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Planning the Evil Plot

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By MissLunaRose   |   Watch
663 66 25K (1 Today)
Published: April 6, 2012
A half-guide, half-narrative on writing a story
brought to you by Super Editor



Basics


Before I start writing, I like to have some idea of where I'm starting, where I'm going, and how I'm going to end up there. Let's say that I want to write a comedy about an author who suddenly changes places with her Mary Sue. I usually jot down some basic ideas:

Characters:
Sarah, the author: ~13 years old, average-looking, glasses, rather tall and gangly
Ellemere, the Mary Sue: ~16 years old, long flowing hair, violet eyes, etc.
Forrest (Ellemere's love interest) : ~18, stereotypical pretty boy who is too dark and broody to make a good love interest
Leon: ~17, Ellemere's somewhat dorky friend who falls in love with her but is cast off to side in favor of Forrest
Tangent: For those of you who are confused, the ~ symbol means "about." I think it comes from math.

I like to draw, so I'd probably make doodles of these characters too. Drawing characters is a great way to develop them, because they try on different expressions and outfits and gain a personality. People who can draw expressive people should definitely try drawing their characters.

Setting


I'm going to steal Highcliff, a Tolkienesque fantasy country, for my setting because it's premade. (Interestingly enough, it won't be harboring its first Mary Sue.) Its woods are a mix of deciduous and coniferous, and it has frigid snowy winters and comfortable summers. There are a few castles and several oligarchic towns scattered throughout the area. The towns trade and pass news back and forth, but ties between them are fairly minimal.

I'm not going to bore you all with more details about the setting here, but when I develop it more, I'll go fill out this form. It covers all the basic aspects you'll need to consider when creating a setting (or, at least, the ones I can think of), so I'll just leave you with the link and move on.


Plot


I never figure out the plot the same way. Some people like to write a careful outline, while others just jump in and figure out where they're going when they get there. I tend to fall slightly into the former category; I find it helps me develop my theme and stay consistent much more easily. Let's see what I have so far:

Basic outline:
1. Introduce the four main characters and their roles. Show how Ellemere is a Mary Sue (not a crazy one, a realistic one) and how Sarah is bored with her normal life.
2. Show Sarah's plans for the story (magic etc.) for some evil foreshadowing.
3. Switch Sarah and Ellemere, skip the explanation for now
4. Have Sarah learn magic and slowly fall for Leon
5. Climax, Sarah barely defeats the bad guys
6. Uh...

As you can see, this isn't the most solid plan to jump into action with. When I was younger, I used to start with a basic plan such as this and see how it went. That didn't always end well. Looking back, writer's block is likely to occur at #4 and #6. (The fourth point involves character development, (!?) while the sixth point... yeah.)

If you write more complex stories or prefer the security of a timeline, this way is much better.

Comprehensive Outline:
1. Show the story that Sarah is writing (don't mention her; let the reader think at first that Ellemere's story is the actual story); develop Ellemere a little
2. Cut to Sarah being interrupted from writing, perhaps for supper; show how she thinks that real life is boring compared to writing
3. Cut to writing; develop Ellemere and her friends, show some plot and share Sarah's plans for book
4. SWITCHEROO TIME! Sarah wakes up as Ellemere! Drag her to magic lessons and such.
5. Sarah learns from her magician mentor that she is mentioned in a prophecy. (She had planned this for Ellemere.) Now she has to learn magic and defeat the bad guys!
6. Have Sarah and Leon spend some time together. Develop Leon.
7. Sarah tries to hang out a bit with Forrest, but he is too dark and broody! Show that in real life, he'd be a pretty bad love interest (grumpy, frustrating, etc.).
8. Show that time has passed, build up to climactic battle
9. Have Sarah confide to Leon how nervous she is about all this; plop in however much romance stuff that the story seems to ask for
10. Climax! Sarah barely defeats the evil magician and is almost killed. Give her a nice, long, realistic recovery time.
11. Explain the switcheroo and have Sarah return home.
12. Sarah might be a bit sad about losing Leon; perhaps there's a way she can return. Otherwise show how she is a better writer for recognizing how to make more realistic characters and such (careful with tone/theme here!) and wrap up.

Estimated word count: I don't know, perhaps 6,000

Major writer's block is a lot harder here, although it's still possible. Detailed outlines give less room for changing things as you go. This can be both good (maximizing consistency, minimizing writer's block) and bad (limiting growth and change). However, we can get around the drawbacks a bit by deviating from the outline here and there if the story seems to work better that way.

Some people would say that this outline isn't structured enough: there's sill room for writer's block! Whatever you choose, it's generally good to have at least little outline packed up somewhere in your head. The level of detail depends on who you are.

It is actually possible to jump into a story with absolutely no idea of where you're going. I did that with book 1 of my current series. I don't highly recommend this method: book 1 only pulled through because of the characters' potency and opposition towards each other, followed by a twist of plot. The 40,000-word draft took only sixteen days. My lack of planning resulted in a ton of editing. (I've added about 20,000 words so far for clarity's sake. When I'm done fixing holes, it'll only slightly resemble my first draft.)

It took over a year to make the book become coherent, and even now it's still full of plot holes the size of my fist. (I'm, uh... working on that.)


Characters


Now it's character development time! Generally I would draw my characters to help me plan them, but I'm not going to spam you with ugly doodles that I will hate in four months, so let's skip that part and keep rolling.


I. Characters for a Purpose



My characters are designed with a specific role in mind: protagonist who is easy to relate to, cute little brother, clumsy guy who ends up being a great friend and support, antagonist whose actions make a point about this or that, etc.

Sarah, for example, has a clear purpose: I want her to be a young author whom readers can relate to easily. Authors should understand her feelings and plans, while non-authors can learn about what it's like to be a young writer. Now it's time to consider how I'm going to achieve that.
  • Sarah has a fairly normal family and school life, which she finds boring compared to her writing.
  • She's a bit shy.
  • She daydreams a lot. Her characters are always on her mind.
  • She often puts a pencil behind her ear; she likes to write and draw at school (especially during Spanish class because they hardly do anything in it)
  • She and her friends edit each others' books and are always passing sections around.
  • She loves to sing.
  • She hopes to be an author when she grows up.

Can you relate to her already? If so, then she's almost good to go. While I might not include all the details in my book (such as Spanish class), they're the sort of things that can be mentioned off on the side if the appropriate moment appears. Besides, now we have a bit of a feel for her. This is probably good enough to start a story with.

Some of these details were pulled from myself and people I know. I recommend doing a bit of this for characters who are written to be easy to relate to: they'll sound much more like people whom you could meet in the halls at school or behind you in line at Starbucks.

I create many characters beginning with a singular purpose, and sometimes they expand far beyond that purpose while other times they do not. I'll give a few examples from my writings for the curious:

~Ellie's mom from "Ellie's Song" (minor character) She suddenly comes into her children's lives after working all the time, and she loves them to death. The kids can't really relate to this. She was meant to show how the parents' sudden decision to retire wasn't going to work like it would in some cheesy movie. The kids, after years of living basically without their parents (first a nanny, then Ellie), weren't suddenly going to run to hug and kiss their parents whom they barely knew.
~Bruk from Dimension 258 (villain) Bruk was meant to be a main antagonist, get into fights with Dark, and keep the story going. I created him a bit too single-mindedly and had to go back and expand his motivations in the editing process. Now he is more realistic, although he's too mean to be likable.
~Sue from "Susie Dear" (supporting character) While we never directly hear Sue speak, Mort's words tell us a lot about her: she's intelligent, fashionable, and socially adept. I created her to be a foil to Mort—she embodies society's norms and ideals, where Mort acts inappropriately. Her normality highlights Mort's maladaptive behavior.

All my characters are created for a purpose. My major ones (about the first seven in a novel) typically develop to include nuances noticeably beyond their primary purposes, while the rest are too peripheral to have as much development.


II. Recycling Characters



Character recycling is not nearly as dull of a process as the name suggests. In fact, many interesting characters can come out of it, since you often do better the second time around! I think I'll recycle Ellemere from Amirra. Amirra is a character of mine whom I loved when I was 11-14, and I wrote a good 160,000 words of her story before it failed. Let's see her traits:

~long, white (!) hair, striking light blue eyes
~quietly confident, although sometimes this was a front
~fast and agile fighter
~brave
~thoughtful, daydreamer
~INFP (for those who know Myers-Briggs)
~learns magic very quickly
~optimistic
~artist and musician (draws, plays flute)
~bit of a self-insert (I am also an INFP)

Now it's cherry-picking time! It's boring to copy a character and just give him/her a different name, so I'll conform Ellemere a bit more to her role. It's fun to deliberately write a Mary Sue, so let's go!

~long, strawberry blond hair
~violet eyes that change color (Mary Sues can defy science.)
~fast and agile fighter
~more extroverted than Amirra was (Sarah belives that extroversion is better than introversion.)
~plays flute
~learns magic very quickly
~carefree and fun-loving
~adorable/everyone loves her/all that stuff
~only real flaw being a bit naive

I took many of these traits straight from Amirra. She's recycled, but she'll be distinct and noticeably different from Amirra. She's definitely a Mary Sue!

Recycled characters of mine:
~Zaen from Dimension 258: based off of a character without a storyline; Zaen is younger, looks different, is more cheerful and optimistic, and is a bit more naive. Anyone who knows him will recall what an energetic, adorable little guy he is today.
~Dark from Dimension 258: loosely based off of a character of my brother's (I originally created him for my brother*); Dark has a more vibrant POV, a more limited special ability, a less cruel sense of humor, a lower success rate against villains, and a character arc. Dark is probably one of my most memorable characters yet. He only vaguely resembles the story-less character that my brother invented.

*With permission

Maybe 15% of my characters are somewhat recycled.


III. Eccentric Characters



I often plan a character around a certain eccentricity. Eccentric characters can be very fun to read and write, and depending on the context, they may make your story much more humorous or somber (or both). I... don't have any ideas for the Mary Sue story at the moment, so I'll borrow Zaen instead.

Zaen is defintely not a normal character. As his name suggests, he doesn't even come from this planet. Let's see what oddities he has...

1. High intelligence and a strong interest in various intellectual ideas and pursuits
2. A special power
3. A very naive, youthful outlook on the world that contrasts with his intelligence

Stereotypes often come with eccentricities, so because it bugs me when people try to place a flat generality over a three-dimensional character, I'm going to avoid stereotypes.

1. Zaen could already fall into that "very shy computer genius" trap, but I think that his innocence is going to be the key barrier. He's not very old, and while he's smart, he's also little enough to make snowmen and get hyper if he eats too much sugar. He is also pretty socially adept. That should be good enough there.

2. Zaen's special ability needs limits, which I've written out elsewhere but won't bother you with here, and he doesn't know how to effectively use his ability against the antagonists. (I say this because whenever it's Zaen versus the antagonists, the antagonists always win.) His ability is helpful, but he never uses it directly against the antagonists.*

*Actually, he does use it once to run away from them. Maybe that counts.

3. You've seen the "cute and clumsy" stereotype. As long as I balance his innocence with his intellectual side and show other dimensions too, he should be fine. (This means showing how he's a hard worker, how he's curious about nearly everything, how he never bothers Rose but gets on Dark's nerves sometimes, etc.) He doesn't consider himself clumsy, nor does anyone else in the book, and I don't lead the reader to think that he is.


IV. Spontaneous Characters



These people aren't planned, they just sort of... happen. Usually I have a vague idea of their role in my head, and then they pop up in the story and end up getting a personality. It can be enjoyable to watch them grow as you write. Sometimes they turn out beautifully, but (warning!) without enough care, they may fall flat on their faces. But hey, if you enjoy surprises and don't mind a bit of extra editing, they can be fun!

Leon, for example, is probably going to be a spontaneous character. I think I know what his role is going to be, but that's about it. I don't know his personality, his likes, his dislikes, and what his relationship with Sarah and Ellemere will be.

I guess I'm going to find out.

So if you still want more examples... I can use Athryl. Athryl was created for a narrow purpose: being a mechanical genius and misusing that genius to cause a big problem. In the first draft, he was a two-dimensional villain with control issues, and he stank. I scrapped and rewrote his character.
Athryl became a lonely kid who struggled to reconcile the morals of his thieving "family" and the literature he loved. I asked readers how old they thought he was because I had absolutely no idea. He was planned to be about 15 but I'm thinking he's around 12 or 13 based on reader responses. There was another thing that surprised me: "He's so cute!" "He's quite the peacemaker; I feel bad for him." There was also my mother's almost angry response to his situation: "You need to give him a happy ending!" I had not intended him to be so sympathetic. Now he has a (relatively) substantial, adoring following.

Spontaneous characters can really be startling when you view them in their entirety. Personally, I enjoy writing them. Many of my spontaneous characters have turned out to be lovely surprises,* and while I wouldn't recommend setting characters up to be completely spontaneous, it can be fun to have a character like that.

*Or I edited the heck out of them until they were

About 5-10% of my characters could be considered spontaneous. (All of my important characters are somewhat spontaneous, since I watch them grow as I write, but most of them develop the way I expected.)

Ready to Go?



Here is how I know when I'm ready to start writing:
~Do I have a good idea of my plot?
~Do I understand my setting?
~Do I know what I want to say?
~Have I fallen completely in love with my characters?

If the answer is no to any one of these questions, I know I'm not ready. It's important to know where you're going before you try to get there. You also need to understand the culture and landscape of the land you travel through. Most importantly, you need a reason to write, whether it is your characters or your theme. Your characters must inhabit your life. If they have arguments in your head, enact scenes that are supposed to happen 20,000 words later, and make sarcastic remarks about every little thing that happens to you—then, then you know you are truly obsessed.

There are few sentiments or logical reasons to write that are more powerful than that.

© 2012 - 2019 MissLunaRose
Ah, finally a nice, refreshing dose of `Luna--Rose's stale humor!

Yes, that is me in the preview image. I did it because I like to draw myself with extra curly hair when I'm writing. It looks interesting.
Yes, I have a mustache in the preview image.

...Deal with it.

:bulletblue::bulletblue::bulletblue:

There's a reason that the word guide is crossed out on the preview image. This isn't as instructional as the typical guide. I wasn't sure if I should post it, but then I remembered that there are a lot of books on this subject and people buy them, so apparently people do want to read this sort of thing. I checked—popular opinion suggested that there is a place for it on dA!

By no means treat this as the best/only/whatever way to write a story. This is just how I do things and how I think. Different methods work for different people.

There will be no official editions of this thing because it isn't exactly a tutorial.

I would also like to issue a public apology for 1) keeping this in my Sta.sh for so long and 2) not posting Writer's Guides for ages. I'm very sorry that I haven't found or made the time. I shall now publicly kick my homework out the window.

For building stories:

Character Questionnaire
This is a useful questionnaire I have all my major characters fill out. Please copy and paste it into a Word document or deviation. Then highlight the information after the colons and type over it.

Name: Full name and nicknames 
Age: If your character is not a human, give it in animal/fairy/alien/whatever years and human years—for any species  you invented, calculate a constant (e.g. 0.6667 alien years per human year)
Height and weight: give numbers if possible (Google "girls/boys height weight chart" to help) or use relative values (e.g. he's short for a guy his age)
Body type: frame (thin, stocky, etc.), weight, whatever
Eyes: color, s
Creating a New World
Please copy and paste this into a Word document or deviation. Then highlight the information after the colons and type over it.

Setting

Time/Era: Exact year or approximate time

Name of Country: For fun, you could alter the name of an old empire. For example, the Assyrian Empire (Mesopotamia, BC) was particularly brutal, so a twist off of that name could be interesting for more educated readers. Readers love to be in on jokes like that. Oh, and don't steal Asrian Empire. I already called it.

Geography: I recommend you draw a map (it doesn't have to be exact; it's for consistency)

Landscape: Trees, soil, water, buildings... Imagine you wer


:bulletblue: More Resources
Comments66
anonymous's avatar
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Obelis's avatar
ObelisHobbyist General Artist
So true about spontaneous characters! They pop out from nowhere and then suddenly become even more important than the protagonist... 
InumiInuzuka's avatar
InumiInuzukaStudent Traditional Artist
Interesting tutorial.
sevenofeleven's avatar
I don't do outlines except if I am sharing with other people or if I am taking a break.
I can put down what happens in bulletpoints and expand them later.

Usually if I have enough to write a bullet point, I have enough to write.

Thanks for the tutorial.
MissLunaRose's avatar
MissLunaRoseHobbyist General Artist
It sounds like you have figured out a good strategy. And you're welcome! :heart:
writtennote14's avatar
writtennote14Hobbyist Writer
Can you or some one help me check if my outline is good enough?
KappaScience's avatar
KappaScienceHobbyist Filmographer
Your stuff IS WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too useful.
Time to favorite all of it for my own good.
SergentSacasm7's avatar
personally it is hard for me to use paper unless I am drawing characters, other than that I type my story out. However I plan it in my head more. (So if I get amnesia I am doomed) However now that I think about it sometimes inside my head there are holes. So perhaps if I fill in those holes I am fine right? When I write things out on paper like an outline unless it is an essay it isnt helpful because I cannot paraphrase to save my life! (by paraphrase I mean I have to write down all the details) so in my head I can imagine the whole scene and I do not have to work at paraphrasing because My head does it automaticlty or there is no need. However structure is something I lack inside me' precious brain. It works for me, I just get grumpy and get writers block or run out of ideas! So rreally structure is only half the problem for me, it is comming up with plott ideas! Personally, I think that plott developing is a very precious quality for an author, because it is so dificult, however Sometimes I know what is the effect s but I cannot think of an cause or I have no clue how something happens and not only what should happen. How do you solve those problems...?
pinballwitch's avatar
Nicely done :) congrats on the recent feature from ^Beccalicious, glad it brought this to my attention!

I like how you clarify "~" with "Tangent" -- both come from math, haha.
Okay, moving on now...
MissLunaRose's avatar
MissLunaRoseHobbyist General Artist
Thank you! :love:

I didn't actually notice that. Thanks for pointing it out! Math stuff is awesome.
ShayLaLaLooHoo's avatar
ShayLaLaLooHooHobbyist Traditional Artist
I love how you avoid cliches. I usually try to, but I reek at it.
MissLunaRose's avatar
MissLunaRoseHobbyist General Artist
Thanks. :D

Ha ha, cliches are always a part of our characters and plots, no matter how big or small of a role they play. :)
ShayLaLaLooHoo's avatar
ShayLaLaLooHooHobbyist Traditional Artist
Yeah, I hate finding them in my writing. It makes me feel like I write crappy romance novels that you can buy in the gas station for a dollar.
Serendipital's avatar
I...actually want to read this story. Really badly.

Anyway, this was a nice little insight into what you do! I think I've learned a lot from this. :)
MissLunaRose's avatar
MissLunaRoseHobbyist General Artist
Well, if I write it, I will post it. :aww:

Thanks!
BattlestarNovatia's avatar
I love your tutorial! I loved reading it and seeing how much of what I'm doing is what you're suggesting. I just wish I could pause my other stuff and just work on my book. -_- My characters are bothering me day and night to write it, but college gets in the way, homework, emergencies....
But mini-laptops and jump-drives are to the rescue! It might get done....one day....next century...
MissLunaRose's avatar
MissLunaRoseHobbyist General Artist
Thank you! :aww:

Ha ha, don't take this too seriously. This is only the way I do it. :)

I wish the same thing. :hmm: My homework is insane (as you can probably guess from my very late reply), so I haven't been able to work on my book very much either.
BattlestarNovatia's avatar
I am so sorry for the late reply. Finals are coming up and there's all that last minute cramming. Ugh.

But you're welcome.

I do have a question, though. For your writing, do you proofread your own work for plotholes and stuff or do you ask someone to do it for you?
I was just wondering because I was thinking of asking someone to proofread mine and was wondering if you might be able to suggest someone. As if anyone has free time nowadays.
YamitheTrixter's avatar
YamitheTrixterHobbyist General Artist
^^ I like your tutorials I´m currently trying to write a story but i´m afraid that it´s too complicated
MissLunaRose's avatar
MissLunaRoseHobbyist General Artist
Thanks! :D

It all depends on the degree of complexity and how you explain it. If you introduce it at a reasonable pace, readers will be able to keep up with it. :) It never hurts to try!
YamitheTrixter's avatar
YamitheTrixterHobbyist General Artist
np
Well i´m still at planning (+ first version) stage but i´ll try
^^
toykofruit123's avatar
This was so great, it really helped kick start my imagination! Your style of writing is so fluent and interesting, thank you so much for posting this!
P.S. That story sounds like it could be really cool, if you wrote I would definitely read it : D
MissLunaRose's avatar
MissLunaRoseHobbyist General Artist
Thanks! :hug:

I've been considering writing it. I tried once and failed, but it might be fun to attempt a re-write. :D
toykofruit123's avatar
You definitely should! :DDDD
Catbot158's avatar
Catbot158Student Writer
Okay, I know you used that narrative to show how to make a plot, but that's a REALLY interesting plot you had going there! I'd read it! :boogie:
anonymous's avatar
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