Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Update - Writing as a Game

Upcoming Vacation, Blogging Break

Not this week, but the next week (June 16-22), I'm taking a one week break in the serial, and blogging overall.  I was going to try to get episodes and things done ahead, but I realize that it's just better not to fight it. This serial likes to be written "just in time."   I think it's actually a good place for a break, kind of the end of Act 1.  We will move into a new section of the story when we come back.


I am having a phenomenal amount of fun this week.  I might not be as productive, word-wise, as I would like.  However....

I'm doing something that may really revolutionize some of my writing.  Maybe all of it, maybe only the blah days.

I'm creating a plotting game!

I love writing games.  I read about Rory's Story Cubes in Jennie Coughlin's blog, and went out and bought some immediately.  It doesn't matter how busy I am, when I stumble across one of those little contests "Write a 100 word story using the following six items..." I have to stop and do that.

And one thing I really really really really really get into are randomized idea generators.  For instance, one of my favorite old writing exercises is The Dictionary Game: open a dictionary to a random page, stab your finger at the page and choose the word you landed on.  Do it again so you have a pair of words, and then come up with ideas based on those two words in juxtaposition.

And one of the things that have always intrigued me is the concept of the Plot Wheel.  It's something that pulp writers sometimes used as a way to come up with their formula stories faster.  It was also a way to keep things a little fresh; take certain things that always or often happen and randomize them so you don't get into a rut.

Recently there was a story on Erle Stanley Gardner's plot wheels. The pictures are hard to make out, and he didn't really have many options on them, but I immediately wanted them, just like I wanted the story cubes.  However, I realized that's not what I really wanted.  Gardner didn't go far enough.

I wanted to play with the idea of going a lot deeper and a lot further with plotting for this Mercenary Writing exercise.  Probably my biggest problem ever with doing that kind of fast and dirty writing is that I tend to get too many ideas, and I can't decide among them.  So I don't just want a plot wheel of "red herrings" or "false leads."  I want a really extensive set of plot (and detail) wheels to use on every aspect of the story.

Welcome to Camille's Plotting Circus!

I spent the early part of this week creating this writing game.  And before I tell you about it, I've got to say this: because I wrote it for MY needs, it works.  At least for creating an exciting and interesting stand alone story that isn't something already in your head, it's lovely.

This is unlike all the fun little toys I've ever used before (such as those story cubes) which are fun to play with, but they don't really fire me up, because they use details that don't interest me.

This fires my imagination well enough, that I might just look for ways to adapt it for my regular writing.  (But not yet.)

The thing about it, though, is that it isn't something I could write and give to you and have it work.  You would have to write it for yourself with the details that fire you up.  And every genre or kind of story requires a different set of game materials.

However, that in itself is a part of the game.  The game changes to suit what you need.

It works kind of like what James Patterson did when he decided he was going to write best selling novels.  He studied the heck out of a bunch of best sellers and broke them down into elements and created a formula (or several formulas) for himself.

The difference here is that I looked more inward than outward: I don't particularly like best sellers.  So I sat down and started to analyze what I like in a romantic suspense story.  Not what I think ought to be there, but what I want.

And I began to create lists of these favorite archetypes and tropes (and yes, cliches).  Then I looked at plotting structure and picked a format that works for romantic suspense: the Movie-Of-the Week (MOW) script breakdown I learned in filmschool.

I found, when I put these two things together, I needed one more peice to get started.  Something for the stuff outside the plot:

The "Situation Form."

Basically the Situation Form is about the foundation of the story.  Not what happens (plot) but where the plot comes from.  So it has Title, Theme, Character Roles (Heroine, Hero, Villain, Helper, Victim, Red Herring, etc.), Heroine's Secret, Villain's Secret.

Each of those elements have a wheel with anywhere from a dozen to a thousand options that I can pick with a random number.

And I take those elements and brainstorm what the story is about specifically.  I look first at the most important things and then shape them with the smaller details.  (So "villain's secret" might be differently defined depending on things like the age of the victim, for instance.)  As the ideas develop, I can change the details to whatever works best for a great story.

What I found was that this form gives me ninety percent of the story right there.    Put the "theme" word together with the heroine's secret and the villain's secret, and it's like dictionary exercise -- you have an interesting triangle that tells you what the story is about ... what drives the story.

And it does drive the story because, remember, all of these options are options that I find exciting, or at least challenging.

I'll talk more about it later.

In the meantime, on the serial this week, we'll wrap up the first act as Plink finally gets some privacy to examine Antonio's luggage, and MacGreevey examines the evidence and makes a startling discovery.  (Then we skip a week.)

See you in the funny papers.


Tanja said...

This game sounds like sooooo much fun! I'm thinking of doing something similar later this year.

Would you mind telling me more about the Movie-Of-the Week (MOW) script breakdown and the form that you're filling out?

The Daring Novelist said...

I'm going to go over each of the elements in upcoming Sunday update posts. I can start with the MOW plot structure when I come back in two weeks. (23rd?)

If I have time, I'll do something for next week and schedule it, but I don't know if I'll make it.

In essence, though, it's a form that a screenwriting mentor of mine adapted for students to use to break down and study movie plots. She got it from an MOW producer she worked for. They seem to have adapted it from a earlier forms, and turned it into a "beat sheet" of scenes broken down for production.

And I have adapted it further because parts of it, as it came to me, were really vague and unhelpful. I found Blake Snyder's "Save The Cat" book to be useful in filling in those bits.

Tanja said...

Thanks! I look forward to learning more about your game. :) Thanks for sharing it with us.