(Woods Cross, UT, USA)
Question: Hi. I'm just barely started writing a novel, that I hope will turn into a series. But I haven't figured out much of the plot for the first novel. I came up with the story, based on one event of the novel. I thought about a world where dinosaurs lived with with people (it's in Medieval Times, not Modern) and came up with a "scene" in that two warriors get attacked by a tribe of evil beasts and dinosaurs. And the younger, inexperienced warrior gets captured and taken to the beasts' king.
I fleshed it out, built upon that scene, came up with lots of background, and added more characters, and now I have this big huge series I want to write. I'm just wondering if that's the way to go, or if I need to start with a plot, and then fill it with characters that will best accomplish the goal. But,right now, I'm having lots of trouble with the plot development.Answer:
Of course, there is never one right way to go. A writer has the prerogative to build the story from any starting point that feels right.
That said, there is a tendency among budding fantasy writers to get so involved with fleshing out the backstory that the actual story doesn't get written.
I suggest you return to the initial idea that intrigued you. And I will hazard a guess that what intrigued you was the character of that inexperienced warrior (assuming he's the main character).
If I'm wrong and what grabbed you was the idea of dinosaurs living with people, then I suggest you find a main character whose story grabs you. It's characters that make a reader care about a story. The ideas may grab the head, but people grab the heart. And the heart is most important.
So perhaps start by thinking about
the main character's story arc. Who is he at the start of the story? How is he challenged by his situation and events? What decision will he ultimately make in the first book? Who will he be from then on as a result of that choice?
Then look at the Story Goal, because it is his pursuit of the goal that will lead to his being pressured to become someone different. The goal will unite most of the other characters, because they will be affected by it or involved with it in one way or another.
It's great that you have ideas for a series, but that means you have a split focus. On the one hand, you must give the readers a great story in the first book, or else no one will ever read the rest of the series. So you must work out the plot for that first book. Use the articles on this site under the "Write a Novel" tab to help you.
At the same time, you must work out the general story arc for the series as a whole, which will have its own separate goal. The first book will be complete in and of itself, yet also be the first chapter of the larger story.
To use my favorite example, think of how Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
offers a complete story about stopping Voldemort from obtaining the philosopher's stone. Yet, it is at the same time only the first episode of the overall story about Harry avenging his parents' death.
Right now, you can afford to leave the backstory a little vague while you concentrate on your first book. Create only as much backstory as you need to give the first book a consistency and specificity that makes it feel real. But above all, focus on getting your main character's story right.
Character/Plot Development - Follow-up
(Woods Cross, UT, USA)
Question: Thank you so much for your answers to my last quesion. But, I was wondering, about that scene where the main character gets captured, it's where the main plot really kicks off. But, I was planning on having a typical war scene be the very first scene, where the readers get introduced to most of the main characters, in action.
But I was wondering, should I show the main character's weaknesses and problems in the first scene, or put them into the capturing scene, where the story really starts?
Also, if I put introducing the main character's flaws in the war scene, should something go wrong because of it? Or should I just put it into the second capture scene, when something is already going wrong. I know it's probably not a good idea to have two bad things happen right at the start of my book, or will that draw readers into the story better?
Answer: I can't give you a definitive answer, but have you considered combining these two scenes? Otherwise, you have to ask yourself what that first scene is all about.
It worries me when you say you want to start with a "typical" war scene. You generally shouldn't start with anything typical or ordinary. Make the book start with something startling or unique.
Also, you say that the story really starts with the capturing scene. The rule of thumb is that you should start where the story gets going, without preamble.
True, you can start with a big event in the main character, impact character, or relationship throughline and then proceed to main story. But that's why you have to know what the war scene is all about.
If the war scene isn't necessary to either ...
1. Show the inciting incident that gets the main plot going,
2. Introduce the main character's inner problem
3. Give the main character his first look at the impact character in action, or
4. Establish their relationship
... then maybe you don't need it. If it's just there to introduce the characters, perhaps you can do that later?
On the other hand, if you can make that first scene be an important event in one of the throughlines, then okay.
The point is, the opening scene of your novel should have a purpose. It should be an important event that changes the course of the characters' lives.
As I said in the beginning, the other possibility to consider would be combining the two scenes so that the event, the change, is the main character going from a successful (or hopeful) fighter to a failed fighter (a prisoner) because of some flaw in himself. His inner conflict might then be a struggle to overcome that flaw by the time the story's big crisis occurs. At the same time, the battle could be the start of the overall conflict as well.
To take one example that springs to mind, consider the short-lived television series, Firefly. The opening scene of the first episode starts with the main character losing a battle to an enemy who mounts an overwhelming force against him (i.e. our hero wasn't strong enough). For the rest of the series, his inner conflict revolves around his efforts to be strong enough to survive and retain his principles despite an environment that constantly challenges him. At the same time, that first scene is the inciting incident in the overall story, in which the the enemy is "government" (both the hero's own government that failed him and the government of the opposing forces that overwhelmed the hero and his soldiers).
Hope this helps.
Character/Plot Development - 2nd follow-up
(Woods Cross, UT, USA)
Question: Okay, sorry about all my frivolous questions, but here is one more.
Thanks to your advice, and your amazing website, I've developed some of the Story Goals that I want to have accomplished by the end of my first book. But..... I'm worried about them. Is it okay to have more than one Story Goal for a novel?
So here are some of the goals/conflicts I came up with.
1. They must find a powerful scroll before the evil guys do.
2. They must find out who the Legendary Warrior is, and when he will arrive to bring peace.
3. There is a traitor
4. Most importantly, the main character must learn his lesson and overcome his inner conflict.
So my main question is: Do I make all the conflicts and mysteries get solved right at the climax for a (hopefully) smashing ending? Or, do they solve one at a time, and leave the most important one for last? Will it make the middle part boring if I do the smashing climax?
Answer: You actually have a number of questions here. I wouldn't call any of them frivolous. But let's take them one at a time...
First, when we talk about the Story Goal, we mean the big goal of the main or overall plot. It's the goal that involves or affects most of the characters. Characters will have their individual goals as well, but the Story Goal is the common thread that links them. In this case, I'm guessing your goal #1 (getting the scroll) is the Story Goal. (Most stories in the Western tradition have a goal of Obtaining.)
Your #4, the the main character's inner conflict, deals with the main character's goal or concern. It is important that he have such a concern, because it adds emotional depth to the story. The main character's throughline runs parallel to the overall throughline. So while the overall story goes through the four stages of inciting incident -> complication -> crisis -> resolution, the main character will go from an initial way of being or doing things -> being pressured to change -> deciding whether to change -> reaping the results of that decision.
Where these two throughlines are linked is at the crisis, because it is the main character's decision whether or not to change that determines whether the Story Goal is achieved.
In some stories, the main character's decision occurs almost at the same time as the crisis. In others, the main character may arrive at the crisis, run away, think about things (perhaps be influenced by the impact character), decide whether to change, then return to deal with the crisis. It's up to you how to stage this.
Of course, you can have more than one story in a novel, each having a separate Story Goal and main character, but to develop multiple stories fully may require an epic-length book (which publishers are less likely to want from a new writer).
As for your other two goals...
Learning about the Legendary Warrior sounds like a set-up for the series as a whole. Perhaps it's the inciting incident? You could break it down into a subplot within the first novel - like a mystery whose importance gradually unfolds until the reader is anxious to read the next book to find out more.
Regarding the traitor, I'm not sure how this is a goal. Is this traitor the impact character, who offers the main character an example of another way to be/act which the main character must accept or reject when he resolves his inner conflict? If so, the impact character will have his own throughline in which the main character sees the traitor's approach and is tempted to emulate him. Perhaps, it's like how the villain, Long John Silver, influences the main character of Treasure Island? (Usually, if the main character changes, the impact character stays the same, and vice versa.) The impact character throughline will have its own 4-part sequence with a turning point that is also in act 3. And the traitor will have his own personal concern or goal.
Last question... You want to have both a smashing climax AND a compelling middle. Assuming you're heading for a happy ending, the middle, act 2, or the complication phase of a story should be the place where tension builds and the problems increase or worsen. (If your writing a tragedy, the middle is where events get more complex but also better for your hero.) You're taking the reader on a roller coaster ride that's going uphill, building towards the climax.
Act 3 is where the crisis occurs. It is where the events, decisions, actions, happen that determine the resolution. The crisis of the overall throughline, the main character's decision, the impact character's turning point, and the turning point of their relationship, all happen in this act. Whether that means a number of different scenes or one big scene where all these events take place is up to you.
The final part, or act 4, is where you show how things turn out as a result of what happened. Is the main character happier? Was the goal achieved? Is the world/community a better place for everyone? What happens to the impact character? Did the villain get his just desserts? Fourth acts are often the shortest, but still necessary.
Again, best of luck.