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Like “Duh!” Without the Plot, Where Would We Be?

August 24, 2010

On The Hills, of course, but that’s a story for another time.

Okay folks, this week we’re talking about the five things we’d like to see more of in our genre. Well, for one I’d…what was that?

Oh, we’re actually talking about the other topic. Hmm, this is awkward. Everyone knows how hard it is for me to write things on the fly.

So, now the topic is what comes to mind first when I have a story idea?

I’d like to say character, but, many of you who have read my stuff are saying: “What characters?”

Well then, how about plot?

That sounds good.

Truthfully, that really is how my story ideas come about. Usually, I have this weird dream where I won’t remember people’s names and I’ll just have to write down what I remember. I can always create characters and settings later. Surely you don’t think I just instantly thought of characters like Mariah Abernathy, Jesse Campbell, Cantrell Ryker and Devereaux Marshall Fox. Despite what you all have thought for years, they took a long time to develop…after I did the plot or main story line.

For me, the plot must come first. And, unlike most of the crap on SyFy, it has to make sense to ordinary people (normally it should make sense to me, but I’m a strange bird altogether; Hunter S. Thompson without the “medicines”).

For example, a few months ago, I was at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I was hiking the Cherokee Trail when this fabulously fit woman jogs past me. Imagine Michelle Rodriguez mixed with bodybuilder Jodi Leigh Miller (see photo), with a touch of Angela Bassett and Rachel  McLish.

Anyway, I immediately began to visualize. Okay, I immediately began to fantasize, whereupon I walked into a tree and nearly slid down a rock face.

I’d already been envisioning a story about the dark woods earlier because it was almost dusk. Now, with my head on straight and my vision single rather than double, I furthered the plot. The woman had suddenly started sprinting, as if she were being chased by someone, only to slow down soon after. She was doing wind sprints – jogging, sprinting and then jogging again.

Hmm. Jogger sprinting frantically through darkened woods. Why or from whom or…from what? I didn’t need the character yet, but I used her anyway because of her fantastic…assets. Yeah, I can be a dog sometimes, but a creative one.

The plot became a chapter in Red Herring.

For the sake of those who haven’t eaten, I won’t explain where I got the idea for the prologue to Red Herring.

As you can see, once you have the plot or idea in your head, you can fill out the rest. Say you want to take a rocket to the moon. You can think of NASA and create characters like real astronauts. Or maybe you  make it a private concept and then imagine someone like  Andy Griffith becoming a space salvage expert in Salvage 1 (wow, how old am I?).

That’s not to say that thinking of the character first doesn’t  work. Ian Fleming was literally one of the men who helped  build Britain’s famous MI-5 and MI-6 intelligence agencies  (and had an indirect hand in building the OSS, predecessor to the CIA). So, it was easy for him to think of a character first and then fill in the plot as he just scratched together amalgams of cases he worked on in World War II and the Cold War.

Ian Fleming

Still, for me, plotting first works best. I went through 20 years worth of plots with what eventually became Land of the Blind. I kept trying to create characters first and they ended up moronic and silly (Star Lobster, Plutonians, Skyler Wilkins, etc). Only after I serious began plotting did I have the ability to make characters who could fit the scenarios I’d envisioned.

Or take Crawl (more on this in a minute), my first novella. I dreamed up a plot about spiders battling. Once I got the plot done up, I decided on the setting and, from there, the characters I wanted. All that, though, needed a viable plot first.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Black Empire, Starship Troopers,20000 Leagues Under the Sea, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Frankenstein, Necroscope, Mists of Avalon, Lord of the Rings and many more great novels all needed and had their plots thought out first. Settings and characters came later.

So, don’t take it from me. Take it from centuries of great writers.

Plot some soil in the creative regions of your mind.

Note: After years of watching C.J., Wendy and David offer up their books for contests, I finally get to add one of my own to the pile. It seems that the other guys have finally forgiven me for that other…uhm, thing, so let’s just say that to any newcomers who sign up for Wicked Writers and leave a comment (a real comment, not one of those writing.com “I just want the 500 gift points” kind of comments) will get a first-run edition of my very first novella Crawl.

Also, any current member who leaves detailed comments on my blog and my alter-ego Anastasia Pergakis’ blog next week can get in on the contest. And the prize is certainly worth it.

Everybody who has read this first edition by Lulu.com has liked it so much they tell me they can’t give it away for free. Well, it’s good that people want to pay for it, but you can get yours for free.

Don’t wait. This contest only runs for the next two weeks.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 10:25 am

    Yay! Great contest — and a great post considering my goof up!

  2. August 24, 2010 9:40 pm

    Attention, men! If you are one of the few who like to read the comments before reading the actual post, I may have just caught you in time. Do not, I repeat do not, read the preceeding post and look at the picture that is embedded in the middle. If you do, you might end up like me, reading a perfectly good post and finding myself suddenly distracted. I was following along, I was feeling it as “we” walked along the Cherokee Trail there in Stone Mountain Park in Georgia. Suddenly, somebody runs past and…BAM!…nothing.
    I got nothin’!
    It seems to me that Greg was doing so well, too.
    If you have read the post already, chances are that you have seen the photo already and it is far too late…and you’re not really listening to me now, so I guess I’ll stop talking.
    Great post, Greg. I’m just messing around. Thanks.

    • August 24, 2010 11:15 pm

      If you think you’re distracted, I had to interview her for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram a few years ago. She did a flexing routine for the photographer and we suddenly couldn’t remember our names.

      She can still mesmerize after all these years.

  3. August 24, 2010 9:43 pm

    I’m with you there on the fantasy of the jogger. In the airport recently, with my daughter and her husband, we ran across a man in the store who was so fit and huge, and had such an absence of body hair, I just thought he could,, perchance, be a cover model. So, I went up to him. He’s 20 years younger than me. My daughter was mortified when I introduced myself and asked if he had a card.

    “Mother!” was what I was hearing at the other end of the shop. Her husband was just giggling, like he usually does. He knows there’ll be lots of purple clothes in my future, and doesn’t mind it.

    “I write romance. You must be a cover model,” I said.

    “No.” He said, “but I’ll tell my girlfriend you said so,” and smiled. His teeth were perfect too. And white, of course.

    I told him he should be proud of himself. And she had a prize. I meant it. Just good clean fun. I’m a chicken at heart, so if he’d said anything other than those nice words, I’d be so out of there.

    I guess I’m saying the inspiration comes from anywhere. I could turn that interchange into a story with a plot. Obviously just being big and hunky or older and mother of 4 grown children isn’t enough to make a great book. But the plot is what makes us use the characters.

    Hmmm….Perhaps some of this will be in tomorrow’s blog. You never know where inspiration will come from!

    • August 24, 2010 11:17 pm

      I totally agree. We get the idea, begin to evolve a plot and then we can work on characters. Sounds like the perfect story — older woman hits on young stud and daughter is mortified as she thinks her mom is becoming one of those cougars (or MILFS) she and her friends always joke about.

  4. August 24, 2010 10:20 pm

    Great Post Gregory, and description. Sharon, my girl you do have some mansize-well you know.

  5. August 24, 2010 10:58 pm

    Great post, Greg. I um … blushed while reading about the jogger.

    Like I said before (comment in C.J.’s post), I’m much more character driven, and thus, so is my writing. I prefer a lot of tightly-woven, intense subplot. I like to drown my characters in problems and then watch to see which ones make it out alive. Yeah – I’m so mean to my characters. But they know I love them.

  6. August 26, 2010 10:32 am

    Walked into a tree? Greg, tsk tsk. I shouldn’t say anything really. I once caught a glimpse of a wonderful specimen of man and proceeded to almost kill myself jumping off the diving board. (Seriously, cracked my head on the diving board. Luckly, the guy I was oogling, was a trained life guard so…..)

    I am like JD and my plots are mostly character driven. My characters show up and tell me their story most of the time. There are a few where I thought of plot first like you talk about here, so I guess it just depends on the story for me – plot driven or character driven. I think it makes for a nice balance in my work.

  7. August 26, 2010 10:32 am

    Oh, and thanks for the alter ego comment. LOL Made my morning – really. I needed a pick me up today and that was perfect. Thanks!

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