July 21, 2021 - Ideas Become Clearer

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

I missed two days of blogging this week, which annoys me. The good news is that I continued to make progress even though I haven’t reported it.

Yesterday, I went through the book I borrowed from the library and made notes on characteristics of each enneagram type. That got me thinking about what type each of my core characters in this mystery would be. It also got me thinking about the background of my primary suspect. With a combination of Googling for research and free writing some ideas, I got to know quite a lot about Addison Slater.

Between yesterday and today, I came up with the last scene Slater plays in, which shows what he’s discovered about himself. You see, in a mystery, it’s not so much your protagonist’s character growth that matters. Sleuths like Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolf and Miss Marple don’t have much of a character arc. But you do need something of character change to make a story satisfying to the reader, so the one who changes is often the primary suspect.

In my not-working time, I also resolved the shape of the romantic subplot. As with the main plot, I had an idea concerning an issue that remains between Titus and Elisabeth. As I went about other tasks, bits and pieces of how that would develop floated through my brain. Mid-day, I decided to commit them to Plottr, a new piece of software I’m using to outline this mystery.

After this, I went back to studying Plotto (not to be confused with Plottr), which is a system for developing plots. Without going into too much detail, it has some predefined pieces: a list of characters who could be your protagonist, a list of situations, and a list of results. It then has a massive number of complications to suit the various combinations of the first part.

Along with this, I recently watched Shane, a classic old western. I’m not sure how I never watched this movie before, but one of the things that struck me was that things just got worse and worse for Shane and the family he stays with. As soon as one problem appears to be resolved, there’s another worse problem to face. It’s a classic homesteaders versus cattlemen situation, and Shane, a former gunfighter, is on the side of the homesteaders.

In doing the Plotto exercises, I thought about how difficult it is for me to make things hard on my characters. I’m too nice, at least in my writing, to easily come up with these kinds of complications. And, like Shane, Plotto is based on the old pulp fiction formula, making sure your characters have plenty of complications to deal with.

But complications or, as some authors call them, try-fail cycles, don’t come easily to me. And then, in a burst of genius, I thought of another way of putting this idea that immediately made it easier to generate ideas. So now I have a sticky note on my computer screen that says, “What could go wrong?”

And that’s it for today. Or today and yesterday. See you tomorrow.

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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