There are lots of writing workshops about crafting a plot. Protagonists, nemeses, crises, moments of revelation and choice – and overall story arcs – are discussed. For better or worse, I didn’t think of any of those principles consciously when I began the task in late 2003 of turning a childhood short story into what became a 3+ book novel series called Siana’s War.
The main character of Siana, the wise guardian/mentor character of Mercair and the tone of my milieu – all these came from a short story I penned around age 12. Advent Ingnaritatis (as it was then called, with all the precocious grandiosity of a tween studying Latin) didn’t make it far out of the gate. Plotting was not my strong point then. I would have an idea and immediately start writing. And lose steam 10, or 20, pages in.
As an adult, I knew I needed to plot and plan, and that the writing would come — at least somewhat — later. A plot can go many different directions, and some novels I’ve really enjoyed for their other elements (glorious sci-fi world building, poignant romances, or memorable characters) have seemed aimlessly plotted. But before I even got into the plotting trenches, I selected a number of elements for my story. My guiding principle was avoiding themes I’d gotten tired of as a reader.
- No “chosen one” mythology for my main character, and relatedly:
- No inherent abilities (magic, psionics, whatever) for my main character
- No core male-female romance driving the plot
- No endlessly separated and reunited lovers
- No single nemesis
- No use of the word magic
I addressed 1) and 2) in two ways. First, I focused on her pluck. I wanted her bravery and tenacity, her basic personality, to be her chief “weapon”. Second, I gave her powers only through her acquisition of ancient artifacts. Her pluck led her to these artifacts, but as artifacts they could be taken away from her. Further, she could come to over-rely on them and not her inner strength, an interesting dynamic.
Rule 3) worked itself out over time. In the beginning I chose to have her relationship with her brother drive the construction of the plot. I thought a strong sibling bond and love would be more fun to explore than typical romance. And looking at the plot arc of books I and II, this bond did remain the story’s fundamental relationship. But over time, I found myself intrigued to also create a gender-bending romance for Siana. Back in 2004, this was a lot less typical in books and on TV. Part of me wishes I could have published, for this reason, back then.
I broke rule 4), you could argue, with that romance. But I redeemed myself by spending LOTS of time in books II and III where my characters were NOT separated. Personally, I despise romantic comedies that string you along with romantic tension for 2 hours, bring the couple together in the last ten minutes and then end. The assumption seems to be that observing day to day interactions between lovers must be unengaging. I didn’t feel this way about my main characters. I wanted to spend time with them together, and hoped my readers would too. A big inspiration was Lois McMaster Bujold’s fantasy romance between Dag and Fawn. She dared to keep her lovers together for large swaths of her books. So I did too.
Rule 5: I also tend to dislike superhero movies with a single nemesis. (I love Elektra because it has a group of antagonists.) So I created the Aedolae as a group of six ancient beings who would be Siana’s foil, all with their own kingdoms and diverse powers. Each Aedolae created one of her artifacts (unbeknownst to her), so that artifact would fail in their presence. That was a key element in designing battle scenes.
Rule 6: You could argue Siana’s Eterokoni are magical. But I rarely use the word. I challenged myself to find other ways.
These were just the elements, the cautionary principles. In future blogs, I’ll take a look at how I borrowed from all over the place to populate my plot…from real life stories, other stories I wrote as a kid. Creation is rarely ex nihilo. And I’ll discuss the actual plotting process.