The problems you have with plots…


When it comes to plotting…well you will read a lot of great discussions, especially when it comes to fantasy, and to discuss the subject in general, will do me no credit, because it’s been discussed before and by a helluva lot better writers than me. Obviously plotting is important, but for me, it comes it instinctively, and the only point I wish to make in general—is that over-plotting can smother your characters to death.

In fantasy, the basic character arc has your characters taking a physical journey that pushes them to take a mental one, whether it’s a coming of age journey, or one of self discovery. The arc progresses as the journey rambles on down the road to an unknown, but yet usually predictable conclusion. So what happens when your heroes don’t take that journey, but remain static and waiting on the villains?

That was the major problem of my first novel: Megazaur. The idea was to create something like Star Wars, and what resulted from that, was a tropical planet where men and dinosaurs coexisted together, with a deceidly greek, roman empire thing happening. The plot was rather simple. 12 tribes of men lived in a god-commanded society that rewarded the animal like instinct—of survival of the fittest. The best men would become god-like entities who could command dinosaurs (they rode and fought on) to do their bidding through force of will. A father society that valued strength of body and mind over ‘the weak’ nurturing of intelligence that would eventually unbalance nature in favor of man over the dinosaur. The 13th nation of men were slaves that escaped the first twelve and formed a mother-like society that nourished the principle—we all must work together to survive in this world. Which violates the order of the gods, who decree the first 12 must raise an army to destroy them. The Megazaurs (dinosaur riders) have tried to obey this decree 4 times before and failed each time. But instead of drawing hope and confidence from these failings, the Thirteenth omada still has an inferiority complex that fosters an impending sense of doom. Such was the world, I built after two years of thought.

However, I was determined to write more than a epic novel of fantasy, I wanted it to answer a deeper question which only reinforced my conundrum. The question I asked and answered was: what do you do when you lose the one thing you absolutely can not lose in a war for the survival of your nation? It was a question that I felt needed answering, because Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith, failed to answer that question satisfactory and grossly violated the character of Padimee in doing so.

My heroes were not taking any journeys, because they had already arrived. They are larger than life characters of almost pure intentions who would gladly give their lives to see their nation survive and flourish. The story is a combination of the United States and Israel’s birth and fight for freedom, and my characters represent the almost impossible god-like nobility of the forefathers of the US, though I think the leader of the 13th omada’s, Aramore, is more like Lincoln. Apatos is a combination of Achilles and Anakin Skywalker, with Anakin’s devotion to Aramore. But unlike, Anakin, Apatos could never betray his love for his nation, symbolized in his love for Aramore. Alexsey is an upcoming officer in the military with a gift of wizardry when it comes to weapons. His humor, hides the same devotion, but unlike Apatos, he knows that to serve his country best, he needs to live not die for it.

So my heroes are young, full of passion and idealism that will be tempered with brute reality. The villains, are wonderful paradox of hypocrisy. They are the ones that start a journey to unite their armies to obey the god’s decree and preserve the right to become Megazaur’s, but they believe they are doing it to for personal honors and glories, without ever realizing that that underlying truth is the invisible shackles that gods use to enslave them to their will. Their journey to unite and the lead the armies to annihilate the Thirteenth Omada, takes two thirds of the book, and since I couldn’t have the heroes sitting on their hands doing nothing, I had to come up with something, and it had to show the reader their pure intentions and passion—and hopefully endear the reader to become so emotionally involved in their struggle, they can’t stop turning the pages.

I solved the problem by sending my heroes on a false journey in the middle of the book, where they meet the Necroraptors (Think Velociraptors from Jurassic Park.) This false journey gave them a proving ground, not only to build their legends, and strengthen their love for each other, but to give them something to focus on, leaving them blithely unaware of the real danger coming. That allowed a fantastic middle point in the novel, A wedding interlaced with a council of the villains to unify as one army dedicated to destroying the unsuspecting heroes.

I’d like to think I successfully pulled this plot off, and while the writing gives me away as a beginner, Megazaur was definitely my magnus opus. I know I will never write a better book, though I will gladly keep trying, it’s just the complexity and passion I put in this makes it hard to triumphant. Laughably, I have tried new challenges, answering different questions with better written ebooks, but none hold a candle to the plot complexities of this one.


Where’d that come from?: Promising Light

Emily in 2005, dressed up for Homecoming. Flashback!

Come back in time with me to November 2005. I’m 17 years old, a senior in high school, and I’m determined to win Nanowrimo for the second time. I start writing a fantasy novel about a young woman named Grace Ellengreen. She’s the daughter of the king’s general but she has a secret crush on a noble named Dar. He’s the dark, mysterious, and secretive type. He may or may not have been based on an ex-boyfriend of mine named Dan.

I won that month, but I lost about half of the very first draft of Promising Light. (Although back then, it didn’t have a title.) A few basic elements of Promising Light were in the first draft: Dar is from a magical family (though I couldn’t decide what the magic was all about), Grace is kidnapped and used by other people, and both Dar and Prince William have a thing for Grace. Other stuff remains too like Sierra’s connections with Dar’s family and Sashe’s role as the king’s mistress.

Fast forward a couple years later: 2008. I’m 19 and engaged, living in the same town but only after spending a year in Hawaii and a summer in the Marshall Islands. I think to myself, ‘Hey, that story Promising Light was really cool. It’s too bad I lost about half of it to flash drives that ended up in the washer, but gosh darn it, I’m going to rewrite it!’ So that’s what I do. I get about halfway through, but I have a few fatal problems: 1) I can’t decide what exactly Dar’s family does in way of magic and 2) I don’t have a plan. That kind of ties in to the other theme that we have this week. I used to be a pantser, but now I’m a plotter.

So now we’re in 2011. I’m living in a different city, married for a couple years now, and much more serious about my writing. I give the story an outline and new life. I decide that Dar’s family are shape changers. I decide they can change into anything, thanks to limyaael. I keep a lot of things from the first couple drafts (the curse where women can’t give birth, Sierra and Evan’s reuniting) and I also add a lot of things. I add the ancient texts because I wanted there to be another possible way to break the curse aside from Lisbeth’s vision. I add more magical families because I thought it would be fun and change the dynamics of the story if there are more than just shape changers involved. I finish the novel within a couple months and started revising it, then I self-published it in January of this year.

Where did it all come from? This is one of the hardest questions to answer. I honestly don’t know. My brain just spits out imaginary situations and characters and ideas. I am full of them. I think part of it is being observant and remembering things I’ve watched and seen and read. I’m not sure who said it (a few say Picasso, some say T.S. Eliot) but I live by the quote, “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.”

Some people see this as plagiarism, but actually, plagiarism is taking word-for-word passages. One can’t copyright an idea. An imaginary situation can’t belong to one person. It’s kind of in the public domain. Details, like characters and places, you could probably get into trouble with.

Another part of it is just imagination. The other day I was drawing up a bunch of writing prompts for a new feature on my blog. I was at a bar as my husband’s band played, and I just looked around at all the people, imagining their lives. Maybe she’s cheating on her husband. Maybe he’s got a gambling problem. Maybe they’re going to elope next week to avoid their crazy family.

I suppose this post kind of answers the question and kind of doesn’t. It shows the progression of Promising Light but not exactly the origin of each facet of the story. The brain of a writer just isn’t an easy place to navigate.