Kitty's Writing Toolbox

Now we're getting into some potentially more immediate issues, things that might affect either the plot or the structure of your novel. The simplest of these is the size of both your world and your story. The more complicated part is dealing with all of the players involved. So we break that down into several steps!

21. Factions
22. Mapping
23. Progress Check
24. Motivations
25. History
21. Develop your factions. What are their motivations?

Look at your character notes and your outline. By now you should have enough structure in it that you can pick out everyone's goals, both for the main individuals and for various groups in the story. Every person or group of persons who drives the plot should have a discernible goal or motivation. Even some of the groups or individuals who don't drive the plot but provide background color or red herrings might have a discernible goal or motivation. Note that when I say "discernible" I mean that you should know what it is and be able to tell or remember from your notes. You won't need to spell out everything in your story text itself. In fact, if you have a clear idea of your characters' motivations and you've written well enough, your audience should be able to determine the overall shape of your character's motivations by their actions and words, without you needing to state it clearly.

For now, we'll break it into two parts. At this stage all we need to do is name the factions, the individuals or groups of characters, or even groups acting within your work as a single entity. Organizing them by general goal sometimes makes it easier to draw lines and collect people together under a single umbrella entity, but you don't necessarily have to.

On a piece of paper under "Settings" (a new category!) write down the names of each of these groups. It can be a single name of a company or organization or it can be a descriptive phrase, such as Evil Bastards With Scythes And No Sense. Write down the names of all the characters in each faction, whether they're proper names or just descriptive. Write down a brief two to three sentence summary of the group, its goals, its resources, and its public presence (if it has one).

At this point you can do one of two things, depending on what you feel capable of handling. You can either expand your factions to fill in some gaps, flesh out the world, or muddy the waters of your central conflict or you can leave it as is.

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22. Develop geography. Consider your outline and where your story will be showcasing.

Go back to your outline and your scope description. For this, you'll need at least a blank sheet of paper; at most you might want a CAD program like Campaign Cartographer. We're going to be making a map.

Start with your origin point in the first scene. Keeping in mind the scope of your work, sketch out the next few locations with respect to the first location. If you're writing a trek across the known world, this might turn out to be a series of the first few towns or landmarks. If all the action is taking place in a city, it might be a handful of businesses within a few blocks of each other. Your map will not be a specific predictable size, and it doesn't need to be to scale. As long as you have the relative positions of every location to all the others, and a scribbled-down idea of the distance, you'll be all right.

Now go back to your outline and your character sheets. Both of these will provide secondary locations for you to map out, in references to places and the distance between where the characters are and where these places are. You might also come up with a name that is totally that town over there, or the perfect name for this blues bar, or whatever, go ahead and stick that in there! Eventually in your work you'll find you have a character who's rattling off names of places to have dinner, and that's when things like this will come in handy.

All of this comes under "Settings." If you're using a CAD program, make some printouts. If you're just sketching it out (and don't forget to include distances or a scale bar at the very least!) you might want to make some copies or scan it in so you have it backed up somewhere. You might also find it helpful to copy and laminate, or blow up and laminate, another copy if you're one of those people who uses whiteboards or corkboards to plan things.

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23. Check your scope. Is it as big as you thought? As small? Adjust.

While you're looking at the scope of your work, check it. Is it as big as you thought? As small? Are you discovering you have a bigger story to tell than you thought, or are you sticking only to a handful of characters because you've bred way too many plotbunnies and drawn way too many plotlines? Adjust. This is also a good place to finish or pad out your outline. No, seriously. It helps. You might have discovered that issues have come up that you want to deal with, so this would be a good time to work in those little scenes or line references to deal with them. Issues such as plot holes, lack of motivations, too many potential motivations, or visible character development.

(Note: visible character development is different from behind the scenes character development. Once you get some practice in, usually character development is one of those things that makes itself known, if you know them well enough. But it's always a good idea to go back and check to make sure that what your readers see is clear and follows about as logically as sentient beings get, one action from the next.)

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24. Develop your factions in greater detail.

I put this section a little distance from the exercise where you create your factions, players, and sides, because I wanted you to get a bit of distance from it. Now we're going to go back to it and flesh it out a little more.

Everything you write that involves more than two or three "moving pieces," i.e. people or cohesive groups of people who want a thing and take steps towards that, your work will get a little more complicated. Two people in a work who each want something is a potential conflict. Three is a potential cyclical conflict, and four is a potential pooch-screw. And so on and so forth until you have political dramas where everyone is backstabbing everyone else and you need a chart with string in three dimensions to keep track of who's doing what to whom at what time.

If you didn't flesh out your factions earlier, now is the time to do so. Expand each part, motivations and resources and membership qualifications and so on, till each one is at least two or three sentences in and of itself. If you did, pull out your outline and compare your faction list with what your outline looks like. Which groups will you be spending more time with? Which groups are just background players? More complicated, which groups appear only in the background of maybe two scenes but also perform actions that echo throughout the work? One author wrote a scene in the third book of his series where the main character lives through an event that comes back to bite him in the ass in books five, six, and seven, and that's just where I can think of the connection off the top of my head. Two characters who got maybe a line reference in that scene returned in book seven in a major way. It's much more helpful to plan things like that instead of trusting that later you can go back and insert them, or trusting that the story will spontaneously generate hidden shadowy figures of conspiracy as necessary.

Make notes on your outline where your factions appear and their goals and influence is significant. If you have a chapter that's mostly a shopping trip designed for a bit of character background and for the character and her best friend to deal with a recent death of a third friend, probably your faction chart isn't going to figure into it. If you have a grand conclave wherein many parties are going to hammer out a treaty, you want to keep track of who's trying to move what pieces where. Again, all your faction notes go in "Settings."

Lastly, go through your character sheets and add in a sentence to a paragraph's worth of text, depending on the importance, of detail about any groups these characters might be involved in. Just so you have that information in the one place, too. Also review your character's relationship with the faction: is their membership obligatory because they were born to the Tudors or the Capulets? Does their membership in the League of Pog Collectors mean they can't have a monogamous relationship with someone of the same or opposite sex? Or, more likely, does no one in the LPC care? Or is the LPC a small group of five people in a restaurant somewhere and they only care because the group is so small that everyone knows everyone else's business?

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25. Continue developing. What are their histories?

Flipping through your character sheets, outlines, and notes, what are the most developed factions in your work? Either in terms of how vivid they are in your head or in terms of how prominent they are in the outline. Go back to your Settings section and pick up their pages.

Starting with the ones that are least vivid but most prominent in your outline, if such a thing exists, write five or so sentences describing the history of these factions. How they were founded, who has historically been a member if the membership has changed, what was the original goal and how that goal has changed, how long ago they were founded, etcetera. Go back to the root questions of Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why if you're stuck for details. Try not to overlap too much with the motivations, you already have that information down. You might also, if the inspiration strikes, list notable people who are members and a phrase on why this person is notable.

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