#4: The Plot
I love this phase. It enables me to see my story – with all its twists and turns, highs and lows – in a single linear view.
A plot can begin with writing a synopsis, but to me – it gets fun when it begins to expand into every possible direction. I find it is good to let the thing expand as it will – for a while – keeping the aim or the premise of the story in mind. In time, I could see what was useful and what can be chopped off. Much like a plant – when it grows, it spreads into all directions. However, once it’s achieved a certain level, the gardener begins to prune it.
For me, it would generally begin with jotting down a few points on how I want the story to proceed.
The Plot Outline, the Plot Map & the Plot Diagram…
… Call it what you will – if you’re serious about finishing your story and doing it well, you got to go through this.
It is said that one needs to have the plot ready before one starts. While that is an important guideline – however, at times, this can be thought of as a bit ‘blocking’. If you have an idea, write about it – and very soon you’ll realize the need and importance of a plot line.
The idea itself doesn’t take the story anywhere. After you’ve managed to scribble the idea, you’ll discover that now you’ve no idea where this goes from where it’s at. There is a concept, an idea, but then… what happens? A story doesn’t happen unless something moves. If it is not moving, then a cause is needed for the story to keep moving. If there isn’t one, there’s no story.
1. A man loses everything but holds onto a coin given by his grandfather and the memories thereof.
Seeing it from this one line, the man is already facing a lot challenges. How I want to take him through the challenges and whether – based on the aim I set for this chap – he sees victory or failure; and how – internal victory, but external failure? Or externally he succeeds, but internally, he remains empty — plotting these events (based on the chosen genre and the aim for the story) and the man’s reaction to them is what takes the idea forward to the end.
2. For Double Bind – the first scene of the story I saw in my mind was Ian Maxwell sitting in his study and staring out of his window to the woods. When I wrote it, I talked about this man and all that he could see and then, ended it on why the most perfect place made no sense to him anymore. Okay, so far so good – now what!? Then, I had to sit back and think of what I wanted to happen thereafter. That thought process became an outline, a roadmap of the story.
Another thing I enjoy is setting the events on a timeline. It sets a completely different perspective to the story. It brings in a reality & feasibility factor to the story.
Now if the minister who takes up being Dad for 7 kids is in for the deal –
- When did this happen?
- What is the designated duration for this story?
- What triggered it?
- How long is it going to last?
- When does he change his mind or his feelings regarding this new state of things; that is, if he initially hated it, does he end up loving it, or if he initially loved it, does he end up getting exhausted of it and yearns for his old life?
- What events cause it and by when must it happen, or by when the problem must be solved, or by when the minister will have done what he needed to do in this story?
I like to think of it more like a colorful 3-d model of the story. There isn’t too much detail but the whole story is visible with its mountain peaks and valleys, ridges, unexpected turns, and perilous paths.
Now, here’s the twist!
When you’re done with the plot (no matter how detailed), do not think you’re done with the story. Don’t – for goodness’ sake – ever fall into that trap! You may been very well planned, but you don’t know how a story really ends, till it actually ends. And most times, you might end up surprising yourself if you weren’t keeping track.
For these very frequent situations, there’s invented a fantastic word – Rewrite!
#5 Characters – Part -1
Wherever the story might be set, whatever it may be about – the writer usually gets hold of an ‘object’ (as I call it) through whom/which they tell their story. At times, this object is where the story starts.
These are the carriers of the story. The story may be about an event, an era, a country, a war, a discovery, a crime – it doesn’t ever move anywhere at all without these special people called, Characters.
Every story is either about a person, or is being told through a person. This main person is called the Protagonist. The events of the story are told either as done by the protagonist or as impacting them. That is – if something happens, either this main person is doing it, or it is being done to them. At times the story may have two of them (and in some cases – multiple!).
This someone is a fantastic person. They may be uber cool, larger than life, having super powers, determination, grit and gumption, OR … they may be a very normal, nothing special somebody – but this is their story and something fantastic about them, something they did, or that which happened to them.
These people are involved in the story at most times. These are the people who hold the story and all its elements together – in short, everything revolves around them. Remember, we talked of The Aim in Part one of the series? The aim usually belongs to this main person: it is something they must do, or achieve/obtain, or become, or come to understand. The story actually is in danger of losing its thread if the focus moves away from these people; never move focus from these people – not for too long in any case. Everything that happens needs to be for them, relevant to them and their aim, about them, impacting them, or derived from them – directly or indirectly.
One of the most intriguing things about a ‘Character’ is that it needn’t be a human being. It may be an animal, a tree, or any living or fantasy creature. It can even be something non-living – a cloud, a rain drop, a computer, a kitchen appliance, a robot, a house, a car, a planet – whatever! The incredible thing that using a non-human or a non-living thing as a character does is that it brings life to them. It grants them feelings, desires, thoughts, reactions, perceptions, aims, responsibilities – in short, it humanizes them.
Defining a Character
Usually, the first thing that a writer may note down about a character is the one striking quality that makes them the chosen one. This one quality is something I call the Key Identifier – a trait name that would define the character for me in a few words (as few as possible – makes it crisp).
So when I think ‘stern minister’, my mind draws me an image that goes with it – that suits him or her. The KI being ‘stern’ and ‘minister’ tells me what I’m looking for. When things begin to move in the story, this key feature of the main character helps me determine how this person might react. Of course there are other factors, such as, the kind of stimulus, the situation, the other character in the scene, their own feelings and moods, their personality, their memories & expectations from the situation, etc.
This is just a defining the character. The definition of definition is: ‘A concise explanation of the meaning of a word or phrase or symbol’. Let’s not confuse this with the character sketch (which is quite in detail). This is merely a starting point and a general guideline about the character.
When you hear ‘ruthless, arrogant, shrewd businessman’ you see someone that resonates well with ASR in the first episode of Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon (if you’ve seen it).
When you hear ‘a cheerful nun passionate for music and reckless adventure’ you’d remember Maria’s first song in the Sound of Music (if you’ve seen it).
When I first saw Ian Maxwell, I had one word for him – he is ‘Lost’.
The KI is so crucial that if the character loses it, their definition changes. If the reader has built a rapport with the character based on their KI, and then midway along the story it changes, the reader can no longer identify with the character.
At times, the goal or aim of the story is that the character’s perception, or understanding, or actions should change. However, it is very rare that a person (in real life) would change their basic psychological make-up.
The nun may stop going for recklessness if she sees it endangered others or if it’s against her life as a nun; however, somewhere in her heart she may yet yearn for it. She may come to the understanding of being careful and slow, but the way she would react or portray this understanding would depend on her basic nature.
Arnav Singh Raizada didn’t believe in rituals and marriage. When he fell in love with a girl for whom rituals and marriage were paramount, he agreed to follow every single ritual for marrying her. However, even though he agreed, he never hesitated to recount that:
- he didn’t believe in them,
- he did it only for the sake of the woman he loved,
- he wouldn’t mind overriding them (in fact, he did override some of them in his own ‘technical’ way or showed her how they’d already been through ‘rituals’ earlier, but didn’t realize it to be so), and
- he still believed in his own viewpoint that ‘his feelings for his lady love – that fact that they’re in love & how much they shared and gave up for each other – were more important than rituals’, which he considered a social requirement.
His basic character trait did not change, even though he came to an understanding and agreement with a different and even opposing point of view.
Once this briefing is done – it looks enough, doesn’t it! Yeah! I thought so the first time.
‘I want this guy to be a quiet and morose.’ – I thought. And then there was a situation in which the guy was facing something extremely funny, and he couldn’t possibly react either quietly or morosely. He must either break into a smile – at least, or get irritated with it.
Now – how would I proceed with this guy if he lands in a situation where ‘quiet and morose’ doesn’t work! Then we work out the character details – the background, the life, the experiences, the reactions, the mindset; the personal details, such as, the hobbies, the usual style of clothes, the appearance, any diseases or health issues; as a plus, the family, the friends, the relationships and how they deal with it… long list of Whats, Hows, and Whys answered about each main character to form the sketch.
So, the first word for Ian Maxwell may have been ‘Lost’ – it certainly wasn’t the last. This description expanded into … Well, let’s just say he was ‘found’ using his character & personality make up.
Detailing a character’s make up becomes more urgent as the outline is developed. As you begin to thrash out the story in detail, it’ll become evident that you really need to know the people in the story. You must define who they are, what makes them tick, how they function, what are their motivations, and of course, by now you get my drift.
We’ll continue with this discussion on Characters in the next segment. And, also a very interesting and perhaps my second favorite phase; the most favorite one being the actual Writing itself – before we move onto elements and tastes.