10 June 2018
I set myself two goals last week:
I’ll start with the good news: I hit that 5,000-word goal!
Granted, I only just hit it. It’s not that I’m a slow typist; the vast majority of the time was spent in lining up the set pieces, figuring out who is where and when, making sure that characters’ actions match their motivations, squeezing in the establishing shots and foreshadowing I’ll need earlier-on for the later story to work, and – most hellishly – keeping it interesting and exciting, while believable and internally-consistent.
The first big time suck was realising that there’s way more than I want to happen than I can make fit in a normal three-act or story-circle structure.
And… I… I allowed myself to be dragged back into planning the story as a trilogy. It just makes sense; it falls into three natural parts, each with their own centrepieces and switching flows of fortune.
So I jiggled my notes around to focus on just Part 1 – again, I know – and I hit exactly the same problem as last time; how in bloody hell do I end Part 1?
See, the big bad villain has a big bad plan that spans all three parts, but has specific goals in each one. Part 1 needs to end with a climatic battle between him and the hero, and he has to “lose”, but his big bad plan needs to continue regardless. He needs to be “knocked back” somehow, and significantly enough that it’s a worthy climax, but not so much that he can’t continue to threaten our heroes in Part 2.
To help myself to brainstorm some ideas, I looked back at some novels and movies I’ve enjoyed that were the first part in a series. I’m loathe to share my notes, because there’s a ton of value in doing that research yourself rather than copying off someone else, but let’s go for two examples:
Star Wars: A New Hope ends with the Empire’s weapon of mass destruction destroyed, along with one of the movie’s villains. But the Empire is only slowed down; the Emperor lives on to fight another day, and his plan to rule the galaxy will continue. The villain’s grand plan isn’t obliterated until the end of the trilogy.
The Matrix ends with a villain (apparently) killed by a man who learned how to unlock his hidden strength, and humanity’s cruel oppressors are on the back foot for (apparently) the first time. The system’s plan to enslave humanity continues, but humanity now seems prepared for future conflicts to take back ever-more freedom. The villain’s grand plan isn’t obliterated until the end of the trilogy.
Now, I don’t want to give my villain a super-weapon for my heroes to blow up, nor are my heroes seeking out the kind of power or agency that Neo was, but taking the time to do some analysis of the stories I love really helped me to understand the kinds of things that need to go into Part 1’s climax.
And… I don’t want to get too excited yet, but I think I’ve got it, Early this morning, I was lounging on the sofa and blasting out some stream-of-consciousness notes on my phone, and two or three separate ideas coalesced into one very strong potential.
I may have even laughed out loud.
I don’t want to say it’s “awesome” yet because I’ll have to go back and make sure a bunch of things are established much earlier on, and I don’t know if they’re going to work, but… I’ve got a good feeling about it!
Like I said above, that’s all the good news. The bad news is that I failed on my goal to fully outline the story’s key beats.
So, that goal carries over with a little bit extra.
The screenshot above shows the story beats I want to fill, and the circle beside each shows deeply I’ve filled their 1,000 word goal.
My goals for this time next week are to:
Essentially, this means I want to have each character’s actions totally mapped out for each beat, with all outstanding questions answered. I also want 1,000 words of detail written out for each beat.
There’s an additional challenge, in that I’ll be away on Thursday and Friday at a technology conference, and I need to spend at least one night this week planning the session (or two) I’ll be hosting. At the very least, I’ll be talking up infrastructure-as-code, and I might do a side talk about rendering the Mandelbrot set.
So, I’m a little shorter on time than usual this week. Let’s see how it goes!
There’s a very good chance that I wouldn’t be writing at all if not for Michael’s Author Level Up series. I kinda became aware of Michael, Joanna Penn and Chris Fox at around the same time, and the three of them have been amongst the most significant influences on my modern life. If you’re working on your writing craft, then he’s definitely someone to follow.
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