Tag Archives: writing process

Plotting for Multiple Characters (part 2)

I want to pick up right where I left off last week. If you missed part 1, you can get it here.

So, once I have this down with 4-6 entries for every character on my chart, I start weaving them together to build a timeline. Essentially, what I’m doing is deciding what has to happen before the other thing happens AND—maybe more importantly, in what order I want them to occur in the story. Back in the day when I wrote everything longhand, I’d draw lines and put numbers beside the entries. With excel, I just shift things around. I’ll use numbers for my example here. You’ll also note that I know I want the protag to have the relationship with the love interest; I’m not sure how they meet at this point. That’s okay, because as I begin to fill in the blanks, I can manipulate that to make it happen.

Protag 1 Protag 2 Antag Love interest
1 Parents killed. Lost in woods. Discovered by Mountain Man 2 Wins award for science essay. 3 Comes in 2nd with science essay. Wins nothing. Completes high school under care of single mom.
4 Lives with MM who teaches tracking, hunting and other survival skills. 5 Kicked out of college—accused of copying essay but did not. It was, however, based on research from Mom. 6 Father kicks out of house for losing. Immediately moves across country. 9 Graduates college with computer science degree. Hired by NSA to hack Chinese government computers.
8 Leaves MM to go to big city where he meets Protag 2 in an alley near death. 10 Begins job at high tech espionage firm. 7Joins gang in Eastern coastal city. Quickly establishes reputation for brutality. HOW DOES SHE MEET PROTAG 1?
While “espionaging” is captured and tortured and brainwashed. 11 Promoted in gang to a capo and given a territory. Moves (takes some of his underlings)
Dumped in an alley in the big city. Catches Protag 2—remembers her. Attempts to kill—THINKS he has.

This gives me a rough outline to start working from. Now, keep in mind that before I get to the task of writing, I figure out the goals and motivations for all the characters (at least the primary characters) and I have an idea of what I want their big character arc to be. In fact, I do that before I start charting this out—I’m kinda going by the seat of my pants for the characters in the example and I hope/trust you can look past that for the bigger picture. But what it also means is that the characters can change as I create, but that’s okay, it’s part of the creation process. It also means that my chart/grid is considerably longer than what I’m showing you, and it’s also wider with more characters. One of the things this can help you do is get all your characters “screen” time.

I’m hoping you can use your imagination and fill in the blanks with your own characters and ideas.

I’ve seen it done a different way, but it always felt more formulaic to me. It looked something like this:

A Character
A Character B Character
A Character C Character
A Character B Character
A Character

At which point in time, your A character rotates off (to the left or rather, to the far right) and the B character becomes the A character while the C character becomes the B character. This is mostly a formula for EPISODIC work.

Like I said at the beginning, though, this is just the strategy that I use…Hope it helps you some.

Now, GO WRITE!

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Plotting for Multiple Characters (part 1)

Seems my writing posts have been popular lately, so this will be another one of those and I hope you enjoy it and get something out of it.

I’m often asked how to plan out how to interweave storylines with multiple characters, or to create “B” and “C” stories. So this blog will walk you through my process and hopefully give you a new strategy for working multiple plots into episodic, short or long form narrative. It’ll be tough to cover them all effectively, so I hope what I do cover you’ll be able to translate to whatever format you’re personally working in. Keep in mind, too, that this is how “I” do it and it is certainly not the only way to effectively work with multiple characters. It’s worked for me, so I’m sticking with it.

So the first thing I do when I know I’m working with multiple characters is to create a grid chart. I use Microsoft Excel these days, but I still have—somewhere in a box—the hand written copies of the charts I used to plot out Cat & Mouse and some of my other early comics. I write my characters’ names across the top, generally the more prominent characters first. Like such:

Protag 1

Protag 2

Antag

Love interest

Support 1

Support 2

           

After I’ve got that figured out, I start dropping in the important events of the characters, usually leaving a few spaces between each entry because I know I’ll add stuff and move stuff around. I try to stick with things that are visual and have high conflict content or are major events in the life of the character. When I’m done entering stuff in, my chart looks something like this:

Protag 1

Protag 2

Antag

Love interest

Parents killed. Lost in woods. Discovered by Mountain Man

Wins award for science essay.

Comes in 2nd with science essay. Wins nothing.

Completes high school under care of single mom.

Lives with MM who teaches tracking, hunting and other survival skills.

Kicked out of college—accused of copying essay but did not. It was, however, based on research from Mom.

Father kicks out of house for losing. Immediately moves across country.

Graduates college with computer science degree. Hired by NSA to hack Chinese government computers.

Leaves MM to go to big city where he meets Protag 2 in an alley near death.

Begins job at high tech espionage firm.

Joins gang in Eastern coastal city. Quickly establishes reputation for brutality.

HOW DOES SHE MEET PROTAG 1?

 

While “espionaging” is captured and tortured and brainwashed.

Promoted in gang to a capo and given a territory. Moves (takes some of his underlings)

 
 

Dumped in an alley in the big city.

Catches Protag 2—remembers her. Attempts to kill—THINKS he has.

 

This is just for an example, so don’t get worked up about it. You’ll notice I’ve a little more about P2 than P1, but it’s usually not that way. Besides, I don’t ever worry about that at this stage because the characters are still being formed (you’ll also note that much of this reads like “backstory” and would likely be cut ANYWAY—just bear with me so you can get the idea). While I don’t do it in my sample here for you, I do try to take the entries to MAJOR conflicts because what I’m working to do is make sure the character intersect with one another at those points of conflict. After all, we know that’s where the heart of our stories are, right? CONFLICT?

Okay, I’m already at 600 words…so you’ll have to come back next week for the rest.

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My outlining process

My last blog on outlining vs letting it flow seemed to be a fun topic for many, so I thought I’d actually go through an “outlining lite” here. Keep in mind, this is the way that I try to do it, which is to say it isn’t the only way, just a way.

Stories can have multiple forms of origin (one of the most common questions asked of published writers is “where do you get your ideas?” The answer, of course, is EVERYWHERE!), but once the basic idea is there, the root story elements should be the same. Sometimes I start with what I think is an interesting character, an interesting situation, an interesting event…whatever. There’s no right or wrong. I’ll often scribble out some generics about the idea just to get them down on paper.

THEN, I start the outline process, I mean, there’s got to be a story, right? So what is that story to go along with the interesting character, etc? Based on the notes I have scribbled, I answer four basic questions: 1)whose story is it? 2)what is that person’s goal? (must be a TANGIBLE/ACHIEVABLE goal!); 3)what or who gets in the way of that happening? (whos are almost always better than whats) and then 4)does the person from #1 achieve the goal? They do not have to achieve it in order for the story to work—in fact, we’re often drawn to protagonists who fail, but we should have some resolution.

The first question may not be as easy as it initially looks, but it’s usually the one that I get answered first because I’m drawn to interesting characters more than anything. Once I answer that, I start working out what it is they want more than anything else. This is the thing that drives the character’s actions—all of them! Obviously, you can get into the wants vs. needs debate, but this is my blog, so we’re talking about what does the character want? What they want can definitely change, but you won’t know that until you start answering #3 and #4. That goal must be at the forefront of all the character’s actions or somehow related to it.

With #1 and #2 answered, I move on to #3. It is at this point that I generally have to come up with the antagonist (remember, I said whos are better than whats). I go through a mini-version of what I just did for the protagonist. The antagonist should be working to stop the protagonist from accomplishing their goal…and when you figure out the why, you suddenly find yourself answering a #1 and #2 for the antagonist.

With that answered, NOW you have conflict! And conflict is what readers/viewers want to read/see. We’re drawn to it and will keep coming back to see how it ends.

And once you’ve got that done…you have yourself a mini-outline that you can start fleshing out to a full-blown work!

So, I really will get back to normal posts here someday…for my own writing sake, I’m hoping that day is sooner rather than later. I do have a lot of exciting things beginning to happen with projects I’ll be pitching in the coming weeks and I’m excited to share those so you can see the cool art I’ve been seeing.

See you next week!

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