I’ve posted about character recently, and I’ve written a few posts about worldbuilding. Today I’m wrestling with plotting, so I thought I’d post about that.
I’m mostly through the worldbuilding for my new project — my shiny new toy — and I know a good deal about my lead character. What I need now is a storyline for the first book in the series. This project is going to be a true serial, as opposed to an extended story arc, which is the more classic fantasy structure. I posted on this back in September at the weblog of my agent (and Faith’s agent), Lucienne Diver. Briefly, as I wrote in my post for Lucienne:
“A true series consists of a sequence of stand-alone novels that are connected by a recurring character or world or theme. For instance, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels are parts of a true series. Each book stands alone as a mystery, but taken together they tell us about Harry’s life and career. A project like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire on the other hand, is best described as an extended story arc. It’s a multi-book sequence, but taken together it tells one story. A project of this sort can have many narrative threads, but it is, in the end, a single tale.”
Up until now, everything I’ve published has been part of one extended story arc or another. What I’m writing this time around is a serial. Each book will stand alone, though some of the characters, including the main protagonist, will recur and their lives will change with each book. (In other words, it won’t be like an episode of “The Brady Bunch,” where each episode seems to exist in a bubble without affecting what comes next.)
So how do I come up with a plot?
No, I’m really asking. How do I come up with a plot?
Okay, I’m not really asking. But I am struggling a bit. I have great ambitions for the series in general and for this first book in particular. I want to develop a mystery that ties together multiple strands of the worldbuilding and character development I’ve done thus far. There are large political issues that need to tie in, but I also have a conflict between my protagonist and his arch rival. And ultimately I want the central mystery of the book to be gritty and fun and interesting for my reader, even as it brings in some of the basic social conflicts in my world surrounding religion and magic and class. As I say, I have great ambitions for the series.
As I’ve mentioned before many times, I often develop ideas and overcome problems by brainstorming at the keyboard — basically typing stream of consciousness. I ask myself questions and answer them until I work through whatever is holding me back. I imagine that’s what I’ll be doing for the next few days, as I try to develop the plot for this first book. And as I brainstorm I’m sure I’ll fill out some of the remaining worldbuilding and character details that have eluded me thus far. It’s all connected — the worldbuilding tells me more about the character; the character development gives me plotting ideas; and as the plot develops I’ll come up with other things I need to do with the world. Round and round I go.
As “How To…” posts go, I guess this one is pretty lame. I’m feeling my way through this part of the process. Sometimes when I get an idea for a book or a series, the plotline is one of the first things that comes to me. Sometimes it works differently. This time the main character and the contours of the world have been there pretty much from the beginning, but the plot has been slower to develop. I suppose it bears repeating: There is no right way to do this. Even those of us who have been doing it for a while don’t do it the same way every time. And maybe that’s the most important thing to take away from this post. There is no hard and fast technique to harnessing creative energy. For me the process is always changing. That’s the challenge. That’s the fun.