative - artistically or musically inclined, and have deep involvement in these areas. Many of the more successful artists and musicians in our lives would come up as a Prince of Cups. 
Emotionally they can sometimes be turbulent and moody, but can also often hide their emotions and refuse to share them with others. However, having a highly developed sensitivity to emotional ups and downs, they will identify yours even before you have. Talking to somebody like this about emotional matters is usually a rewarding experience, because they are highly perceptive and use their intuition readily. 
If this card comes up to indicate an alteration in a person's behaviour, it will generally indicate a man moving into a new romantic relationship and feeling somewhat troubled by this. The Knight is the card that comes up to indicate a man happily falling in love.

From the text, we can get an impression of a smooth talker who seems calm, cool, and collected on the outside, but is a hotbed of emotion underneath. He's secretive, our Prince, and while he can't hide some things from a fellow telepath, he can still hide quite a lot since lying about it is second nature to him.

The next book in the series will be based on a character who will be introduced in Prince of Cups. She's our Princess of Wands, the Nacht Sirene, or Night Siren.

This card represents dynamic passion - for life in general. If it comes up relating to an inner energy then it will indicate that you are overcoming old fears, breaking out of old patterns, and setting yourself free. There will be confidence, decisive action, an assertive leap forward into the heart of your life. It will often come up to indicate that you have broken through habitual limitations and restrictions, thereby freeing off your power to be used constructively. 
It can indicate a spiritual breakthrough, which will always include the courage to face your fears, and see them for what they truly are. One strange fact about unacknowledged fears is that they take on the darkest, most horrifying shape with which your subconscious can imbue them. Yet when you drag them out into the light of day, you suddenly realise that what you were so scared of might a) never happen; b) not be as bad as you thought it would be when you feared it; and c) you've probably got what it takes to deal with it anyway! 
If the Princess of Wands comes up to indicate a person, then she will be strong, forceful, determined, unswerving...and perhaps a touch bossy! She is a faithful and trustworthy friend, whose insight and perception will often steer you in the right direction. She will be energetic and enthusiastic about life, with a big personality. 
As a partner she's independent, sometimes a touch stubborn, but loyal and caring. These are often career women, and usually wait till later on to start families. She will be experienced, and intelligent, though regularly you find that such young women have had to learn most of their lessons the hard way. 
As an enemy she's dangerous - she's usually outspoken, and unafraid to express her anger. If you manage to make an enemy of one of these women, you need to think very carefully about how that happened. Mostly their engagement with life is so total that they don't waste time on negative pursuits. All the Wand people place morality and ethics high on their list of priorities. They are honest decent people with a strong code of behaviour to which they adhere faithfully.
From the text, you can tell the Siren is going to be another strong woman, though perhaps a bit younger sounding and a touch more uncertain of herself than Caprice, but she has still fought through a lot of pain to realize what she wants, and how she's going to get it. She wants to live life, and she's brave enough to face her worst fears and bring them out into the sun where everyone can see.

Now that we have an idea of the characters from the next couple books, what I'm doing in particular with this series is using the "starring" characters to reflect a step in Caprice's journey. During the Prince of Cups, the image of duality or a warped mirror is used, especially when she's comparing herself to Regulus. She sees in him a "spiritual stepbrother" as he aims to fulfill his needs in any way he can, much like herself. However, unlike her, he employs mind control and breaking another person's will to achieve his goals. To this end, they mirror each other, but it's not a perfect reflection. As he hides much of his own darker desires and fears from the light, letting no one in to see, so Caprice has her own secrets, some of which will be revealed as we see more of her pain and how she got to be the way she is today.

For the third book, The Princess of Wands, the idea is that now having acknowledged she has this rage inside of her, she needs to face it. In doing so, in theory, she'll take control of it, live life more fully, and decide on what path is right for her.

The next few books are The Knight of Disks, The Queen of Disks, and The Prince of Swords, which will give you hints to the next few directions the series will go. Eventually, I will go through each of the court cards, and each of those cards will have a different "starring" supporting character, some of which you have seen already!

Has this taken a lot of planning? Yes. I think about the future books a lot, and where I want to take the character. Each step is being planned, and while I haven't gotten all the books thought of yet (as things will change as they are written), it's important to see your end goal in sight. Where do you want the series to go? Is there a big climatic battle at the end, ala Lord of the Rings? Or is it a journey of self-discovery, concentrating on just one character? Are there multiple storylines to be resolved eventually? How complex are you going to make it?

In general, the more complex metaplot demands more books. But once you have reached the conclusion of the meta, then stop. Just stop. Don't let it go on (*coughcoughLaurellKHamiltoncough*) just because you want to keep writing the character. Once the conclusion has been logically reached, it's the end of the series. After that, it should be happily ever after. Or unhappily ever after.

So, how do you think of a metaplot? For Villainess, as I said before, it's a journey of self-discovery by Caprice. Others might think there's a big world devouring monster out there, or maybe a nefarious super villain organization which is bent on world domination. You can find a lot of inspiration from movies, television, and other books. Once you get a grand idea in your head, then you plot it like you'd plot your novel. The main exception is to use broader strokes.

For Villainess, the first four books are basically my introduction/exposition. We are introduced to the main characters, recurring characters like Nosferatu, Malech, and Alistair (and eventually Siren and Regulus), and we learn about the world slowly, in bits and pieces. Once the stage is set, the next is the rising action. During the next few books after that, we'll say 4-8 or so, Caprice will be built up (and fall down, she's not always a victor) and realize that she needs to change. Since it's a personal self-discovery thing, it's more internal and a little harder to fully plot. This may or may not accompany a "big bad" which she may take several books to defeat (still working on it), so it might have a metaplot within a metaplot. Submetaplot? Hrm.

The last few books will be heading towards the conclusion of her journey. What will be the deciding factor in what she chooses? Will she be able to leave her rage and hatred behind? If so, does that mean she has to be "normal"? IS it more desirable for her to be "normal" as opposed to a psychopath? Who or what will help in deciding this? Will she change for the sake of herself, or for someone else?

Again, this one is more... internal, but you can plot out the big bad just the same way. The first few books hint at a darkness rising. The middle books show more aggression, and battles won and lost, which finally reveal the main villain. The last few deal with gathering power to take down said villain and then the ultimate climax.

What's most important to keep in mind is to keep your books in line with the metaplot. Even if it only hints at it, people need to see that, yes, it was planned from the beginning. If you're clever and vague enough, you CAN go back to past books and point at things which you may not have known was there or had no reason and give it a reason. For example, in Storm Front, there is a guy who channels a lot of power, goes crazy, kills some folks, Harry stops him. It was sufficiently explained at the time where he got it. However, in a later book, it was revealed that these agents of darkness were working WITH that mad sorceror at the time, and helped him to achieve that power for their own nefarious purposes. Butcher can't go back and rewrite Storm Front to add in hints of spooky darkness, so he flipped the reason why the sorceror got his power in a later book, with an additional explanation. Was he planning it from the beginning or backwriting? I have no idea. Whichever way he went, he's definitely leading towards a metaplot climax now, and he used all of his stories to bring that in focus.

Last thing to be said, unlike the plots in the book where each word should go towards building plot, character, or mood... but especially plot... you can, of course, go off on side roads during your novels. Not every novel will directly bear on the metaplot, especially the beginning ones while you are setting it up. This gives you an opportunity to leave things open, to drop hints which you may not know WHY you are dropping them, but may give you inspiration later on. The great thing about that is that you can build without knowing exactly where you are building to, or knowing the direct path. Yeah, you have an idea of a "big bad" whatever at the end, but maybe you're not quite certain what it is during your first novel, but you have a cool idea. You drop in a line or two nodding towards the cool idea, and that's it. Maybe on book three you'll remember that idea and build on it. Maybe book five. Maybe you'll decide to go another way. Little hooks and throwaway lines can often be your subconscious talking to you about what you are planning before you even know you are planning it.

It's a little harder to keep a metaplot on track during the course of a series, but thankfully, you don't have to all the time!

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