Monday, September 24, 2012

National Novel Writing Month #2: How to write a plot

The protagonist begins in their home; their world. Things might be a bit boring, but they're normal. One day, something odd occurs. It provides the protagonist with the opportunity to be different or to have their world changed. They'll refuse at first, but once they take it on, they'll be accompanied by a guide to show them the ropes of the new world. The protagonist follows the guide into this new world, where the limits and rules are not yet understood. This world will be dangerous or exciting, and shortly after crossing into it, the protagonist will have to farewell their old world, separating the self from it.

From here the protagonist undergoes a series of trials. Failure at one more more is common. During these trials the protagonist encounters some factor that will cause them to shift to non-dualistic thinking - they will align themselves with one cause or another, either for reasons of self or for another. They will be tempted to leave this path but ultimately will continue forward. From there they will be confirmed and initiated by the greatest power in the new world known. The power named will then either step down or be 'killed off', forcing the protagonist to assume the expectations given them. It is now that they realise what they are needed for and begin to strive to meet that cause. They achieve the beginnings of the cause and level up.

The protagonist is given the opportunity to return to their old world, and refuses; the new world has become their home. They will have to flee from the trials endured to gain the cause, often becoming incapacitated in the process. As a result, the protagonist is bailed out by allies and brought back to their home. They learn to pass back and forth from the old world and new, whilst keeping that cause or level up intact, and are granted the 'freedom to live'.

Quick - what story did I just tell you? Was is Star Wars (The original trilogy), The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia?

That chunk above is a brief overview of something called The Monomyth, which was a theory developed in the early 20th Century by a guy named Joseph Campbell. I agree with him on most things with relation to story (except for one big one). This theory is one thing we are in accord with though; the idea that all stories we write have basically the same makeup. And not just me and Campbell. All of those big name stories up there have basically the same plot when you start looking at how they function. Things might get interesting if you swapped Ben Kenobi for Hagrid, but hey; they're both guides. Same with Yoda and Morpheus; they mentor the main character until they step down; either because the hero has surpassed their abilities or because death is a bit of a stopper in teaching surferboy how to pick up things with his mind.

The relevance between this and NaNo, is that I am a big spoilerbug when it comes to how stories work. Even now, unless you manage to get the brain bleach out immediately, you know that this is true. It means that every time you watch something and we're all like 'is the hero dead?' and you can be all like 'nope. Can't be dead because then the story won't progress. Cheers, Brooke.'

To which I will reply; 'No worries'.

One of the things I find is a bit of a block in people's heads when it comes to writing a story is that they don't know what to do with regards to a plot. Well, if all plots follow the same formula, this should make things a bit easier, shouldn't it? You would still have to invent characters, but to a degree, their roles have already been determined. It makes things quite a bit easier in that respect.
And there are always twists and turns with all this. In last year's novel, the Time Traveller was my guide, but he's also the one who validates the protagonist's role. Which is different, because he's not the father figure for the protagonist at all.

Things are getting convoluted.

Oh yeah; so there's a bunch of different things that you could try with writing novels; using the Monomyth for a base is just one. I got to chat to a mate last week who wanted to write for NaNo this year, who'd had a couple of knots in terms of how he wanted the layout to be. We figured that it might be fun to write a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, because it's written in Second Person. (Like how I'm writing in second person to you now)

It means that he has to do some preplanning, so that the plot goes where it should, but at the same time, has probably made his job a little easier. It's more to do with planning sections of plot and writing them.

And a few more weeks than that back, I wondered what it would be like to buddy up with someone on a novel; write exactly the same story from perspectives of different characters. This in part was going to be done with the Twilight series, actually. (And let's just get this straight right now: Meyer isn't my cup of tea. I think her plot could have done with some work. A lot of work. But she knows how to write something that will sell.) Midnight Sun was supposed to recount the events of Twilight from Edward's perspective. Do I care about Twilight? Nope. But the concept; the idea has merits. It'd mean that you could co-ordinate with a mate on writing a story; decide the plot points together and then write from two different characters. And having two authors for two characters would give said characters much more individual voices. Could be fun.

I guess another way you could go entirely would be to lampshade the concept of the hero; deliberately play with the plot. Another friend of mine was talking about how she'd lose the plot while writing a story if she tried. So we invented a world called The Lost Plot Office. Like the Dead Letter Office, but for plots of different stories.

Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, does something similar to that; his Discworld series overtly plays with the tropes and archetypes and because you know how that part of the story is supposed to work, it's absolute gold. Its a story about a flat world supported on the back of four elephants standing on top of a turtle flying thorough space. And all the stories are true. That's in short the premise of his world, and it works something fierce.

So, if you click here, you'll end up being able to read more about Joseph Campbell's Journey of the Hero.
If you click here, you'll head over to National Novel Writing Month's website, where you can check out more of the project.
If you click here, you can read my last blog post on NaNo.
And if you click here, I'll redirect it to something vaguely interesting. Hopefully.


November is still a little bit off; there's plenty of time for brainstorming. Get to it!

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