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  • Writer's pictureBaptiste Pinson

Playing God!

In my previous (and first) blog post, I mentioned that I begin every plot with a brief definition of the conflict. At least the conflict driving the main character (or group of main characters). Then I will usually do the same for every secondary character, just to see how their motivations conflict, even sometimes (and that’s the best) when they are on the same side.

Once done, I start working on the plot proper.

I have so much respect for pantsers who can write a compelling book without any form of outline. To me, those people are pure artists. But I don’t get them. Plotting is the funniest part of writing. As Neil Gaiman says, it’s like playing god. The saddest part is that some of my favorite writers are pantsers, Bernard Cornwell among them.

I stand on the opposite side of this duality; I plot. And when I do, it happens in three stages.

All of this is going to sound rigid and methodical. I assure you it’s not, at least not that much. It’s more like guidelines I give myself and bend most of the time.

1st stage. Here I write one short paragraph. It’s actually more like a pitch of what the story is about. For my latest project, Undead Samurai, it looks like this.

“A group of nine warriors gather to put an end to a necromantic curse threatening Japan. As they travel to gather the keys to break the curse, the Nine face not only swarms of enemies, both living and dead, but more dangerous perhaps, their inner demons.”

Now, I could throw some keywords here, like “redemption”, “quest for truth, for courage, for honor…” as a reminder to myself, but the idea is here. It basically sounds like a more defined version of the conflict thingy I mentioned in my last blog, at least with this example.

2nd stage: The next three paragraphs are there to divide the story into those infamous three narrative arcs. I won’t write much about this topic here, but let's say that I intend the three arcs to end with a “Oh shit” moment, followed by a “Oh my god! How on earth are they going to make it?”, and finally a cathartic sigh of relief, or sadness, depending on the ending.

Again, for Undead Samurai, the 1st of those paragraphs looks like this:

“Nine warriors from different parts of Japan answer the call of a local daimyō and begin a journey to save Japan from a necromantic curse. They barely set foot outside of the daimyō’s territory when the enemy strikes, using shinobi mercenaries, which let them know their mission is not secret after all, and someone has betrayed the daimyō. As they reach their first stop, a castle in which they hope to find the first key to the curse, the necromancer proves what most of the Nine doubted; the curse is real, and the dead are vicious creatures. This first encounter with the dead will test the skills, bravery, and unity of the Nine, but neither cowardice nor individuality is an option once they get trapped inside the castle now surrounded by hundreds of voracious undead warriors.”

Basically, once I finished this 1st and 2nd stages, I have written a nice one-page document.

3rd stage: The real deal!

This is where I overdo it a tad. I write the plot, chapter by chapter, trying to boil down each chapter to a text going over half a page. It takes me about three days to one week to finish it. At least the first version of it. And at this point it’s usually about ten pages long.

Then I go over it twice.

The 1st time I highlight the different blocks of texts in three colors, green if they are going to be dialogue heavy, yellow if they are more descriptive and/or making the story move forward (basically a lot of inner thoughts, scenery, telling of outside events, etc), and red for action scenes. Hopefully, there’s a nice balance of colors with peaks of red at the end of each narrative acts. If not, I rethink the parts that are unbalanced.

This also helps me guess how long the novel will be. Of course, I then remove the highlights.

The 2nd time, a day or two later, I go over the whole thing and add a few details, usually the emotions felt by the characters, and some lines of dialogues that HAVE TO be there.

This one’s the best. ^^

I know a bunch of writers who feel exactly the same, but, god it feels amazing when you have some amazing lines in your head as you plot your book, you write them down not to forget, and comes the day you actually include them in the manuscript. And the planets lines up perfectly. (sigh of pleasure)

That’s it, the outline is ready.

For Undead Samurai, it was exactly 5711 words, my longest so far I believe.

This outline is what I might actually consider the 1st draft of the novel. After all, anything from that point is basically fleshing out the outline.

All it takes then is hours upon hours of developing those ten pages into three hundred more, but that’s a story for another time.

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