EASY AS A, B, C . . . from BB
Last Friday’s Friend, Lesli Muir, was kind enough to regale our readers with her take on writing a book—yes, a whole 60,000 word book—in only 3 days, after having led an LTUE (Life, the Universe and Everything) workshop on the subject. Having been one of her excited participants, I looked up further information on the sources for her ideas: Michael Moorcock and Lester Dent. While she’d made a bit of a mash-up of the two, I’d like to give you a little more detail on them.
The following Michael Moorcock material was culled from Tim Dedopulos’ interesting site www.Ghostwoods.com
1. Set-up or prepare everything you’ll need beforehand, 1-2 days [or more!]
2. Model your Basic Plot on Dashielle Hammett’s Maltese Falcon (or any other Quest story, like Tolkien’s ring, Mort D’Arthur’s Holy Grail, El Dorado’s gold) where many people seek the same thing
3. Design the Formula: the human (or other) protagonist is fallible against a super-human force—Big Business, supernatural evil, politics, etc. He’s always ready to give up, but something involves him personally
4. Make lists of things you’ll use—when I tried this the first time, I made lists in categories: characters, appropriate place, tribal, and character names (many unassigned); agriculture, architecture, history, clothing, crafts within my focus area; religious and cultural mores; family life, food, housing; travel, war and peace; etc. Include a list of images, fantastic, paradoxical or whatever, which will fit within your genre. This imagery will come before action (which is the less important part, as opposed to the object to be obtained and the limited time to obtain it). Refer to lists whenever you’re stumped during your Three-Day Novel.
5. Assign the essential element: Time. Action/adventure will come from your Time frame: “We have only 12 hours to find _____!” The ticking clock or time bomb will set up your structure.
These plans will help you during the Three-Day because when you’re stuck you’ve got something within your lists/plans which will tell you what to do.
Now you’re ready for the Three-Day adventure to begin:
Turn off the phone, internet, etc.
Lock everyone out (or go to a cheap motel out-of-town—no human contact for 3 days!)
Reveal your “mystery” a bit at a time
At every reveal, do something to increase the problem/mystery: “Ah, so that’s why the upstairs maid said . . . ”
Look at your lists for mysteries you haven’t explained to yourself yet
Divide your 60K into four sections of 15K each
Divide each 15K into 6 chapters at no more than 2.5K each
Hero: “There’s no way I can save the day within 12 hours, unless I . . . ”
(find the sidekick I need, reach a special place, get the (first of several objects). etc. This gives you an immediate goal, immediate time element, and the over-riding 12-hour deadline. BTW, sidekicks are great at making responses the hero can’t because he’s so driven. Driven people can’t have common sense. Think Lord of the Rings with Sam deciding to carry Frodo to the conclusion. In ancient times, they used the Greek chorus.
Note than when you’re stuck, and your lists aren’t helping, or are played out, how about using one of your minor characters to keep the narrative moving?
Each of the six chapters must contain something which moves action forward and contributes to the immediate goal. Thus every chapter and/or event will give the reader information, with all contributing to the narrative function. Caution: never reveal something that isn’t already established, like revealing a murderer at the end whom we haven’t met earlier.
* * *
Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula, around for years and years and in many places, is found at this uncluttered source: http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html
1. A different murder method for the villain to use
2. A different thing for the villain to be seeking (see the connection to Moorcock?)
3. A different locale
4. A menace which is to hang like a cloud over hero
[When he says “different,” you may think odd, peculiar, outlandish, etc.—what-ever fits your genre. Could do all the above within Moorcock’s “lists”]
5. Divide the 60K into four 15K parts
A. 1st line (or close to) intro hero and swat him with fistful of trouble. Hint at mystery, menace, problem to be solved—something hero must deal with
B. Hero pitches in to cope with fisful of trouble (fathom mystery, defeat menace, solve problem, etc.)
C Intro all other characters ASAP – bring them on in action.
D. Hero’s attempts land him in physical conflict near end of 1st 15K
E. Near end of first 15K, create complete surprise twist in plot development
CHECK: Is there SUSPENSE? MENACE to hero? Happening logically?
HINTS: Action should do something besides “advance the hero over the scenery”“ He should accomplish something in his tearing around
A. Shovel more grief on hero
B. Being heroic, he struggles; his struggles lead up to:
C. Another physical conflict
D. Surprising plot twist eo end the 15K
CHECK: SUSPENSE? MENACE…GROWING? HERO struggling? LOGIC?
HINTS: Include one minor surprise to printed page (keeps reader reading). Some can be misleading. Then what made that happen = more mystery. Characterize story actors by tagging them with something: an odd scar, way of speaking, personality flaw, etc.
A. Shovel the grief onto hero
B. S/he makes some headway; corners villain or somebody in—
C. A physical conflict
D. Surprising plot twist where hero gets it in the neck, bad! to end 15K
CHECK: Still have SUSPENSE? MENACE? Hero in h*** of a fix? LOGIC?
HINTS: Physical conflicts in each part should be different: fist fight, poison gas, swords, etc. If quirky, something might be used more than once.
SHOULD BE’s: ACTION: vivid, swift, no words wasted, create suspense
READER should see, feel action. ATMOSPHERE: hear, smell, see, feel, taste.
DESCRIPTION: trees, wind, scenery, water, weather, etc.
A. Shovel difficulties more thickly upon hero
B. Get hero almost buried in troubles (Figuratively, villain has his prisoner, framed for murder; girl presumably dead, everything is lost, different murder method/threat about to dispose of suffering Hero)
C. Hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training, or brawn
D. Mysteries remaining—one big one held over to this point will help grip interest—are cleared up in final conflict as hero takes situation in hand. YAY!
E. Final twist, big surprise (villain is unexpected person, “treasure” a dud, etc.)
F. The snapper: punch line to end the adventure
CHECK: SUSPENSE held out to last line? MENACE too? Everything is explained? All happened logically. Punch Line leaves reader with warm feelings? Did “God” kill villain . . . or did the Hero???
WOW! That’s a lot to do in a Three-Day Novel . . . but now you know! I’ll be trying it again in November, and the beginning of the National Novel Writing Month (see http://www.NaNoWriMo.com) and MAYBE in August for Camp NaNoWriMo, a slightly lesser version of the same thing.
PLEASE join me, if you’d like to give it a shot—send me your name and/or NaNo Code name in a comment below and we can sign up as “Writing Buddies”—or you can “friend” (Writing Buddy) me on NaNo! See you soon? Oh, yeah, I’ll . . . (see below)
See you day-after-tomorrow for “Thursday’s 13″
Have questions about writing (grammar, punctuation, getting published, etc.)? Brenda Bensch, M.A., a teacher of multiple decades’ experience in Utah’s university/high school/community ed. classrooms (English, fiction/non-fiction writing, study skills, drama, humanities, debate, etc.), invites you to “Ask The Teacher” at http://BenschWensch.wordpress.com