Saturday, February 19, 2011

Plotstorming From Character

Plotstorming from Character

Notes for my presentation at Life, The Universe, and Everything 2011

I gave a 50 minute presentation at LTUE at BYU on creating plots from the creation of a character. It was standing room only and I think it went extremely well. Below you’ll find my notes and such. These don’t do great justice to the presentation, but they help a little.

Plotstorming from Character: In some cases the plot of a book drives the characters. However, characters that instead drive the plot can make for a more compelling story. We’ll focus on how to grow your plot from your main character.

Characters are the most important element in fiction. We don’t remember the plots of our favorite novels that well, but we remember the characters.

Writers who are good at plot write good books. Writers who are good at characterization have great careers.

Read Mike Stackpoles books and his “Secrets” newsletters.
Kij Johnson is an amazing teacher as well.

Read James N. Frey’s book, How to Write A Damn Good Novel. He discusses character a lot and how characters are not Homo Sapiens, but are Homo Fictus.
Not quite real, but more exaggerated in some way.

When writing a story or novel, start with a character.

Specifically, start with a name. Use phone books, baby name books, online resources, or my favorite book, People’s Names by Holly Ingram.

Then think of three special/positive things about your character.
Now think of three negative things about your character.
This step alone with create a lot of plot.

{Here’s a quick summary of what we discussed)
Our character, Olivia (Livey) is six years old, but she’s a genius, a musical prodigy who plays the guitar and many instruments. She’s in 4th grade, and the 10 year olds (4 years older than her) pick on her a lot and she has no friends. She is also not great at social interactions, but her master plan is to take over the class—her father suggested that she seek out the biggest kid in the class and beat them up. This will allow her to take over. Of course it goes badly and the biggest kid breaks her hand—with Livey’s guitar! (Also, Livey may be allergic to magic). Also, her mom, tells her to buck up and not worry about being picked on. No support from Mom and a stupid dad!

The goal is to beat the crap out of your character through the story, mercilessly. And then do it again. And again. Create empathy. Give them a big problem.

Write a bio from the characters point of view in their voice. Lie. Hide the scary things they can’t face. But at the bottom, write the truth.

Make a bible for each main character. Physical stats, history, age, family information and whatever else you can think of.

Remember, strong characters make decisions. They move the story and are not leaves in the wind. They decide where to go and what to do, and their decisions cause terrible things to happen to them, or cause other problems to be created.

To help figure out who your character really is figure out their true personality by using the 4 Temperaments and the Myers-Briggs personality test. Go to to learn more. The four are: Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, Rational.

(AJ Budrys, Scott Meredith)
Seven-element story structure:

1. Character in a
2. Context with a
3. Conflict
4. Tries to solve,
5. but fails until it reaches a (escalating cycle, until things are as bad as they can possibly be)
6. Climax, when she succeeds or fails
7. Resolves, (dénouement or validation)

The three basic stories of James Gunn, Robert Heinlein, and others:
1. Boy Meets Girl (Romeo and Juliet)
2. The Man Who Learned Better (Gran Turino)
3. The Clever Little Tailor (Indiana Jones)

Six Fundamental Conflicts of Aristotle:
1. Man against man
2. Man against nature
3. Man against himself
4. Man against society
5. Man against god
6. Man against machine

Six fundamental story types of Damon Knight
1. The story of resolution (the hero has a problem and solves it)
2. The story of revelation (something hidden is revealed)
3. The trick ending story (surprising twist)
4. The story of decision (ends in a decision, not necessarily action
5. The story of explanation (explains a mystery)
6. The story of solution (solves a puzzle)

Fantasy and Science Fiction Plot Types per James Gunn
1. Far traveling
2. The wonders of science
3. Humanity/the individual and the machine
4. Progress
5. The individual and society
6. Humanity/the individual
7. War
8. Cataclysm
9. Humanity/the individual and the environment
10. Superpowers
11. Superman/superwoman
12. Humanity/the individual and the alien
13. Humanity/the individual and religion spirituality
14. Miscellaneous glimpses of the future and past

1. Far traveling
2. The quest
3. Strange powers
4. People and the powerful/omnipotent other
5. People and or animals
6. People and magic (or other unscientific sciences)
7. The individual and society
8. Wonders we can touch
9. Good vs. Evil
10. Balance
11. Questioning reality


Dan said...

I absolutely loved your presentation, Paul. It went very well. You are a dynamic and engaging speaker, and I learned some things that I never would have thought of on my own.

Hopefully you get to LTUE next year. I'll be sure to attend.

Thanks for all the time and effort you gave this year. We all had a blast.

Nathan said...

All of my writing group came to this presentation (there was quite the crowd!) and they all said they really enjoyed it and it was exactly what they needed it.
I also liked it quite a bit and found it extremely helpful, both in my current work and brainstorming future ones. Keep up the good work!

Angie said...

Great presentation! It was great meeting you. Can you pretty please put a "followers" widget on your blog so I can follow it? If there is no widget, then the blog doesn't show up on my dashboard, and I won't remember to read it. So, if you put up the followers thing, I promise to help you get loads of followers, okay?

Paul Genesse said...

Hi Angie,

I'll work on getting the followers button later this week.

Thanks for the idea.