Plot, Setting, Character & Time-sequence
I sat down with my blue book of ideas I fondly nicknamed “my brain in my purse.” I looked through the pages, read the scribbled notes – questions, conversations, quotes, twists on situations, quirks of people…
I found a few things interesting.
A page read: With iPhone 6 in the market, imagine what my 2G-phone would say as he too comes from the same family of Mr. iPhones. Imagine an elder brother’s predicament when he is reduced to nothing, especially in an Indian context!
Another page read: I hate it when maamu takes MY books into the loo. Apparently, he can’t shit without reading. Disgusting!
Another page: There was an elaborate idea for a bank fraud detailing how it can be done. All one needs is an unscrupulous bank manager. That’s easy to find in real life.
And another: Leena hates her husband a little more every time he cooks a meal. He is so good that she credits herself with less – of being a woman, wife and a mother!
I flipped through the pages and chuckled a few times reading through my notes. However, nothing there triggered a romantic thought, let alone a premise for a ‘romantic’ story!
Hmm… I sighed and decided to go back to the drawing board like my training in research has taught me – When stuck, head back to the drawing board!
Love story eh? My brain-cells screamed…
In conversation with Mini-Me
Me: Love story, love story…. LOVE STORY…
Mini-Me: You can do it… But, first define love…
Me: Duh? Our Bollywood guys have exhausted all definitions and angles of dealing with the topic. Is there anything new to write about?
Mini-Me: Yeah, but what does it mean to YOU?
M: Before I answered the question, I thought of the difference between a mother loving her children to two friends loving one another to a fan falling in love with his favorite star as opposed to romantic love a man and woman share. Are they really different from one another? Or is there a common thread that applies to all ‘kinds’ of love under one blanket?
And voila… Yes came an answer … Define… “Love is nothing but a deep yearning to be with someone… It can be anyone…”
My definition of Love – ‘Yearning,’ I said aloud.
MM: Did you debate the plausibility and universality of the definition across genders, races, ethnic backgrounds, relations to one another etcetera?
M: Yes, I did. It is a perfectly plausible definition for love.
MM: Ok. Now that we have a definition, moving on…What is the story?
M: After watching 10 romantic movies in 3 nights, I am exhausted. Desi boys and gals have outdone themselves in the area of romance (fantasy kind) and someone needs to give the audience a reality check asap.
MM: Yeah, but what is the story?
M: What better story than Ramayana… On second thought maybe not…
MM: Why? That is the best romance ever written.
M: Really? I think Valmiki did a poor job. The characters were flat to say the least barring Kaikeyi, Ravana and Mandodari of course…
And Sita is such a character that no one would believe, if she walked the earth right now… I mean have you even seen one woman who is a complete personification of Sita Mayya? I haven’t in my entire life… Not one (yours truly included 😛 ).
I like the character of Laxman better than Ram. I think Ram achieved his greatness because others sacrificed for him. He is a meek character who is crushed under the might of ‘I-wana-please-everyone-no-matter-what-the-consequences’ syndrome. Even if we argue his decisions from a Dharma POV, I see a contradiction. For example, when Ram decides to send Sita into exile he leans more towards holding a dhobi’s opinion high (good for Ramarajya!) but how can his DHARMA forbid him from fulfilling his duties as a husband? What about a husband’s Dharma? Also, what kind of example would he set for the people of his kingdom? Isn’t there a contradiction here which Valmiki conveniently brushed through?
Also, Valmiki put the second female lead Urmila to sleep for 14 years. That is not very imaginative or creative. Come on, your husband is gone for 14 years, wouldn’t you choose to do something other than just sleep it off? We don’t know much about the characters of Shatrughna and know very little about Bharat and of the brothers’ childhood.
There are many more if I go into it and this is neither the place nor the time for it. We’ll hold that for a later time. J I don’t want to generate a debate here and now.
Anyways, my favorite character is Laxman. He stood strong as a bastion alongside his brother, no matter what the odds or situation. He and his wife were the only couple that was deprived of their conjugal bliss. Added to that, imagine the predicament of being in his shoes? It’s like being in Allah or Jesus’s brother’s shoes. Who remembers second-class citizens really? Wouldn’t the man’s ego be crushed under the halo of his older brother? But, Laxman’s loyalty never deterred. That is another reason why I admire Laxman’s personality.
MM: Hey, Valmiki wrote the story in Treta Yuga! You cannot rationalize decisions made then and apply them to a current context – because society and mind-sets then were diametrically opposed to today’s norms. If you want to adapt Ramayana, you need to give it a newish twist.
Give your Sita some gumption for starters. And, imagine the plight of all Sita’s sisters that married Ram’s brothers. I mean who wants to marry a runner-up? Everyone one wants to be with the winner (Ram) right?
M: Hmm… Interesting thought. I think my story can have 4 main characters. A love story between Ram, Laxman, Sita and Urmila – Who marries who and why? I can feel a story brew inside me.
MM: Yes, there you go.
M: Okay we have a definition and a story. Where should I set the story? In what time? What is the sequence of events unfolding?
MM: In a college, may be a university even… Make them all PG students. That’ll give you two years time window to weave twists in. Things keep happening in their personal and college life and you’ll have lot of situations to work with. Use your imagination damn it!
M: Okay a premise for one love story is ready. Among the 4 main characters, one person or a couple will have only unrequited love.
Then I refreshed my memory of good Bollywood movies and my analysis revealed that they all followed a pattern – Hero, villain and heroines introductions (hero almost always gets a Jhakas intro, sometimes the villain too but usually the female leads gets a mellow intro unless it is female oriented cinema); then a few lean mean twists (which our guys over dramatize according to me); then the pre-climax where the tension is heightened and a climax where all the loose ends come together with a happy ending. My sequence was ready!
I was relieved. I need to think deep to build the plot though.
M: Thank you Mini-Me. Let me go and plot the story and comeback after I have it all in my head and on paper. Bye.
Plotting & Character Mapping 101 – Lazy style!
When I plan a story, I think of both the plot and the characters together. That is the crux and put in a lot of thought before the story is transferred on to paper. Like Hemingway said, “Writing is architecture not interior designing.” Although can’t deny interior design adds beauty to the building and makes it lively and livable, for NaNo I am going to concentrate on getting a ‘good’ story with memorable characters out. Beautification and quilting can be done later.
Here we go… Story 1 – What do we have so far?
Character-Names: I always start with the names of characters (all the important ones, including the secondary and tertiary characters). I am doing a version of Ramayana, and I had named all my characters – Jaitra (Ram), Anuj (Laxman), Bhoomi (Stia), Urmil (Urmila), Maruti (Hanuman) and of course Dhashis (Ravan). Make sure no two character names start with the same alphabet or have the same sound.
Back story: For this story I know all my main characters and created a thorough back story and childhood for each of them with lots of incidents to make them have a well-rounded personality in adulthood. I know every minute detail about my characters from their birth up until the point where the story begins. Back-story helps you write dialogue that fits the personality and his/her worldview. Also, fears, ambitions, likes, dislikes emerge. Hence, back story is important. However, remember it is the dead weight of a story. Keep it short if you need to use it in your story. Keep it at the back of your mind as you may have to reference it at some point in your story.
Also, nobody is interested in the past. They are more attracted to the now and why? The story needs to focus on present and keep the back story ready to use when necessary. It will definitely help in creating interesting and unique characters.
Setting: University (easier to use my univ. setting) I told you it is a lazy version of plotting didn’t I? 😉
Time when the story commences: Say may be around 1990 to start with and see where it goes (I’ll have the advantage of using my university experience).
Plot: Love story between four university students (Make sure one person or a couple have unrequited love). The story begins at Stasis and ends with the resolution following the shape of W along the story.
Act 1 – I opened the story with my MC walking in through the university gates. I followed her and saw what others were doing. I created a couple of scenes and then I gave the hero an entry. And then introduced his side-kicks and some scenes to establish their characters/relations. Then I gave all the characters their own individual triggers to take off from (some crisis that they think they can handle). Roughly 10 -12 k words.
Act 2 – Second act begins with how all the characters are trying to resolve the crisis. The problem escalates or another complication is added to the earlier trigger doubly complicating the situation. By the time you hit the mid-point the problem goes from bad to worse. And then it goes further into the hole when it reaches the world collapses. This is the point of doom for the MC. He she becomes almost breathless trying to solve the problem. How everyone else helps him or creates more complications until this point becomes the body/ crux of the story and it is the biggest chunk of the story and it usually is about 25k words.
Act 3 – This is the most exciting part as the underdog rises and starts digging himself/herself out of the hole. This is where MC’s true character emerges. He overcomes his weaknesses and emerges triumphant. And all the loose ends come together and climax. Then you have the denouement either negative, positive or begin a second book in the series.
Characters: The character follow the same sequence of W. However, for easier visualization, I drew the arc differently to ensure you can see the rise and fall of characters clearly.
If an MC starts at the stasis point, everything is hunky-dory until he/she reaches the trigger point and from there his/her crisis escalates down until your MC’s world collapses. One steep fall. How he rises and concludes the crisis becomes the story.
At this point, I create a chart (a word table or an excel sheet) with all the important points for ALL the characters. With special emphasis on 3 plot points. What is happening to each of the characters at:
- Trigger point in the MC’s life
- World collapses.
These three become the conflict points in your story. Also, it gives a nice arc to the characters (with rise and fall woven into the story). I use the table below to capture the details.
Conflict: There is no life without conflict and problems. Similarly, there is no story without conflict. It can either be inner conflict or an external one. My preference is inner conflict as it helps me give deep POV driven characters as I can dig into the characters minds and thinking/decision making process.
I create a similar table for conflict as the one above and mark the one that has conflicting interests with MC and write out the reasons of why.
Then I am ready to start writing… And let my Sita take over and I’ll follow her in her journey and see what all can happen.
Research: I would have put this on the top of the list but for my story, I am not doing any detailed research (may be will look up some places and names to use) and thus no emphasis on this aspect.
Some general rules to remember for NaNoWrimo:
- Imagine the story like a movie. Scene after scene.
- What would your first scene of the movie be if your story was ever made into one?
- Write it out. I say, write out at least 5k words before you begin the NaNo. Why? The first 5k words set the pace for the story. This is the most important chunk of the book when initially writing. A strong beginning helps keep the tempo. Don’t worry about cheating. You can write 55k words and still claim the winner certificate with pride. You are just warming up prior to the fight. Nothing wrong with it eh?
- DO NOT EDIT while you write. First drafts were never published. So don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure or run-on sentences (as the grammar Nazis call it).
- Drink lots of water and take breaks regularly and stretch and flex your brain and muscles. Eat healthy meals.
- Sleep at least 6-7 hrs a day. Only a well rested mind is alert.
- AND JUST WRITE.
All the best…