Tag Archives: risk and objectives

logic, objective, and circumstance #amwriting

We begin any writing project with an idea, a flash of “What if….” Sometimes, that “what if” is inspired by an idea for a character, or perhaps a setting. Maybe it was the idea for the plot that had your wheels turning. Whatever the inspiration, a little pre-planning and a bit of an outline are beneficial in getting the manuscript started.

If you work at a day job and using the note-taking app on your cellphone to take down notes during work hours is frowned on, do as I still do. Carry a pocket-sized notebook and pen and write those ideas down. This is old-school but will enable you to discreetly make notes whenever you have an idea that would work well in your story, and you don’t appear to be distracted or off-task.

Once you have assembled your random ideas, and maybe even written a chapter or two, it’s time to think about where you are going with your story.

At the outset of the story, we find our protagonist and see him/her in their normal surroundings. Once we have met them and seen them in their comfort zone, an event occurs which is the inciting incident. This is the first point of no return.

Pretend we are writing a mystery/thriller: On page one, Dave, an unmarried accountant, sees a woman from across a cafe, and through a series of innocuous actions on his part, he is caught up in thwarting a spy ring.

  • What could possibly entice him out of his comfort zone? What would he spontaneously do that is out of character for him? Perhaps he buys a stranger lunch. You must show him as a shy person not given to buying lunch for strange women. This act must change his life.

Because he suddenly decided to “pay it forward” and paid for her lunch on his way out, he draws the attention of people who were following her. They suddenly think he is more than a simple accountant, that the act of buying her lunch was a secret code, making him a suspect.

Now, he is thrown out of his comfort zone and into the situation which is the core idea of your plot.

  • On his way back to his office, a white limousine pulls up alongside him, and four men in black suits hustle him into the backseat. He is forced at gunpoint onto a plane bound for Oslo, Norway, handcuffed to a suitcase. The only other key that can remove the handcuffs is at the American Embassy in the custody of a mysterious woman, Jeanne Delamont.

This is the circumstance in which your protagonist finds himself at the beginning of the story.

  • How will the next phase of the story start? Who is Ms. Delamont?
  • 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?

Now we come to the next part of the core of your plot: objective.

In every class I’ve taken on plotting, the instructors have said that 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/she doesn’t deserve to have a story told about them.

  • At this point, our hero just wants to get rid of the suitcase and go back to his job. He wants that desperately.
  • What does the woman at the café for whom he bought lunch have to do with the whole mess?

Everything you will write from the point of the inciting incident to the last page will detail that quest and answer that question. 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.

I find it helps to have a broad outline of my intended story arc. Speaking as a reader, at some point near the outset of their manuscript authors need to have an idea of how it will end, so the story flows smoothly to the best conclusion.

It’s okay to have several possible endings in mind, as long as each fits logically to the events that led up to them.

Try them all and choose the one that you like best.

If you try to wing it through the whole book, 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 that pushes 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 midpoint 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?

I write fantasy novels, but I also write literary fiction. Writing fantasy does require a certain amount of planning because so much goes into world building and creating magic systems. Literary fiction must also have a logical arc or the characters won’t evolve.

In any novel, when you are winging it through a story that encompasses 75,000 to 100,000 words, it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere. A loose outline will tell you what must happen next to arrive at the end of the book with a logical story set in a solidly designed world.

You don’t have to go into detail in that little framework, but if you give yourself a rough outline, you will know what you must do to accomplish each task within the storyline.

I always feel it’s necessary to have an outline of the story arc even if my novel has multiple possibilities for endings, as was the case in The Wayward Son. Winging it in short bursts can be exhilarating, but my years of experience with NaNoWriMo has taught me that when we are winging it for extended lengths of time, we sometimes run out of fresh ideas of what to do next.

With a simple outline, you won’t become desperate and resort to killing off characters just to stir things up once the real work of writing starts.

Readers become frustrated with authors who randomly kill off characters they have grown to like.

Besides, you might need that character later.


Credits and Attributions

Cover of the original novel “The Maltese Falcon” 1930, by Dashiel Hammett, published by Alfred A Knopf, Fair Use. Wikipedia contributors, “The Maltese Falcon (novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Maltese_Falcon_(novel)&oldid=851535327 (accessed July 25, 2018).

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under writing

Desires and Objectives #amwriting

Several conversations in an online writer’s group has inspired me to drag out a  post on the importance of identifying desires and objectives, which was first published in June of 2016. This post contrasts the works of two authors with unique and distinct literary styles: James Joyce and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Although they were contemporaries, born ten years apart, the two authors couldn’t be more dissimilar. And yet their works have one thing in common: the protagonists want something and are willing to to some lengths to gain it.

This is the core of any great novel.


When we sit down to write a story of any length, a novel or flash fiction, we often begin with an idea, and great characters, and little more. To make those things into a story, we must first ask what the protagonist wants, and we must know what she/he is willing to risk in their efforts to achieve it.

Objectives + Risk = Story

In The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo is just an ordinary young hobbit, with no particular ambitions. On the same day as his older cousin Bilbo’s “eleventy-eleventh” (111th) birthday, Frodo (Bilbo’s heir) celebrates his thirty-third birthday.

At the lavish double-birthday party, Bilbo departs from the Shire for what he calls “a permanent holiday.” He does so by using the magic ring (that he had found on the journey detailed in The Hobbit) to disappear. He is aided in that by Gandalf with a flash and puff of smoke, leading many in the Shire to believe Bilbo has gone mad.

He leaves Frodo his remaining belongings, including his home, Bag End, and after some heavy-handed persuasion by the wizard Gandalf, he also leaves the Ring. Gandalf departs on his own business, warning Frodo to keep the Ring secret. Seventeen years or so pass, and then Gandalf returns to inform Frodo of the truth about Bilbo’s ring. It is the One Ring of Sauron the Dark Lord, and is evil. It forges a connection between the wearer and Sauron, and whoever bears it will be slowly corrupted, eventually becoming a Ringwraith.

From the moment of learning the truth about the Ring, Frodo’s goal is clear to the reader: he must get rid of the ring. In Rivendell, he learns the only way to do so is to carry it into the depths of Mordor and cast the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom.

Frodo wants to achieve this goal badly enough to walk into an active volcano and certain death to accomplish this.

At no point in the narrative is the objective unclear. The path is blocked many times, and each of the characters is tested by the evil ring, some beyond their ability to resist it.

The objective creates the tension, which drives the plot forward.

But what about a book where the goal is not so clear? Let’s talk about Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Ulysses chronicles the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin, taking place over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinized name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce established a series of parallels between the epic poem and his novel. This book has one of the best opening lines of all time:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Structurally, there are strong correlations between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom with Odysseus, Molly Bloom with Odysseus’ long-suffering wife, Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus with Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. It is set in early twentieth century Dublin with the events and political tempests of the time. Themes of antisemitism and the impact of Ireland’s rocky relationship with Britain as it was felt in those days are the underlying pins of this novel. It is highly allusive and filled with allegories.

There is no obvious quest, although many minor quests are completed in the course of living through the day. The book opens with Stephen Dedalus, the first protagonist, having breakfast with Buck Mulligan, who is perhaps a friend, or maybe a rival. Stephen is not Leopold’s biological son as Telemachus is Odysseus’, but he fulfills that role. Unconsciously Stephen wants a father.

But what do they want? It’s James Joyce, so it’s complicated.

Stephen shares his opinions about religion with Buck Mulligan, speaking of how they relate to the recent death of his mother, and Buck manages to offend him. They make plans to go drinking later that evening.

What does Leopold desire? He wants a son. In Episode 4, the narrative shifts abruptly. The time is again 8 am, but the action has moved across the city and to the second protagonist of the book, Leopold Bloom, a part-Jewish advertising canvasser. He and his wife have a daughter, Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography.  As the day unfolds, Bloom’s thoughts turn to the affair between his wife, Molly, and her manager.

He also thinks about the death of their infant son, Rudy Bloom, who died at the age of 11 days. The absence of a son is what leads him to form an attachment to Stephen, for whom he goes out of his way in the book’s latter episodes. He rescues him from a brothel, walks him back to his own home, and even offers him a place there to study and work.

Finally, we come to Molly. Within the city of Dublin, Molly is an opera singer of some renown. She is the mother of Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography. She is also the mother of Rudy, the son who died at the age of eleven days. A significant difference between Molly and Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is that while Penelope is eternally faithful, Molly is not. She is having an affair with Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan after ten years of her celibacy within her marriage.

The final chapter of Ulysses, often called “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy,” is a long and unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness passage. During the monologue, Molly accepts Leopold into her bed, frets about his health, and then reminisces about their first meeting and about when she knew she was in love with him. It is comprised of some 20,0000 words of her thoughts as she lies in bed next to Bloom. What does Molly want? She wants to be loved.

In The Lord of the Rings, we have a clear and obvious quest, straightforward and seemingly impossible: Destroy the One Ring and save the world.

In Ulysses, we have a group of people who all want something, but just as in real life, what that may exactly be is not as clear as we would like it. But there is an objective: they just want to get through the day and in the process they find they are a family, thus achieving their individual goals.

Once we know what our protagonist wants and what he/she is willing to risk to achieve it, we have our plot.

How we dress it up is up to us—I admit James Joyce’s rambling is too daunting for me to read for pleasure. I had to read it in the environment of a college class to make it all the way through the novel with some understanding of it.

I am a huge fan of Joyce’s magnificent one-liners, though.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Ulysses, Episode 2


Credits and Attributions:

Desires and Objectives © 2016 – 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on June 13, 2016.

2 Comments

Filed under writing