Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mystery: Plot and Character

In the past week I've been working on improving the mystery in my work in progress. Since the book is supposed to be a mystery, I need to make sure the mystery is a good one that makes sense and keeps readers reading.

So, as I sat down a few days ago to work on fixing the poorly-written mystery plot of my story, I started brainstorming things for my characters to find out, and clues for them to put together, and so on. In terms of plot vs. character, this sounds like a plot thing, right?

Well, yes and no.

Of course it's a plot thing; the crime and subsequent attempts to solve it are what move the story along. But what gets investigated as the detectives try to unravel it? People. (And events, but for this post I'm going to focus on people.) Crimes are committed by people, and to learn more about the crime, you have to learn more about the people.

If a detective has suspects, they're going to try to find proof that one of the suspects did it. And to do that, the detective needs to investigate his/her suspects, which means the detective is going to learn more about them.  Now, of course not all of the suspects are the criminal, but they will still have secrets of their own. This, I realized, might be a good way to develop the suspects (side characters). If a detective is learning more about a certain side character, then so is your reader. And then the detective can then use what s/he learned about the side characters to help him/her catch the real criminal. For example, if the detective learns the mailman is a good shot, he can help take out the villain in the climax. 

So, with this new realization, I started thinking about the mystery in a new way: Which side character do I want to investigate, and therefore develop? We'll see where this new train of thought takes me. Obviously I'll need to think about other aspects of the story, but this will be a good starting point.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Short Story for Critique

A couple weeks back I wrote the following really short short story (just under 300 words). My goals were A) Play with this premise idea, B) Play with a plot twist, and C) Do something mildly productive while I waited for my sister.

I now present it to you, and I'd love to get feedback, mainly on the success or lack thereof of the twist I used, but I'd love to hear anything you have to say.

The judge brought down his gavel, quieting the boisterous crowd.
“We are here today,” he said in a crisp voice, “to announce the punishment of this man, for his multiple accounts of murder.”
Harold’s stomach squirmed, and he couldn’t keep his fingers still. Please not death, please not death… or if death at least something… traditional.
“A jury of our community’s most respected members has met twice and come to a final decision.” The judge nodded at a group of well-dressed people seated next to his dais.
Not death. Not death. Not the vampire.
Harold risked a glance at the dirty, wild haired man chained up on the other side of the room. He glared and snarled at Harold.
If they chose death, of course they would use the vampire. The vampire was new. And the “respected” community members wanted to make an example.
And of course that example had to be him. He swallowed hard and ran his tongue along the back side of his teeth.
A woman handed the judge and envelope.
Sweat trickled down Harold’s spine, and he put a hand on his throat.
The judge opened the envelope. “The jury has decided death by vampire.”
Harold’s stomach clenched, and he tried to swallow down a wave of nausea. A hand pushed him forward, into the center of the room. Two men led the snarling man to stand in front of him.
“The vampire for this execution is Harold Latchebrisk.” A light round of applause circled the room. Bile rose in Harold’s throat. In a matter of minutes, he’d taste nothing but the dirty, metallic flavor of blood, and, in the eyes of everyone there, he’d be nothing more than a weapon. He followed the guards and the murderer to the execution room. 

I think there's more I could do with this, but until I have time to pursue this particular plot bunny, it shall stay as is. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Storyboarding Noxumbra

Recently, I finished storyboarding my WIP, Noxumbra. 

Gorgeous, isn't it? 

It was a very interesting process, and I'm going to share the basics of what I did with you today.

Each sticky-note has the bare bones of one (or more) scene on it. White notes are scenes in Gwen's POV; yellow notes are in Bev's POV. The blue and purple ones off to the side are various editing/worldbuilding/general notes.

I tried to make it so that each sticky-note had just one scene on it, that way if I wanted to move scenes around, all I had to do was move the sticky note. I didn't do very well with that, but hey, it was a learning process.

The four yellow stickies in the photo on the right could have been reduced to one sentence: they argue. But, I'd forgotten I'd written that argument, and I loved it, and I kind of got carried away writing it down. At least now if I need to remember what was said in that argument and don't want to search through my Word doc, I can look here.

On some stickies I also put down the start of a new chapter; something big happening in the plot, like stakes being raised (this is another part of the process I could have done better/more consistently); places where I left giant holes between scenes; or things I noticed about the scene that needed to be fixed.

What's next, now that I have this giant collage of white and yellow and not-so-neat handwriting? My goal for the next stage of revision is to fill all those places that say [Big Hole], especially this one -->

I knew time needed to pass and that more mystery stuff needed to happen, but at the time I wasn't sure how I wanted to write that section, and I needed to finish that draft before Camp NaNo started. So, I skipped over. I did that a lot. Here's another one:

 I tended to do this more the farther along I got in the story, and the closer to Camp NaNo I got. This is, I think, the result of my half-plotted (I know that a clue needs to be found here), half-pantsed (I have no idea what that clue is) method of writing this draft.

My overall plan looks like this:
- Fill in all the places that are unfinished or have skipped bits.
- Fix the mystery. Make sure clues are planted, try to misdirect, make sure that everything lines up how it should.
- Then it's onto character arcs and such. Making sure everyone stays consistent and makes sense and has a hard time of it.
- I need to do some worldbuilding too, but that'll probably go on throughout this whole process.
- And last of all I'll do my micro-edits.

I may do some color-coordinating with highlighters for different plot lines or character arcs, too. (There's a chance I'm kidding myself that it'll be this organized, but we'll see.)

Also, by going through and writing down the essence of each scene, I got to reread the whole story and reevaluate which parts need reworking, without getting caught up in a "Oh my that's so awful I need to fix it now" moment. There were a few things I fixed on the spot, but since I was storyboarding and not technically editing, I didn't feel like dropping everything to fix something immediately. I also got to see where my strongest and weakest points are.

Doing this gave me an overview of the story and what needs fixing, and I think that will be invaluable once I start digging into edits again.

I think that about covers it. Have you ever storyboarded before? If so, what did you learn?