Saturday, August 21, 2010

4 (5) Key Elements to a Plot (and other notes from J Scott Savage's talk)

1. Protagonist:
Main character. The POV character. He/she that uses the only POV in 1st person perspective or the main character that we follow in 3rd person perspective. Chapter and scene are driven off this character.
Must be mostly likable. Reader needs to route for this character. Relatable.
Must have some unlikeable traits so he/she has room to grow. Some part of the protagonist must be unlikeable. Some views, decisions or traits the reader will want them to change.

Should have a maximum of two. Each one gets their own chapter for their POV. You can have more, but a protagonist has to grow with a path through the story, have chapters dedicated to their POV (1st or 3rd POV). This makes it hard. Ron and Hermione didn’t get that. Only Harry and a couple people when Harry wasn’t around (The Prime Minister, groundskeeper, Snape).

How does the protagonist grow? Life Altering Change. A change to the character’s life/ viewpoint/ home/ anything big from the start of the story to the end.

Character Bible = Mapping the decisions the protagonists make.
Implied History = Brief mentions of their life before this story.

Protagonists must be proactive. Do not make them “Nancy Drew/ Scooby Doo” (Standing around, letting strange/bad events happen and decide to investigate). Have a motivation. Give them a personal reason to actively try to change their world.

Supporting characters come in many shapes and forms. Each serves a purpose. Here are a few:
A. Source of knowledge; (Hermione, Annabeth, Sarafina Pikala,Spock, C3PO& R2D2). Someone to tell the protagonist the rules/ history/ consequences/ knowledge they need to know.
B. Side Kick (including humor giver); (Ron, Grover, C3PO & R2D2,Dr. McKoy, Jimmy Olsen). Someone to lighten the mood and cause laughter.
C Father figure; (Dumbledore, Obi Won Kenobi & Yoda, Chiron). Someone to mentor the protagonist, train them and lead them. This one must be removed from most of the story so the main can learn by doing.

2. Goals:
What is the protagonist trying to accomplish? We need to route for that goal.
There should be a total of three story lines in the overall book, minimum. There will have to be down time, to give info and allow the characters to rest or travel. It can’t be constantly on the go with action. With the other stories, or subplots, the story can have ebb and flow.
1 goal and 2 subplots, minimum.

3. Obstacles:
Be mean to characters. 3 ways to do this are;
A. Isolation; Cut them from parental figures.
B. Disorientation; Place them in an unfamiliar location.
C. Misdirection; After the resolution of a strong, hard, difficult threat or task, characters discover there are even bigger threats or tasks coming.
Don’t need all three but must have at least one of these.

4. Consequences:
What happens if they fail? Add stress to their goal.
Give it a time limit (if X isn’t accomplished before tomorrow morning, I will die).
Set up bad consequences that if the goal isn’t met, the characters will face a very bad situation they do not want.

5. Setting:
Where and when does the book occur? Establish the world. Setting can help build the above four items. Setting is like another character. Give it life. Draw people into it.

Other advice given during the talk;

Create a chapter by chapter outline to keep track of the story.

Take time to get the pieces in place.

Write it! Don’t worry about these things or grammar or if it seems dumb. Just get it on the page, finished, then go back and change.

The more you chat to others about your story, the more you loose excitement. (Dang).

When talking to teachers at a speaking arrangement, let the material be interesting. When speaking with kids, be funny.

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