PLOTTING WITH BUNNIES (or whatever other animal you like. Want a hippopotamus? By all means, plot with hippos.)

James R. Tuck
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Character and Plot. The two things you need to make a book. (Please don’t cite me examples of books that have one but not the other. Those are outliers and not the main thrust of books.) Generally speaking those are the requirements.

Now for most folks, myself included, character is actually pretty easy. They come swaggering up in our heads all badass and near fully fleshed out. The plots? They’re a different story. Plots are tricky little devils and hard to get hold of sometimes.

But that’s because we overthink them.

We do. As writers our brains are moving 90 to nothing and cruising top speed down multiple tracks. We mix our plot up with the following things: Character, Backstory, World-building, Themes, and Motives.

But we don’t need that for the actual plot.

The plot is the skeleton you hang all that meat on to dry . . . or to move on the ends of twine in a dance beneath the pale moonlight.

Hey, I’m not here to judge.

So here are the basics of your plot. So basic that it will fit nearly any story. (again, no examples otherwise, stay on point people.)

 

THINGS ARE PERFECTLY NORMAL

KEEP THIS PART EXTREMELY SHORT!

Like ONE page or so short. If you write 30 pages of the normal world then you need to tear out 19 of them. This is the natural world or state of your character. This is before he starts the plot WHICH WILL CAUSE HIM TO CHANGE BY THE END. Books are about characters changing. That’s the point. ANYTHING that happens in this part we don’t care about! It’s just the setup for the next part. Got it? Okay, next is:

BAM! THE PLOT DOES A DRIVE-BY

Your first fight scene. You have introduced the hero, the villian, and in this fight scene you will bring in the theme of your book. I should be able to, without a LOT of work, tell you exactly what your book is about by page 30. This is your Inciting Incident. Your Call To Adventure. Whatever you call it, make it big and punchy and really knock the hell out of your hero.

Oh, and he should not win, just escape.

LOOKING FOR TROUBLE

Pretty simple. He just got blindsided by this thing he didn’t know was coming. This is the time to do research for him and figure out what the hell he’s up against.

POSSE UP

In finding out about this evil, the hero will turn to his friends or experts. He will gather allies, people who will help him in the next step.

MY OWN BUTT TASTES TERRIBLE

SECOND BIG FIGHT SCENE! If your hero wins the second fight then the book is over. Don’t let this happen. He should get stomped by evil, he got cocky and went on their turf. He has to pay the price. Really kick the ever-livin’ crap out of him and his allies.

PUKE AND RALLY

Because he’s the hero, Duh. He uses the lessons learned in the part where he got his ass kicked to take the fight to the Big Bad.

EVIL CUTS AND RUNS CAUSE EVIL DON’T FIGHT FAIR

Well, that one is pretty self-explanatory. Once the tides turn on evil it tends to skedaddle. In real life this would mean the end of the story But here you go writing a book so this happens:

THERE IS A SACRIFICE

Virgin, not virgin, it’s your call. Evil doesn’t just leave quietly, they have get their MUAH HA HA’s somewhere. Before they dip they strike out and hurt or take something from the hero. Could be the object he is protecting, could be one of his allies, could be his toupee’. (Hey, those damn things is exprensive!) Because of this action:

SHOWDOWN! BIG BOSS LEVEL THREE!

With nothing left to lose and everything to fight for the hero pulls it together and returns the ass-whoopin favor to evil. Make it huge, make it epic, let there be hellfire and brimstone! Monkeys and midgets and dragons!

And now:

REALITY SHOW CLIP TIME!

Wrap it up. Keep it quick, but show how, with evil defeated, the hero and his allies return to normal, except that things are different now because their growth as characters was the whole point of this exercise in sadism.

That’s right. As an author, YOU are a sadist to your characters.

And that is the basic plot of a genre book. Expand on it, add to it, rearrange it, do anything you want to it. It’s your book.

Write the story you want to read.

 

And now for your enjoyment: a picture I took of a model cosplaying a character I may write about named Poppy C. Bordello, a little, psychotic dervish of a vampire assassin. (Copyright Von Tuck (thats me!))

 

"Freedom is just another word for nothing left to kill." - Poppy C. Bordello

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to kill.” – Poppy C. Bordello

 

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8 comments to PLOTTING WITH BUNNIES (or whatever other animal you like. Want a hippopotamus? By all means, plot with hippos.)

  • James, this is a great breakdown of a typical urban fantasy. :) I like.
    I might point out that in today’s market, the PLOT DOES A DRIVE-BY *could* and maybe *should* happen a lot sooner. In a stand alone or in the first of a series, I agree that you do need a hint of world-building, but that first conflict needs to happen early. Like on page one, if possible, but by page ten for sure.

    I think (if I remember right), you have a fight scene right away in the first novel. In David’s first Thieftaker, (if I remember right) there is a fight on opening scene. Mad Kestrel opens with a battle at sea.

    In Skinwalker, (first of a series) Jane confronts and fights her first vamp on page eight. The WIP (eighth of a series) conflict/fight starts on page five. By page thirty, I’ve introduced all the elements of the storyline, including all the minor plot lines. Speed is everything, much changed from the market of 20 years ago.

    That said, your outline can cover a lot of different genres as it stands, especially, I’d think, epic fantasy. Thoughts?

  • I would agree that you want to introduce action early, that you want to have elements of just about all the things you mention appear somewhere in your story. But I have to admit that I’m very uncomfortable with plot formulas of any sort. Novels are not screenplays, which is good. Books are more complex, they’re more varied, they can be anything we want them to be. Do story lines tend to follow patterns? Absolutely, and the progression that you outline here is a terrific summary of one approach to writing a certain kind of book. I would actually say that an epic fantasy would develop along a fairly different path and at a different pace. And again, that’s the point. There really is no one right way to do any of this. And as you say, plot can be especially tricky.

  • David, you would know way more about epic than I would. :)

  • Adrian

    Too funny. I enjoyed this post a lot. :) I like looking at plot structures, even though I don’t use them rigidly myself, and it seems to me one of the factors that can vary the most (in Craft books) is how quickly you go from “Ordinary World” to “Drive By BAM”. If I remember, at least one popular screenplay books suggest dropping a larger piece of the story there, although I personally I lean more towards James’ view of the world… :)

    Later!
    Adrian.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    So…I’m kind of actually an un-fan of the Plot-Does-A-Drive-by. I realize that it’s a big staple of urban fantasy, but, depending on how it’s handled, I often find myself pretty put off by it. *However*, I suspect that if books more often put better time into you’re Posse-Up section that at least some of my frustrations with the Drive-by would be mitigated, because as a reader *I* really want to have a chance to be invested in the characters and the stakes before things go all crazy.

    I do definitely agree that it’s good to establish early on what kind of story we’re in for, otherwise you end up making the reader re-evaluate – sometimes several times – they’re reactions to what has happened so far, which = throwing the reader out of the story. However, I’m sort of more interested in having the plot sneak up on the characters a little bit first – though, I do lean definitely more to epic fantasy than to urban.

    I do like seeing your break-down though. It’s really helpful to see it in comparison with some of the others out there, because the variations really *can* help to spark plot ideas. Thanks!

  • Hey Discussion is what it’s all about. This is just a basic plot stripped tot he bone.
    But even if you rearrange the elements, most of the time you will find all of them in the book before it’s over. This is the straight progression of it all and again, you have LOTS of room for stuff to happen and how big you make each point.
    Like in the movie THE PRINCESS BRIDE, the argument could be made that the inciting incident is Buttercup’s decision to go for a horseback ride that morning.
    I don’t agree with that, but the argument could be argued. :)

  • I don’t even think about plot. As someone (Bradbury?) put it, “plot is what happened to the characters”. I’ve even been heard to say that my first book HAS no plot, but by this definition, it has plenty, cuz it’s all about what happened to the characters, and could be more or less strung along the nails in today’s post (tho I start with the fight, or rather its final 30 seconds, and the uber-baddie whose machinations set Book 1 in motion doesn’t Get His til Book 7…)

  • Tom G

    Love it. I think this will work especially well with story fiction. At least for me.