Now that I look back on what I’ve written, I think it’s high time that we address the foundation of your fantasy story. You have your world, your protagonist(s), and your villain. What are they doing? What makes this a readable story?
Let’s address PLOT!
It is the framework for your story, no matter how it is crafted. There are two kinds of people when it comes to plotting (and those that live somewhere in between). They are known as the Plotter and the Pantser, but in this post we will label them the Architect and the Gardener (because it sounds much nicer, right?). Then, I will tell you why you should be the person that lives somewhere in between.
This is the person that takes the little seed of an idea and throws it at the page. They tenderly care for it and mold it while they work until it becomes the vision that they want it to be.
I was very much this kind of person for a long time. I would sit down with a very rough idea of what was going on, of what the world looked like, and where I might want the story to end. Everything else evolved as I wrote it on the page. This method is very character driven. It is the way that often prompts writers to say that they lost control of their characters and found them doing surprising things.
Some writers frown at this expression. I live by the idea that writers are carrying multiple personalities around with us while we create stories. Who is to say that your protagonist isn’t going to do something that you don’t expect. As the writer, you might be in full control, but the organic method allows for the element of surprise when you aren’t quite sure is going to happen every time you sit down.
My husband falls very neatly into this category. Perhaps it’s from his time working as a Game Master for RPGs. Maybe he’s secretly a control freak. I still love him.
The Architect is the sort of writer who likes to have absolutely everything mapped out before they begin the first line of prose. The world is crafted down to international trade. Their plot has been fine tuned several times, most likely in a very neat outline fashion and printed somewhere they can see it. And, dude, their plot holes are non-existent because they’ve thought of that, too.
Having this kind of approach to writing has its benefits. There is little actual work left to do once you sit down to write and if you need to reference anything now or in the future, it’s there.
Why You Should Be a Little of Both
As I said, I was once a Gardener type plotter. I stepped up to the plate with little more than a good attitude and hoped something would come of it. Since then I’ve learned to step up my game with plot outlines and character resumes.
While being an Architect has its perks, it also means you are spending a lot of time not actually writing your story. It’s easy to get caught up in research and fine tuning your world building with the names of different bugs (are bugs really necessary?).
By taking the best aspects of both, you are managing your time a little better. You will have a good foundation to begin working once you sit down, but there is also an element of wonder as you type. Your characters can still surprise you (and, if it doesn’t fit you can delete the scene later.)
Here are the things I like to do before writing my story:
It is a really good idea to get to know your character inside and out. Right down to their favorite meal. This way, when you’re writing it is easy to say what that character is likely to do on the page. You know that Suzie doesn’t like talking about emotions and will try to change the subject. You know that Johnny’s brain is, more often than not, thinking about his next meal. When his heart isn’t into something, you might find him rifling through some kitchen cupboards.
There are two ways to approach this. The method that I generally like is kind of a fill in the blank. Joseph Campbell’s outline for almost any story in existence is called The Hero’s Journey. It is comprised of twelve key plot points that push a story along.
- The Ordinary World
- The Call To Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting the Mentor
- Crossing the Threshold
- Tests, Allies, Enemies
- The Ordeal
- The Reward
- The Road Back
- The Resurrection
- The Return
This outline method works really well with writing fantasy. Imagine The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. I’m sure you can think of scenes that neatly fit into each plot point above. Try to do that with your own story. The good thing about yours is that it doesn’t have to neatly fit into the space. You might not have a mentor or your character might jump in head first (changing the refusal to the consequences).
This is how I drafted Marked For The Hunt as well as my YA project. It fits just about any size novel. MFTH falls just under 80k while I’m starting to think that my YA project is going to come closes to 100k.
On the other hand is the Three Act system. I think that this works really well with shorter stories, Novellas and the such. I’ve been using this one with plotting my ghostwriting stories.
- ACT ONE: The Setup
- ACT TWO: The Conflict
- ACT THREE: The Resolution
Here, keep in mind that act one and two will blend well together, creating a steady rise up toward the Climax. Once you hit that final climactic event, the road downhill is steep and sudden, leaving act three rather short in comparison.
Act One is comprised of the exposition, introducing characters and the premise for the story. Act Two is the meat of the story. This is where your twists and turns will take place. Imagine this act as a roller coaster of events. When that roller coaster reaches the highest peak, you’ve reached Act Three. From there, the story starts to resolve itself. The protagonist wins or loses the final fight. Sam Gamgee marries his childhood crush and goes on to name all of his daughters after flowers.
The Three Act System is a bit more open. It doesn’t hold your hand through the outline like the Hero’s Journey might. Truth be told, I really like using the Hero’s Journey. What is your opinion on it? Do you think using the Hero’s Journey leads to cookie cutter stories? Or, is Campbell right when he claimed to have found a link between all stories?