If you intend to write a novel, especially a fantasy novel, a little pre-planning and at least a smidge of an outline is really beneficial.
Consider the beginning: At the outset of any good story, we find our protagonist, and see him/her in their normal surroundings. An event occurs (the inciting incident) and the hero is thrown out of his comfort zone and into the Situation, which is the core idea of your plot.
This is the circumstance in which your protagonist finds himself at the beginning of the story. Some things for you consider before you you begin writing:
- How will the story start?
- What is the hero’s personal condition (strength, health) at the beginning?
- How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force?
- What could possibly entice him out of his comfort zone?
Now we come to the core of your story: Objective. Without this, there is no story.
In every class I’ve taken on plot development, the instructors have emphasized that a protagonist has no reason to exist unless he/she has a compelling objective. If your main character doesn’t want something badly enough to do just about anything to achieve it over the next couple hundred pages, then he doesn’t deserve to have a story told about him.
That harsh edict is true because everything you will write from the moment of the inciting incident to the last page will detail that quest. Your protagonist must desire nothing more than to achieve that objective. Every scene and conversation will push the protagonist closer to either achieving that goal or failing, so if you make it a deeply personal quest, the reader will become as invested in it as you are.
In the book, Tower of Bones, Edwin wants to free Marya from captivity in Mal Evol. It’s a mission that begins as a somewhat noble desire to help his friends free a healer he has never met, but along the way he realizes she is the girl he has been dreaming about for several years. Once he realizes that, it becomes personal, and he becomes driven. That is when it becomes a real story.
When writing fantasy, you need a broad outline of your intended story arc, and you really need to know how it will end. If you try to “pants” it, you might end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story that may not be commercially viable.
- What will be your inciting incident?
- What is the goal/objective?
- At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want to cause him to risk everything to acquire it?
- How badly does he want it and why?
- Who is the antagonist?
- What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?
- What happens at the first pinch point?
- In what condition do we find the group at the midpoint?
- Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the turning point to change everything for the worse?
- At the ¾ point, your protagonist should have gathered his resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. How will you choreograph that meeting?
These are just a few things to think about when you are planning to write a fantasy novel, because so much goes into world building and creating magic systems that it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere.
Some people are able to visualize a story in its entirety and can write a coherent first draft without even a minimal outline.
I am not one of those people, nor are the majority of writers. An outline will tell you what you need to have happen next to arrive at the end of the book in a reasonable number of words: 100,000 to 125,000 for a first epic fantasy novel. You don’t have to go into detail, but if you give yourself a rough outline, you will know how many words you have to accomplish each task within the story line.
You want to have a smoothly functioning story arc, so you don’t become desperate and resort to killing off characters just to stir things up. That doesn’t really help, because you run out of characters, and people don’t like it when you kill off someone they liked.
Besides, you might need that character later.
2 responses to “#amwriting: circumstance, objective, and the story arc”
I just started in with whatever I had in my head from a dozen books and movies. My first goal was to try to be the same as them. My second goal was to be different from them. My third goal was simply to be able to hold on for the ride my band of characters would take me on.
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You are one of the lucky few who can do that sir!