I'm having a rough time fleshing my story out.

by John

Question: Ok, so I have the very basic plot down, like, "The main character does this and accomplishes this thing, then he goes over here, while the villain does something evil to try to destroy the world, then they have this epic battle to stop it, and the barely win, but something dark secretly happens which leads to the next book... bla bla bla" Like that, and I'm having trouble filling it in.

Here, I can use this as an analogy: So I have the Skeleton's bones, but I'm having trouble putting nerves and veins on it, which shifts it movements, And I Don't know how to put organs in that will keep it running, and I can't fill the darn thing with muscles to give it shape, presence, and power, and last but not least, this guy needs some skin.

See what I mean? I'm just having a hard time filling in the plot milestones with things like the characters' day-to-day activities, and what they are doing meanwhile, and what's really going on inside their heads, and then there's describing everything in a sensible, interesting way...

So, I desperately need help, I feel like I can't move on without getting this down. So, would it be too much trouble to ask you to save the day?

Answer: Though it's hard to say, if your story seems thin (just the bones) the flesh that may be missing could be the other throughlines of the story.

Let's assume you have a decent plot worked out that begins somewhere, has your characters dealing with problems as they work towards their goal, builds to a desperate crisis, and leads to a good resolution. All this is your overall throughline.

At the same time, your main character's inner journey is a separate but parallel throughline. In act one, you show what kind of person he his and how he usually approaches problems.

Then, in act two,
he is tested. He faces problems where his usual approach may not be enough. He is pressured to change.

In act three, he must ultimately decide whether to change - to take on a different approach, or give up an approach that may not be working - or whether to stick with his current approach. That choice then determines whether he achieves the goal.

Finally, in act 4, you show whether he is better off or not because of his choice.

Okay, that's your second throughline.

Third throughline involves an impact character - someone the main character encounters who takes the opposite approach to dealing with problems. This character may argue for why the main character should change, or just show by example why a different approach may be more effective. This character gives the main character reason to doubt himself.

If the main character decides to change at the climax, the impact character will stay steadfast. If the main character stays steadfast, the impact character will be forced to change. Again, you show in act 4 whether the impact character ends up better or worse off.

Fourth throughline - if you really want to put flesh on those bones - is the story of the relationship between the main and impact characters. Do they start as friends? enemies? Mentor/pupil? How is the relationship tested in act two? Create a crisis in the relationship that it must be resolved in act 3, and show the resolution at the end.

By developing a 4-part arc for all four throughlines and having them run parallel throughout the story, you give it heart. There should be very few "day-to-day activities." Virtually all the activities should be events that are part of one throughline or another. By events, I mean significant changes that send the characters in a new direction.

The same 4-part dramatic arc can be applied to subplots as well as throughlines. Focus always on changes.

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