Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Like "Duh!" Without the Plot, Where Would We Be?

On The Hills, of course, but that's a story for another time.

Okay folks, this week we’re talking about the five things we’d like to see more of in our genre. Well, for one I’d…what was that?

Oh, we’re actually talking about the other topic. Hmm, this is awkward. Everyone knows how hard it is for me to write things on the fly.

So, now the topic is what comes to mind first when I have a story idea?

I’d like to say character, but, many of you who have read my stuff are saying: “What characters?”

Well then, how about plot?

That sounds good.

Truthfully, that really is how my story ideas come about. Usually, I have this weird dream where I won’t remember people’s names and I’ll just have to write down what I remember. I can always create characters and settings later. Surely you don't think I just instantly thought of characters like Mariah Abernathy, Jesse Campbell, Cantrell Ryker and Devereaux Marshall Fox. Despite what you all have thought for years, they took a long time to develop...after I did the plot or main story line.

For me, the plot must come first. And, unlike most of the crap on SyFy, it has to make sense to ordinary people (normally it should make sense to me, but I'm a strange bird altogether; Hunter S. Thompson without the "medicines").

For example, a few months ago, I was at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I was hiking the Cherokee Trail when this fabulously fit woman jogs past me. Imagine Michelle Rodriguez mixed with bodybuilder Jodi Leigh Miller (see photo), with a touch of Angela Bassett and Rachel  McLish.

Anyway, I immediately began to visualize. Okay, I immediately began to fantasize, whereupon I walked into a tree and nearly slid down a rock face.

I’d already been envisioning a story about the dark woods earlier because it was almost dusk. Now, with my head on straight and my vision single rather than double, I furthered the plot. The woman had suddenly started sprinting, as if she were being chased by someone, only to slow down soon after. She was doing wind sprints – jogging, sprinting and then jogging again.

Hmm. Jogger sprinting frantically through darkened woods. Why or from whom or…from what? I didn’t need the character yet, but I used her anyway because of her fantastic…assets. Yeah, I can be a dog sometimes, but a creative one.

The plot became a chapter in Red Herring.

For the sake of those who haven’t eaten, I won’t explain where I got the idea for the prologue to Red Herring.

As you can see, once you have the plot or idea in your head, you can fill out the rest. Say you want to take a rocket to the moon. You can think of NASA and create characters like real astronauts. Or maybe you  make it a private concept and then imagine someone like  Andy Griffith becoming a space salvage expert in Salvage 1 (wow, how old am I?).

That’s not to say that thinking of the character first doesn’t  work. Ian Fleming was literally one of the men who helped  build Britain’s famous MI-5 and MI-6 intelligence agencies  (and had an indirect hand in building the OSS, predecessor to the CIA). So, it was easy for him to think of a character first and then fill in the plot as he just scratched together amalgams of cases he worked on in World War II and the Cold War.

[caption id="attachment_3265" align="alignright" width="94" caption="Ian Fleming"][/caption]

Still, for me, plotting first works best. I went through 20 years worth of plots with what eventually became Land of the Blind. I kept trying to create characters first and they ended up moronic and silly (Star Lobster, Plutonians, Skyler Wilkins, etc). Only after I serious began plotting did I have the ability to make characters who could fit the scenarios I’d envisioned.

Or take Crawl (more on this in a minute), my first novella. I dreamed up a plot about spiders battling. Once I got the plot done up, I decided on the setting and, from there, the characters I wanted. All that, though, needed a viable plot first.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Black Empire, Starship Troopers,20000 Leagues Under the Sea, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Frankenstein, Necroscope, Mists of Avalon, Lord of the Rings and many more great novels all needed and had their plots thought out first. Settings and characters came later.

So, don’t take it from me. Take it from centuries of great writers.

Plot some soil in the creative regions of your mind.

Note: After years of watching C.J., Wendy and David offer up their books for contests, I finally get to add one of my own to the pile. It seems that the other guys have finally forgiven me for that other...uhm, thing, so let’s just say that to any newcomers who sign up for Wicked Writers and leave a comment (a real comment, not one of those writing.com “I just want the 500 gift points” kind of comments) will get a first-run edition of my very first novella Crawl.

Also, any current member who leaves detailed comments on my blog and my alter-ego Anastasia Pergakis' blog next week can get in on the contest. And the prize is certainly worth it.

Everybody who has read this first edition by Lulu.com has liked it so much they tell me they can’t give it away for free. Well, it’s good that people want to pay for it, but you can get yours for free.

Don't wait. This contest only runs for the next two weeks.

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