Building Plot

Kind of a sequel to the last post I made, I figured I’d talk a bit about building from basic ideas.

So, last week, we talked about getting the plot from basic idea to something you can build a story around. And my opinion is that you need to get to the point where you have a basic conflict to work with. Non-conflict-based narratives are a topic for another post; I’m going to need to do a bit more research on them before I make any bold statements on the Internet.

Let’s just imagine that you have the barest bones of a plot idea that you can build on. So, for example, this one: “A loyal butler for a government official is kidnapped and recruited into a rebellion.”

This is a good start, but it’s probably not enough for a whole novel. So, where would I go from there?

Well, let’s look at what I have. I have a main conflict – the rebellion wants the butler to help them, but the butler wants to do what’s best for his employer. They’re going to have to come up with some really good reasons for him to follow them. A good part of the story is likely going to have to do with them gaining his trust (and probably him gaining theirs, too).

I’d have preliminary questions here: First, what does the rebellion want? They’ve got to have a legitimate grievance.
Second, why is the butler so loyal? Or, probably more pertinent, how loyal is the butler? Is he loyal ideologically, so that if the rebellion can prove to him that his employer is causing serious harm, he’ll agree to work against him? Personally loyal or in debt? Or does he actually agree ideologically with his employer, and unlikely to agree in the end with the rebels?
Third, will the butler double-cross them? Will he pretend to agree to and use their trust to help his employer?
Fourth, why the butler? What can the butler do that either someone outside the household can’t, or they can’t take to the employer himself?

Those questions are all going to make sure that the main conflict is as interesting as possible, and that I don’t have too many plot holes. They’re not going to be the only questions I need to answer, but they’ll be good to get me started, thinking about how these characters relate to the conflict.

But let’s move away from that. I’m not going to develop the whole story here.

In something the length of a novel, you need more than one plotline. B-plots are good, as are subplots (for clarity, I call a B-plot a plot as large or complex as the main plot, which takes up roughly the same amount of time in the novel. A subplot is a plot that’s either shorter or simpler than the main plot, which takes up less time and reader brainspace in the novel).

But where does that come from?
First, I’d be looking at putting some people in my rebellion, getting some character dynamics in there. Maybe there’s some infighting about what exactly they want to get out of this whole process. Maybe there’s a few “I agree with you and I need you to make this work, but dammit, I just really want to punch you” things going on. On the opposite side, there’s probably some inseparable friendships in there.
Second, fun with sects and factions! They’re probably not the only group out there looking to make some changes to the way things work. Who are they working with? Who are they working against? Who can they and can they not compromise with? Adding a PR element is going to put a damper on any really bold plans, and force some interesting workarounds.
Third, what happens to the rest of the household when the butler is gone? Who has he left behind? Anybody who’s likely to stir up trouble looking for him, particularly the kind of trouble that’s going to upset the butler’s carefully-laid plans.

And if you can’t find a few interesting B- and sub-plots in there, there’s something horribly wrong.
From there, it’s just a matter of picking the best ones – the ones that are logical, fit in with the characters you have, and complement the main plot.

More on that later. This ramble has gone on quite long enough.

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