Monday, October 15, 2012

Story Tug of War

As I'm preparing for Nanowrimo, I'm in the story planning and creation phase. It feels a lot like a big game of tug-of-war except with more than one team. Don't try to imagine how that would actually work, just go with me on this.

All stories have the big elements: Characters, Setting, Ideas and Progression. And they each pull against the others.

For example, When I come up with a great way to strengthen a character, that new strength tugs on the Setting, Ideas and Progression. Sometimes everything holds, but sometimes it pulls the Setting too hard and I have to give it some attention. Adding strength to the Setting dominoes into changing an Idea. You get the picture.

When I'm done, what I want is to see is 4 strong teams all pulling as hard as they can--putting as much tension as possible on the ropes.

Here's a real example. This is the story I'm working on right now. (Thank to everyone who voted.)
The Cepio is an advanced armor and weapons system designed to augment the most powerful soldiers in the galaxy. When a Cepio shipment is attacked by bandits, one accidentally crashes onto Earth and binds to seventeen-year old, Isaac Thomas. Isaac must learn to control the Cepio before it takes over his mind, all while keeping it out of the hands of the bandits and the galactic corporation that wants it back. Because once the Cepio binds to someone, the only way to repossess it is to kill the host.
And the breakdown:

  • Characters: bandits, Isaac, galactic corporation
  • Setting: Earth
  • Ideas: Cepio weapons system, most powerful soldiers, Cepio tries to take over Isaac's mind, bandits and corporation want it, unbinding causes death
  • Progression: Not a lot of progression details here. Isaac gets the Cepio and a lot of trouble too. We don't know what he does with it, how he uses it, how it changes him, or even the outcome of the story.
As with many of my story embryos, this one is heavy on Ideas. If I'm not careful the Ideas will overshadow everything else and my Characters will seem flat, the Setting will appear blank, and the Progression will feel haphazard and forced.

So, I spend a lot of time fleshing out Characters, planning how things could Progress, and filling out the Setting. What this often means is that my Ideas have to change.

In one of my previous stories, the embryonic Idea that started the whole thing ended up being dropped from the final story altogether. It just didn't work with everything else. But that's okay. I've already got another story that's building around that Idea, and I'll write it someday.

*This picture says to me, "Tug of war is hard, hard work." My muscles tighten just looking at it. And I can almost hear the fibers of the rope grinding and popping from the tension. You can check out other works by Scott Anderson on Flickr.

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* Background image based on Night Sky theme by Ray Creations