FiYoShiMo – Day 15 – Plot Sustenance

More plot today on FiYoSHiMo Day 15. I hope you’ve been finding this series helpful. Plot is one of the more abstract and variable elements in storycraft, since we can all come up with a different one even if we start with the same components.

Let’s keep at it today, where we talk about plot sustenance.

You have to be able to keep a plot going once you get it started. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking main plot (the big conflict in the book) or a subplot (a lesser conflict in the book) or a character arc (the evolution of the character over the course of the book), because whatever you start, you need to keep it going.

It’s sort of like running. If you stop moving your legs, you’re not running anymore. Thinking about it now, without moving your legs while running, I think you’d be falling. Someone go test that for me.

Or maybe you’d see it like a fire. You have this nice stack of small pieces of wood and then you introduce this spark, and it catches and burns, continuing to do so for as long as there’s wood to consume.

Either way, you need to keep the plot moving.

This breeds three questions:

a) How do I move the plot forward?
b) How much do I move the plot?
c) How quickly do I move the plot?

So let’s look at each question.

How Do I Move Plot Forward?
The nice thing about plot is that it only has one intended direction (forward) and two possible speeds (moving or immobile).

Plot is driven by scenes, and scenes are driven by character decisions and any consequences that arise from those decisions. Any reactions that other characters or the world has to those initial decisions are also decisions, which is also bear consequences, and around the cycle turns. Basic algebra tells me then that plot is driven by character decisions.

And since a plot can only be acted on by the characters involved in it, the number of decisions is actually pretty small. Which means you get to map them out. Go get your opening scene. I’m going to go get a cup of tea.

Ready? Cool. List me all the characters in this scene. All of them. In any order, doesn’t matter. Just make a list.

Now put a star by the main character(s). Include any antagonists. These are your decision makers in this scene.

What decisions can they make? Write them down too. If any characters can make the same (or similar decisions), make sure they each get it on their list.

As an example, let’s say I have 3 people: A, B, and C. They’re going to go holiday shopping. A and B arrive together in B’s car. C meets them there. The mall is crowded, noisy, and busy. A and B get into an argument about a gift. C is tangential to it.

So what can they do?
Both A and B could work out their problems.
Both A and B could concede their position in the argument
Both A and B could use a variety of tactics to win the argument.
Both A and B could drag C into the argument
C could jump in to defend or attack either A or B
A, B, or C could walk away from this scene at any time.

I’m not talking about what could happen, I mean, I could easily introduce D through Q into the scene. Hyperintelligent dinosaurs could attack the mall Santa. Asteroids could strike the parking lot. There could be a sale on handtowels. Tons of things could happen.

But I want to see the decisions that the involved characters could make, because those decisions are going to make this scene feed into the next. The scene needs to resolve itself, but not all resolutions are pretty things with bows on top. Resolution just means conclusion. It doesn’t always need to be satisfactory, it just needs to be over so the next thing can start.

To move plot, make decisions.

How much do I move the plot?
Since we agree you have to move the plot along over the course of however many words and pages you’re writing, now we start to look at pacing.

Pacing is the flow of plot. The first part of pacing is called “plot division” which is a measure of how big each package of plot is. Do you give out plot every (I’m making numbers up here) 3 scenes? Every other chapter? Every tenth page?

There isn’t a single “you must do it this way” answer. Whatever speed at which you choose to lay out the plot, you just need to be consistent about it. Why? Because if you’re inconsistently delivering plot pieces, then you’re not establishing how important each piece is. And your plot is supposed to be important.

This is usually where someone asks, “What about unimportant pieces of plot?” and I have two responses:

a) Why are you giving the reader unimportant plot?
b) If there are many similar items that can be grouped together (like all the evidence at a crime scene, for example), why aren’t they coming all in one package?

As you build your story through the first two acts, as you reach the climax, your rollercoaster should be gaining momentum. The pacing of details and scenes should reflect the chug-chug-chug of the car up the tracks until we have no choice but to rocket down the slope. And on the downturn, the pacing can slow back down until we’re off the ride.

How fast do I move the plot?
We just talked chug-chug-chug. Now it’s a question of how many chugs, how quickly.

How quick a pace can you maintain? That’s an important question to consider, because you have to be writing this thing, and invariably there are going to be moments that are slower than others. And knowing your own development, even a little, can provide a lot of insight as to how you’ll plan to write. And I’m not just talking about the time you’ll spend sitting and writing, I mean the scenes you right as well. Do the intense scenes take more out of you? Does knowing that you have to do the dull scenes tempt you more to procrastinate? You’ve got to do all the scenes either way, but how you view getting them done is going to affect how you write and what you write, even if you don’t realize it.

Move the plot at whatever speed works best for your production and whatever speed works best for the development of the tension you want to build. Rush me through something, I’m going to assume it’s not important. Take your time and set up something, I’m going to look for a proportionally large payoff.

All of this is up to you: based on your plot, how you divide it, how you choose to dole it out, and how large a story you’re telling. Try out a few different pacings, see what feels comfortable. Practice. Try again. Keep trying.

Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about plot filler. See you then.

BONUS – How I’d Rewrite The Prequels, Part 3

And now, we get to the last part of our virtual movie pitch. No time to waste, let’s get right back to it. If you need to read the other parts, they’re here and here.

Episode 3 – The Fall of the Jedi
(we’re changing the title, you’ll see why)

Our opening title crawl tells us the war we saw beginning in Episode 2 has bloomed into many great battles, epic victories and grand tragedies. The Separatists have laid siege to dozens of systems, and Republic forces have been reeling. Even the great Jedi have fractured in this conflict, with many striking out against Separatists in guerrilla skirmishes, while the Jedi Council sits deadlocked, along with the Senate as to what the best course of action is. 

We follow a crashing ship from space through the atmosphere of Naboo, where it crashes about 200 meters from OBI WAN KENOBI. Promoted to General now, he leads Republic Forces along with his friends CODY and REX trying to reclaim the planet that started this awful conflict in the first place. The war has left its mark on him: his hair is grey, his beard is longer, creases ripple his face. He is old before his time. Long gone is the reckless youth, now a deliberate and wily veteran of conflicts. Cody and Rex have been promoted to Commanders, and their force of 10,000 Republic soldiers is a mix of all species from across the galaxy. When we see them. Kenobi is personally leading the charge on a Separatist artillery emplacement. The fighting is intense, as proto-X-wings and proto-Tie Fighters dogfight overhead. Soldiers lob detonators into bunches of clones. Clones use heavy blasters to shred through people. War is intense. 

Kenobi Force leaps up from his crouch and drives his lightsaber down into the targeting computer for the battery. The guns fall silent, and Republic Forces swarm it like ants. The day is nowhere near won, but it’s improving, for a minute. 

Kenobi opens his communicator and relays the information. On the other end of the call, and the other end of the battlefield, his Padawan and friend, ANAKIN SKYWALKER is leading Republic Forces to take an airstrip. Anakin is pleased by Kenobi’s success and leads a charge of his men towards the strip. Whereas we saw Kenobi move deliberately, Anakin leads from the front, lightsaber and Force at his command. He scatters clones like leaves on a breeze, and buckles guns with a flick of his wrist. And that’s not counting how many blaster shots he deflects or how many clones he eviscerates along the way. He seems nigh invincible. The enemy knows it. He knows it. And we know it, based on the smile on his face that never leaves as he routs his foe. With the airstrip under control, he tells Kenobi that he’ll order their ship to land and Naboo’s forward base can start purging the capital city. Both Jedi are cheered by this news, though Kenobi does not know how to explain this to the Jedi Council.

Cut to the Jedi Council, where YODA, MACE WINDU, and ALAMA listen to QUEEN PADME AMIDALA, now nearly 20, talk about how the Jedi must join the war directly, or be lost as casualties. All three Jedi Masters urge caution and peace, saying how they’ve got good reasons to be cautious. Padme grows frustrated and leaves the chamber. Alama meets her in the hall, and says she knows that Padme can send word to Anakin, and if she could, have Obi Wan travel to KORRIBAN, that he might continue the search for DARTH MAUL, while Anakin can return to Coruscant. She believes Maul to be on Korriban, “thanks to her extensive study of the Jedi Archives”, and then excuses herself for another appointment. Padme leaves to go send word to Anakin.

We follow Alama as she heads across Coruscant to CHANCELLOR PALPATINE’S office, where, ahead of many waiting Senators, she’s immediately brought in. Palpatine has his back to her when she enters, and tells her to sit. She does, silently, almost robotically. She stares straight ahead as Palpatine pulls his Sith hood over his head. With a hand gesture, Alama’s eyes glow red at the edges, a bit of Sith sorcery. 

“Tell me everything.” he says to her, and she does. 

When she finishes, he asks, “Did you send him to Korriban?” She explains she did, and he is pleased. Lastly, he orders her to return to the Jedi Temple, and remember none of this. She does as instructed. 

Palpatine taps a communicator on his desk and Maul’s face appears in hologram. “My Apprentice,” he says, “Be ready, for your prey is coming to you. Have you reached the Temple?” Maul replies that he has, and he is waiting. 

We quick cut to Korriban, a rocky inhospitable planet, with half-submerged pyramids and obelisks breaking through uneven terrain. Maul is shirtless, his body a mass of tattoos and scars. He kneels at an altar that glows purple and black. 

We cut back to Anakin, receiving news from Padme to head to Korriban. He hops on a speeder and rockets to Obi Wan, who is waiting with Rex and Cody at a field hospital. Many Republic soldiers were wounded today, and they’re grateful to see Kenobi spending time among the troops. 

Anakin arrives, explaining Padme’s message. When Obi Wan mentions how they’re due to check in with the Council, Anakin says they can do it from their ship. Obi Wan tells Rex and Cody to oversee the setup of another hospital, and that he’ll be back when he can. 

Anakin has some troops prep their ships, and he leans against the bulkhead when Obi Wan arrives. The Master is stern with his Padawan, he worries that Anakin’s emotions are running too wild, that this is reckless. Anakin counters that bold strokes are only bold because of belief, and that for men to be decisive some decisions come with emotion. Obi Wan expresses his doubts as Anakin says he’s returning to Coruscant but they’ll rendezvous on Korriban soon. They wish each other will with a large hug, and depart in separate ships. 

We wipe to Padme standing on the patio of a penthouse, her father SENATOR BAIL ORGANA seated behind her, lost in paperwork. The war has bloated the bureaucracy further, and getting things done becomes all the harder when there are forms for everything. Padme says she’s worried about Leia, and Bail says she’s fine on Alderaan, that Coruscant is too well fortified and Alderaan too remote for it to be an issue. Padme expresses concern for Naboo, but word from C3-P0 that Skywalker and Kenobi were successful brings much relief. Bail pauses, having signed the last document, rubbing his tired face. 

“I just authorized the shut down of all cloning facilities from here to the Outer Rim. We’ll mobilize some battalions to make sure they’re dismantled.” 

Padme isn’t listening, her thoughts are of Anakin.

We cut to Anakin, his ship out of hyperspace and landing on Coruscant. He hastily disembarks and snags someone’s speeder to make a beeline for the Organa Penthouse. Within minutes he’s there, and up a lift, and then, standing on the patio, framed in fading light, before he embraces Padme. Bail excuses himself as the pair are very happy to be alone with each other. 

They share some breathy words, they kiss, and they are happy to be together. 

We cut away from them as things escalate physically, to Obi Wan landing at Korriban, or at least a flat stretch of rock that seems like a not bad place to park. He exits and communicates to the Jedi Temple. His transmission is garbled, but Windu and Yoda share a look when they hear the word “Korriban.” Kenobi says it will take some time to find Maul, but he’ll look. 

We cut back to Padme and Anakin, clothes rumpled in a heap. Anakin climbs from bed and dresses. Padme rolls to his side of the bed and says, “My Jedi Master, did you only travel all this way for me?” He replies, “I would travel anywhere for you.” They kiss again, and he departs, leaving Padme laying in bed.

We follow him to the Jedi Council, where the three Masters officially promote him to Jedi Knight. He accepts and pledges to continue doing what he can to restore peace and order to the galaxy. The Jedi Council warn him that those tasks may be costly, and Skywalker says all conflicts have costs. They chew on this, and are interrupted by a young Jedi who informs the assembly that the Chancellor would like to see Skywalker immediately. 

We wipe to the Chancellor’s Office. Palpatine sits, not hooded, and invites Anakin to sit with him. Anakin shares the results from Naboo, they talk about the war, Anakin relates his promotion to Knight, and the Chancellor congratulates him. It’s a much more emotional response than he got from his own Jedi Council, and Anakin is pleased. Then with a heavy sigh, the Chancellor begins speaking:

“Anakin, do you know what the worst part of war is, aside from the loss of life?”

Anakin doesn’t know.

“The loss of trust,” the Chancellor continues, “especially in these days, with clones and these acts of terror, it’s just impossible to know who you can rely on, who you can believe. Do you know what I mean?”

Anakin speaks a bit on how he wishes the Senate would take bold strokes, how the Jedi should take action, how there should be someone strong leading the cause of peace. Palpatine agrees.

“I have something to show you” Palpatine says, and keys up something on a desk display. It’s a footage of a number of clone prisoners being interrogated, not all of them civilly. Anakin’s face hardens at this – it’s tough to watch.

“You see, Anakin, these captured clones have revealed that within this very Republic there exist traitors and agents who would undo all we’re fighting for.”

“Spies?” asks the Jedi. 
“Rebels. Anarchists. People with secrets. Secret agendas. Secret plans. Secrecy erodes trust, and without trust, how can we work together?”

This makes sense to Anakin.

“Tell me, do you believe the Jedi have secrets?” Anakin is sure they do, and says so.

“For instance,” Palpatine says, “that man who attacked you on Kamino, did you know he was Master Yoda’s Padawan?”

This news chills Anakin. He doesn’t believe it. “No no your Excellency, he was a Sith, he had to be, a Jedi would never betray the Code.”

“Anakin, what we believe depends on our point of view.” These words echo something he’s head Obi Wan AND Yoda say. They’re familiar. 

“And the Jedi Code says you’re not to feel emotion, yes? So you shouldn’t be happy to have become a Jedi Knight, you shouldn’t feel anger at these Separatists, you shouldn’t feel things like love, yes?”

Love. The word sticks in his head. Palpatine sees he has Anakin on the hook, and presses forward.

“How can there be that clarity I’ve heard the Jedi speak of, if they deny their feelings? If they’re to keep the peace, shouldn’t they feel compassion?”

Anakin stirs at these words. “What are you saying, Chancellor?”

Palpatine rises and looks out at Coruscant. “I’m saying that here, on Coruscant, and throughout the galaxy, we have discovered plans of insurrection. Rebels who seek to use this clone war to overthrow the Republic. Secret keepers and conspiracies abound, and so long as I’m tied up in the Senate, no one seems to be able to do anything.”

Anakin rises, and joins him at the window. “What could someone do?”

Palpatine smiles. “If someone truly loved freedom and the Republic, they’d seek more answers. They’d trust their heart and protect all that they love. Even if that meant more fighting. Even if that meant risked their life to protect us all. They’d find these spies and eliminate them.”

Anakin nods, agreeing. The two men stand for a long time, staring out at the cityscape.

We cut back to Obi Wan, having followed a trail of broken droids to a large clearing, the entrance to great stone building marked in glyphs. He takes a slow deep breath, and ignites his saber just in time to avoid …

The first strike from Maul. They fight wildly, covering terrain and distance, running and swinging and jumping and cutting. As their two sabers clash for the twentieth time…

We cut back to Padme, she’s out of bed, and Anakin is with her in the penthouse. Anakin confesses his love for her, and she her love for him. They embrace again, and Anakin describes how love shouldn’t be a bad thing for a Jedi. He echoes Palpatine, but in his own words. Padme is excited at his passion. They embrace again and she tells him to do what he feels is right. He departs, heading back to his ship.

And that’s when sirens scream all over the city. A Separatist ship has broken Coruscant airspace, and clone troopers are dropshipped throughout the city. Soon another ship arrives, then another, then another. Soon troops fall like rain. Anakin rallies a few Republic guards and fights some clones off, making his way to his ship. There’s a tense battle as Anakin, a good pilot, navigates the bombardment and barely makes it to hyperspace, vowing that he’ll do all he can to keep Padme safe.

We cut back to Obi Wan, who has chased Maul into the Sith Temple. They stand at either side of a chasm, Maul hurling rocks at him. Both men are fatigued, wounded, and need rest. They catch their breath. Kenobi receives word that Anakin is inbound and locked in on his location. Kenobi tells him Maul is here, and it’s dangerous, but Anakin has already begun his landing sequence. More rocks get Force hurled by Maul. 

We wipe to other planets: Tatooine, Endor, Corellia, Alderaan, where clone troopers are invading. Sometimes they’re met with resistance, other times they go unopposed. The Republic appears to be losing ground. 

We cut back to Coruscant, to the Chancellor’s Office. He’s waiting for someone, and Master Alama enters. Once she’s inside, Palpatine uses his Sith sorcery to compel her to ignite her saber and duel him. He lets her land a few glancing blows, but even without a lightsaber, he’s able to keep her at bay with Force lightning and Force push. Eventually he tosses her through the window he previously looked through, then as she falls to her death, he takes some of the glass and fakes a few injuries. He coughs a bit, sounding wounded, and then uses the communicator on his desk to contact the Jedi Council. He explains to them that there’s been an attack, and that they should lock themselves down. Then he calls Anakin, and when Anakin answers, he fires a blaster against the wall and makes it sound more desperate than it is. The Chancellor says that part of the Rebellion were within the Jedi Council, how he doesn’t know who he can trust, but for now he’s okay. Wounded, but okay. He plans to speak before the Senate. 

As the communication ends, we’re back on Anakin, who’s landed on Korriban. He makes his way through the temple with far less effort than Obi Wan, since there’s enough anger coursing through Skywalker to destroy walls. Anakin finds Kenobi and tells him about the Chancellor, about Coruscant, about the attacks. Kenobi looks back and sees Maul is gone from his side of the chasm. The two men make their way out of the Temple to Anakin’s ship.

Where Maul is waiting. 

And then three men duel. It’s epic. It reaches a peak when Obi Wan gets knocked to the ground and Anakin can either use the Force to keep the ship from crushing Kenobi or strike at Maul. But Anakin has other ideas. 

Like throwing the whole ship at Maul. Like snapping pieces of the ship apart and hurling them at Maul until the Sith Marauder is skewered and dead. Anakin is relentless in his fury. It takes Obi Wan a considerable amount of time to calm him down after. But unlike before Anakin doesn’t break down. He goes cold. The two men walk back to Obi Wan’s ship.

We cut to Padme and the droids, locked down in the penthouse. Clone troopers are advancing on the building, and Padme searches for a blaster to defend herself. She finds her fathers papers, the things he was signing earlier, and sees them not as Senatorial paperwork but are in fact drafts of speeches and memos to “The Rebellion.” She orders R2-D2 to contact Anakin. 

News of Coruscant and the other systems reaches the Jedi on their ship, and Kenobi gets a message from Rex and Cody that they’ve taken a few thousand men to safety, en route to the Outer Rim rendezvous point. Skywalker puts the craft into hyperspace and explains what Palpatine told him about the Rebellion. Skywalker believes it should be crushed, and asks Kenobi for help. Kenobi says the priority should be helping people, and Anakin counters that saving the Republic IS helping people. 

There’s another dogfight once out of hyperspace, but the pair make it back to Coruscant. They part company, promising to meet up at the Jedi Temple. Obi Wan goes there straightaway, Anakin goes to retrieve Padme. Kenobi asks his friend if he loves her, and he doesn’t reply. Kenobi tells him to be careful.

Which is when clone troops descend on them. Anakin, with a single wave of his hand, eliminates the first thirty of them. He slips further towards the Dark Side, and Kenobi leaves him once a path is cleared. Anakin continues decimating the clones until he reaches the penthouse.

But while Skywalker was out killing clones, Obi Wan has contacted Padme, to warn her about Anakin, to protect herself, to get herself to Alderaan and her father and safety. Padme asks Kenobi if he knows anything about the Rebellion, and when he says he doesn’t, she says her father plays a part in it. Kenobi begs her to keep that to herself. 

Skywalker enters the penthouse, leaving a trail of bodies behind him. He’s overjoyed to see Padme alive and safe, and she’s horrified at how much he destroyed. He professes his love, he professes that he’d be lost without her, and she begs him to get her to Alderaan. He says he will, and she starts assembling some kit to take with her. When R2 enters the room, she tells the droid to broadcast a message to Obi Wan that she’ll have Anakin take to Alderaan and that Anakin is scaring her. She also says that if things go wrong, to get himself to safety. She suggests the Outer Rim, far away from the Republic.

Meanwhile, Palpatine is addressing the panicked Senate, revealing how members of the Rebellion nearly killed him. He urges the Senate to look past their arguments and bureaucracy and invest him with the imperial powers to stop all the warring and insurrection. The Senate quickly agrees. Palpatine pledges that this new Empire will restore order in this dark times. 

We wipe to a clone trooper, disguised, entering the Jedi Temple, and planting some paperwork in a few rooms – Kenobi’s chamber, the Jedi Council chamber, and in the Archive. Once that task is done, he communicates his success to Palpatine, who smiles. 

We’re back to Padme, the droids and Anakin. They’re aboard a ship, ready to go to Alderaan, but Anakin isn’t coming with. He’s staying behind, that he has to meet up with Obi Wan, and he’ll come to Alderaan the minute he can. He watches the ship and his ladyfriend grow small as it flies away before taking a speeder to the Jedi Temple.

Where he finds Kenobi battling his way inside. Anakin throws more clones around, and the two Knights enter the Temple. They get separated, but Palpatine contacts Anakin to relay that he’s received information about the rebels. That it’s Bail Organa. Windu. Yoda. Kenobi. Anakin begs to know how the Chancellor knows this, and gets show a hologram of papers – similar to those planted in the Temple. Anakin cannot believe the Jedi, or Obi Wan, would lie to him like that. He asks the Chancellor what to do. 

Palpatine says, “For the good of the Republic, I deputize you to do all that you can, and all that you must to protect this Empire from Rebels.” His path to the Dark Side is nearly complete. 

Anakin blazes a trail of destruction, carving up Jedi and clone alike, until he reaches the Jedi Council. Windu is there, and he orders Skywalker to help defend the Temple. Anakin offers to help, saying that the Temple is a valuable resource and asset. That it’s rich with history. Rich with power. Rich with secrets. When Windu asks what he means, Anakin mortally wounds him. He stands over the Jedi Master’s body as the man dies, asking, “You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor, so you must die.” 

We cut to Palpatine, in his office, communicating orders to clone battalions to open fire on everyone: civilians, soliders, and Jedi alike. 

We are shown planet after planet of clone troops obeying. Tens of thousands of people die. We watch many lightsabers clatter to the ground. 

We move to Master Yoda, who has met up with Obi Wan. The little green Jedi tells Kenobi he must evacuate, and they will meet again. Kenobi explains Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, and Yoda sighs. “Saw this coming, we did not.”

“Yoda,” Obi Wan says, “What am I to do?”

“What you must.” And with that, the little green Jedi boards a ship and departs. 

Skywalker catches up to Obi Wan, and asks about Yoda. Obi Wan tells Skywalker he’s gone, and the two men do their best, one last time, to work together to eliminate clone troops. Once they’ve made it to a ship, they set a course for Alderaan. 

Kenobi and the pilot confer for a moment, while Anakin heads to the cargo hold to clear his mind. While meditating, he hears the voice of QUI-GON JINN, and the voices of so many people screaming, then being silenced. He cries, his feelings consuming him. 

They reach Alderaan, and due to the clone presence, are forced to land in an industrial plant. They’re led by Organa’s House guards to the Organa homestead. There, they find Bail, Leia, and Padme around a table making plans to leave. Padme leaves the room, saying she has to pack. 

The door closes behind her, and Anakin asks the assembled trio of Leia, Bail, and Kenobi what they plan to do, as Rebels. As the people who have brought clones to the gates of the Republic, as the people who have undone all the peace. He ignites his lightsaber and marches across the room. A tiger stalking prey. 

Kenobi ignites his own saber and bars Skywalker’s path. Anakin, fully Dark Side now, hurls Kenobi against the wall. Organa pulls a small blaster from under a cloak and fires. Anakin deflect the bolt, and it strikes Leia. She crumples to the ground, dead. 

And that’s when the door opens and Padme returns. She sees Leia dead from a blaster, her father holding a blaster, Obi Wan unconscious and Anakin holding his lit lightsaber. 

So she runs. Bail chases her, and Anakin after Bail. They race back to the factory. Towards the Jedi ship. 

Padme won’t stop, she won’t hear reason, and as the ship’s hatch opens, Bail is pleading for her to listen. Anakin catches up to them, and begins choking Bail. Padme pleads for her father’s release, and Anakin sees her fear, so he lets the elder Organa go. Skywalker goes on to explain that these people are all Rebels, they’re responsible for all this destruction and death, and this is how he can restore peace to the Galaxy. Padme screams at him. He can only watch in shock as the ship flies off. He can still hear her screams in his ears as he Force lifts Bail off the ground and begins beating the hell out of him. Ribs cracked, nose broken, blood spilled. Bail is in bad shape. Anakin leaves him there, presuming him dead. 

Obi Wan has regained consciousness, and has caught up to the scene. They share a moment of disbelief, where Anakin says he trusted Kenobi with his life, that he pledged himself to the Order, but not if the Order kept secrets, not if they won’t let themselves have feelings. Kenobi is dumbstruck, saying that emotions are a path to the Dark Side, and that’s when Skywalker attacks. 

“How is love wrong?!” he screams, saber in hand. The fight is on. Anakin is rage against Obi Wan’s best efforts. Throughout this fight, the two talk about peace and the Jedi Code, and each time Anakin punctuates the words with either a sword swing or destroying something. He finally claims himself more powerful because of his feelings. Obi Wan says that feelings cloud his judgment, and the battle begins anew. 

They fight until the edge of a catwalk, and Bail Organa, not dead, returns, blaster in hand. Bail fires, but Anakin is far too quick, and the blaster shot strikes a smelting furnace. Molten melt spills down.

Kenobi tells Organa to get to safety. Organa collapses, and before Anakin can lift the body and presumably drop it into the furnace, Obi Wan Kenobi is back in the fight. The two duel, both oblivious to the fact that a shuttle has landed behind them. It’s Palpatine and his now red-robed private guard. They look to charge into the factory, but Palpatine holds them back. They watch the fight, and you can see Palpatine basking in Anakin’s palpable hatred. 

We cut to Yoda being piloted to Dagobah. He gets dropped off in the middle of nowhere, a backpack over one shoulder. He walks off into the swamp. 

We cut to Padme, sobbing on the ship. A droid asks her where to go, and she says “Anywhere.” She’s numb and sad. 

We cut to Rex and Cody and a few Republic troops, now all disguised, making their way across Tatooine. They stare up at the two suns, which cuts us back to …

The hot smelting furnace, and the two Jedi fighting. Organa is unconscious, and Kenobi keeps him out of the fight. Finally, Anakin grows arrogant, trying to pull the whole furnace down at the exact moment Obi Wan takes a swing. Anakin loses an arm. He staggers, and that breaks the hold he has on the furnace. It showers him with molten metal. 

“I hate you!” Anakin screams before pain and liquid metal swallow him.

“I loved you.” says Obi Wan, carrying Organa out of the factory. He scoops up Anakin’s saber. A weak Bail says, “There’s a private hangar not too far away.”

The clone troopers move in and rescue the destroyed almost-corpse of Anakin Skywalker. Palpatine orders him taken to the Star Destroyer in orbit and the troops comply. 

Kenobi pilots the small shuttle with the wounded Organa off-world. He sets a course for the Outer Rim, when he hears from Rex and Cody. Happy they’re alive, Kenobi breaks down as the ship hits hyperspace.

On the Star Destroyer, medical droids labor over Skywalker’s body. They tend wounds, they sedate him. They numb him. Though barely conscious, his rage is so intense it destroys a few droids in the process. Palpatine watches and orders the droids to suit him up. The droids protest but obey.

We watch Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader. 

Regaining consciousness, breathing through a respirator, Anakin asks, “Where am I?” Palpatine tells him how the Jedi and the Rebellion nearly killed him and Palpatine barely escaped. They’re aboard a Republic ship, and he’ll do everything he can to help Anakin. He’ll leave no stone unturned. He’ll look at Jedi teachings. He’ll consult Sith holocrons. He’ll lay the whole of the galaxy at Anakin’s feet if it will help. All Anakin needs to do is say he’ll help. Help Palpatine extinguish the Rebellion. Help Palpatine restore order.

Skywalker asks about Padme. Palpatine says he’s not sure, but they can look for her, reassure her, and they can be together again. 

The next few shots are montage. Once Anakin Skywalker agrees to help Palpatine, we see planet after planet being stormed by Vader and some troops. Jedi die, people surrender. The Empire marches on. Time marches on. Months fly by.

We end the film with a very pregnant Padme standing at a memorial stone for her sister Leia. Bail is there, crippled now, but alive. He places his hand on her belly.

We see Rex, Cody and Kenobi sitting around a hearth in a small hut. Unpacking boxes.  

The last shot of the film is Anakin’s lightsaber being tossed on some robes in a trunk. 

*

So what did you think?

FiYoShiMo continues tomorrow. See you then.

 

BONUS – How I’d Rewrite The Prequels, Part 2

Onward we march in our virtual movie studio. We already covered Episode 1, so let’s get into Episode 2 without delay.

Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones
(again, keeping the title, you’ll see why)

Our opening title crawl tells us it’s been 3 years of skirmishes between the Separatist Trade Federation and the Galactic Senate peace-keeping forces, each side scratching out victories and upsets where they can. Popular opinion is that this will officially bloom into war soon, and that worry is consuming the Senate in overwhelming debates.

We open on Naboo, Jedi Knight OBI WAN KENOBI, 30 now, bearded, stands on the same balcony we left him on at the end of Episode 1, only now instead of overseeing relief efforts, he’s listening to his two military friends and advisors, CODY and REX, advise him on strategy for the system. Kenobi’s not technically leading this army, but he’s always consulted by civilian and military alike. Time and loss have cooled his youth, and he fidgets with his beard as he listens to varying reports of troopers encountering pockets of resistance, and news that more systems speak of joining the Rebellion thanks to a wealth of propaganda.

Interrupting this meeting is ANAKIN SKYWALKER, now in his middle teens, working as a clerk, although lately the position has been more of batman to Kenobi. He presents Kenobi with news that the Jedi Council wants an update as soon as possible. Kenobi sighs, they always want updates. The bureaucracy grinds everything to a halt. Cody and Rex leave the two Jedi alone.

Anakin, bored, levitates some items on Kenobi’s desk while having a conversation with him about how they both could duck over to Coruscant for a few days. Kenobi notices that as Anakin talks, more things levitate, somewhat absent of his focus. He asks Skywalker how training is going, and all the items drop back to the ground. 

Training, Anakin replies, is difficult, frustrating, boring even. There’s an edge to his voice, and as he whines, some of those previously levitated items rattle, as if they’re afraid of him, or there’s an earthquake going on. Kenobi notices this as well. Kenobi reassures the teenager that there’s good stuff coming, and tells him when he wants a sparring partner, to come find him. This cheers Anakin immensely, who then leaves so Obi Wan can talk to the Council via hologram.

To say the conversation goes poorly is an understatement. Kenobi talks about the loss of life, the intrusion the war has on the population, and how he could use reinforcements, or a break. Yoda and Windu talk about the conflict shouldn’t be sought out, but they’ll think it over. They depart the call, leaving only Alama and Kenobi talking.

Alama has been more conciliatory during these updates. She offers reassurance, encouragement, and patience where Yoda and Windu prevaricate. She comforts Kenobi, telling him that Qui Gon would be proud. They talk about Coruscant, and how if he wants to return, he’d just need to put Cody and Rex in charge. They laugh over what could go wrong. Kenobi agrees, and says he’ll come back to Coruscant. The conversation turns to Skywalker, and Kenobi gives a progress report, we cut to Anakin just on this side of the door, overhearing it. He’s pleased, proud even, to be discussed positively. The call trails off and we follow Skywalker on his duties.

Which includes a walk through the Naboo Palace, where from a upper walkway, he spies the Queen. PADME AMIDALA, 18 now, is, in a word, hot. And the Queen knows it. Like the popular girl everyone loved at school, she’s riding that line between arrogant and independent. That edge of attitude and emotion has kept Anakin coming back to watch her from a distance for a while now. He lingers when he stares, and just before she catches him, he barely gets away. It’s become a bit of a cat and mouse game now: he watches, she nearly catches on, he bolts. Anakin runs into Rex and Cody who do catch him peeping on the Queen, and they rib him for it, saying how now’s a good time to for sight seeing, and how if he likes her, he should act on it. Anakin dutifully recites the Jedi maxims of having no emotions, and Cody points out that from a certain point of view caring enough to not have emotions is an emotion in and of itself. This puzzles Anakin, and the three part ways, concluding their conversation.

We get one last look at Padme, she’s talking to C3-P0 about organizing some meetings. R2-D2 takes notes. Padme talks about how the fighting has long since left Naboo, but the military presence here cuts in on her freedom. She’s a teenager with an unfair curfew. She pouts. The droids try and cheer her up.  

We wipe and head to Coruscant, still busy and cosmopolitan. We track inside CHANCELLOR PALPATINE’s office, who is dictating memos to a droid. A secretary enters and tells him he has a call, but it’s not on the agenda. Palpatine Jedi-Sith mind tricks her, and the secretary is sent away. Once she’s out of the room, he dons his Sith hoodie and opens a channel.

The hologram is DARTH MAUL, standing on a windswept rainy bluff. He speaks deferentially to his Master, and tells him he is “in position.” Palpatine tells him to do what needs to be done, but do not expose himself, not yet. Maul obeys and the communication ends, now we’re over Maul’s shoulder and we see where he is. 

It’s KAMINO, a rainy, mostly oceanic planet, he’s overlooking a large domed structure on pylons. Thin chimneys puff smoke into the air, giving the impression that this domed place is a factory of some kind. We watch him Sith leap down off the bluff, and as he shrinks into the midground, then background, we get a glimpse of him Sith-Force-pushing two guards into the waters below before entering the building. 

We cut back to Naboo, the Throne Room, where Cody, Rex and Anakin listen to Kenobi explain to Padme that he’s heading back to Coruscant. He puts Cody and Rex in charge of the military action, and says he won’t be gone long. Padme says she wants to accompany him, that she wants to get off this rock, and Kenobi protests, saying her people need her. She counters with the fact that her people would understand, that she wouldn’t be gone long. We get many long moments where Padme’s eyes drift to Anakin. She has caught him staring a lot lately, and hasn’t let on. She’s been letting him. Eventually Kenobi relents, and tells Anakin to prep a transport. 

One TROOPER, posted as a door guard, follows Anakin to the hangar. Anakin doesn’t notice, the trooper salutes ANOTHER TROOPER and now two guards are walking behind Anakin. Then a third, and a fourth, just as Anakin boards the ship. Once aboard, the troopers remove their helmets, and all four men have an identical face. These are CLONES, posing as soldiers, we can spot them based on a blue shoulderguard each wears. They continue to prep the ship for departure.

Kenobi gives instructions to Rex and Cody, saying they can expect reinforcements within a few days, and to hold down the fort. The three men converse, and both soldiers salute Kenobi, who replies with “May the Force Be With You”, just as Padme and the two droids board. 

We watch the ship take off. It’s a large ship, maybe a royal yacht or mid-size courier. It’s large enough where no one notices Anakin’s absence right away.

But once in the air, Kenobi finds Anakin, training with remotes. He’s up to ten remotes at once now in order to be challenged. Kenobi watches, even admires this. Anakin, mid-fight, asks about Jedi lore, and Kenobi relays how the Jedi long ago were more familiar with war thousands of years ago, how they were different times. He offers to spar with Anakin, and the two circle each other, lightsabers drawn. Kenobi expects Skywalker to be good, but not *that* good. The two Jedi pick up the pace.  They talk about being a Padawan, about Jedi training, about Qui Gon. A friendship is being forged.

Cut to Padme, the four clones now have taken position in her suite. She’s laying out clothes, and the droids offer levity. She’s excited to be heading to Coruscant and not just for a Senate meeting. She exits the room, and two clones follow her out, as bodyguards. 

In the hallway, she encounters a tired, beat up and sweaty Anakin, the sort of time a teenager with a crush doesn’t want to meet the object of his crush. Skywalker fumbles through a conversation, nearly letting slip that he’s been watching her and/or that he’s got a crush on her. Padme, just like the girl at school, listens and lets him think she hasn’t noticed. She dazzles him with a smile, teasing him about being a Jedi Master already, and departs for the front of the ship. We see that Anakin’s quarters are across the hall from Padme’s. The scene ends with him entering his bunk, presumably to clean himself up. 

The ship hurtles through hyperspace, and we find Kenobi up in the cockpit, talking to the pilot. They’re trying to get landing clearance at Coruscant, when a priority message from the Jedi Council interrupts. 

Kenobi takes the message there in the cockpit. It’s from Yoda, telling him to come to the Temple once they’ve arrived, that it’s urgent. Yoda is concerned, and that’s not typical, or a good sign. Obi Wan says he’ll be there soon, and urges the pilot to get the ship there quickly. 

Once they land, the clone troopers disembark, and stand guard at the ship as our heroes depart. It appears they’re going to go in separate directions, against the advice of Kenobi. Anakin offers to go with her. Kenobi says to take two of the clones as guards. Padme relents, saying she’s dressed down and no one will notice her, that she’ll be with her father and family and all their guards. Anakin agrees. After some arguing, Kenobi says to be careful and to meet back with him at the Jedi Temple later. Padme is pleased. Anakin is excited. Two of the clone troopers break off. As everyone goes their separate ways, we linger on the two remaining clones who re-enter the ship. We hear the pilot say, “What the hell” then a blaster fires. No one notices.

Cut to Kenobi meeting with Yoda. They’re discussing a troubling matter, one of the outlying planets, a very “important strategic planet”, Kamino, hasn’t reported in. Yoda authorizes Kenobi to investigate, and says he’ll send a second Jedi along as well. Kenobi suggests Skywalker, saying that if there’s trouble, Skywalker can handle it. There’s a pride in his voice. Yoda starts to sense it and comment, but that’s when the door opens and Windu arrives saying that Palpatine is waiting in a conference room. Yoda says to take Skywalker, and make a full report later. 

Jump to Padme and Anakin, sitting as two teenagers do: making awkward conversation that verges on flirting. Anakin makes her laugh, telling her a story about Jedi training. He looks around the penthouse owned by BAIL ORGANA  and when no one else can see, he floats her drink a few inches off the table for her. She reaches for it, and he moves it just out of reach. More laughing. She puts her hand on his, and in that moment, the glass drops, spilling liquid on both of them. More laughing, she’s still touching his hand before she breaks the hold to clean up. He seems confident, coming out of his shell. She seems aware of her effect on him. Enter LEIA ORGANA, in her later 20s, Padme’s older sister who flops herself down on a sofa. The two sisters talk, Leia expressing the exhaustion of politics, and Padme talking about homesickness. Anakin joins the conversation when it turns to emotions and the Jedi. They talk, Anakin makes them laugh with a Yoda impression of how love is forbidden. They talk about going home, to Alderaan, and Anakin says that when he’s made a Knight, he’ll return home to Tatooine and it will be good to see his family. The girls tease him about how they thought he was already a Jedi Master, and they fake the Jedi Mind Trick, before all three descend into laughter. The young man takes a step further from his shell as the Organa women encourage him.

Back to Kamino we cut, as Maul is killing the last of the Kamino troopers. For every trooper cut down, a clone comes along to strip the body, and assume the identity. Maul reports in to Palpatine, “Master, it is done.”

Kenobi reaches the Organa penthouse, where he speaks with Bail over reinforcing Naboo. The Senator hands over some documents affirming this, and when Kenobi says he has a mission from the Jedi, Organa asks that he make sure Padme return to Naboo safely first. Obi Wan agrees, and the two men talk war and teenagers, the frustrations of leadership. Organa compliments Kenobi on his wisdom, Kenobi compliments Organa on his courage and strength. Organa says he gets it from his wife, and sees a lot of her in his daughters. They talk Padme, they talk about Anakin. A good conversation. Bail excuses himself and leaves Kenobi watching the Coruscant traffic on the patio. 

Another wipe, it’s night now, and our heroes are boarding the ship. Bail and Leia have come to see them off. We notice more and more clone-troopers assembled around them, and more of them boarding the ship. Leia and Padme hug, and Leia quietly tells Padme to keep an eye on Anakin, he’s a “good guy”. Padme agrees, but shushes her sister when Anakin tells Padme that her quarters are all set, and the droids are on board. The Organa sisters thank their “Jedi Master”, now the three of them sharing that joke, and our heroes board the ship. Kenobi is the last one, he looks out at Coruscant as if he’ll never see it again. We get a sense that might be the case.

We follow him to the cockpit where he remarks on the new pilot. The clone-trooper-posing-as-a-pilot replies, “Shift change”, a bureaucratic answer Obi Wan has heard before. They talk about Naboo and the course they’ll fly. 

Kenobi leaves the cockpit to find Anakin, sitting in his quarters, spinning his lightsaber. The two move to the cargo hold, and commence sparring. They talk as the fight, Obi Wan mentioning how there’s more to being a Jedi than carrying a lightsaber. Anakin laments how he’ll miss this when he’s back on clerical duty, and Obi Wan explains with a smile that he won’t be on clerical duty, because he’ll be riding shotgun on the Kamino mission. Anakin asks if that makes him Obi Wan’s Padawan, and Obi Wan a little too quickly says, “If you want to be.” The two men cease their sparring to shake hands and hug. A friendship cemented.

Anakin leaves to tell Padme the good news, he finds in her in suite, partially hidden, and partially undressed, in silhouette. She tells him to turn around. He uses the Force to angle a mirror so he can see her bare back as she dresses. She hears the mirror move and exaggerates her actions, giving him a tease and a bit of what he wants. The two continue talking as he shares his Padawan-ship, and she offers him a blue milk to celebrate. She asks, over drinks, if Jedi cannot have emotions, how can he be happy? This gives something for Anakin to think about while he drinks. 

The ship reaches Naboo without incident, and as they disembark, Cody and Rex greet Kenobi, pointing to the sky with hundreds of ships landing and disembarking as well. All the ships are packed with troopers and supplies, the troopers marked with blue shoulderguards. All clones, all hidden beneath helmets. Cody and Rex are happy to see the “General” again, and pleased that Organa authorized the reinforcements. But Kenobi wasn’t expecting so many. He’s thankful for them, but still, there’s a lot of troops. He informs his friends that he isn’t staying, and that he’s here to drop off the Queen then head out to Kamino. Rex tells him that no one’s heard from Kamino in weeks, and he’s worried that the Separatists took it over. Cody echoes these sentiments.

Over Kenobi’s shoulder we see Padme share a close moment with Anakin, as this is where they go their separate ways. They’re closer now, not intimate but close friends. They laugh, wish each other well, and she kisses him, “For luck” she says. Anakin blushes, emotions getting the better of him, and the droids interrupt just before he can kiss her. 

Guards and the droids escort Padme away, and she calls back to Anakin to be careful and send word when he can. Anakin runs to join Obi Wan, eager to head off on their mission. The ship is reprovisioned. Cody and Rex pull Anakin aside and rib him about his “girlfriend”. The young Jedi blushes, saying it’s really nice to have someone care about him. Kenobi steps in and says they’re leaving. 

The two Jedi talk about Padme, since Anakin is distracted. Obi Wan talks about his past some, about a girl he knew when he wasn’t yet Qui Gon’s Padawan. About how they were close. Much of what he shares parallel’s Anakin and Padme. This pleases Skywalker greatly, swelling him with pride. They re-board the ship and prepare to leave.

Cut to Palpatine talking to Yoda, Windu and Alama, explaining how he’s worried about Kamino, and how he’s aware that it has strategic value. Windu explains that they assigned Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker to check out. Palpatine digs for more information on both of them, and when the answers are not forthcoming, he makes a motion to indicate he’s using some Sith sorcery to influence the conversation. The Jedi Masters don’t pick up on it, it’s too quick. 

Cut to now hundreds of clone troopers marching all around Naboo’s capital. We see Rex and Cody talking about how so many planets have troopers everywhere, and they can’t account for the quick numbers. Maybe it’s conscription, maybe not. But with a bolstered army, the Separatists won’t stand a chance. As they talk, we montage through other planets: Corellia, Tatooine, Sullust, Kashyyk, all packed with clone-troopers coming off ships. 

Back to Kenobi and Anakin. They’ve reached Kamino, and on first inspection there’s nothing out of place. Except each of them see random blaster fire scorching a few panels on walls and the ground. They intensify their search. One of the Kaminoans, a scientist, greets the two Jedi and offers them a tour, assuring them that’s nothing wrong.

This factory is a cloning facility, and under an executive order from the Senate, it’s been in operation for some time now. We see the creation and maturation of clones. We see them training with blasters. We are seeing the growth of a test tube army. Both Kenobi and Skywalker are surprised. 

The tour continues, and Kenobi stops the scientist, to say he should check in with the Jedi Council. The scientist says he’ll continue the tour with Anakin, and Kenobi can use their communications center. Kenobi and Anakin share a look – be careful – and split.

Kenobi makes his way to the communications center, and when he opens the door, he takes a boot to the face. It’s Maul, waiting for him. Lightsabers out, the two men fight. 

Meanwhile, the scientist has led Anakin down another hallway, and to a dead end. When Anakin realizes this, the scientist drops his disguise. It’s DOOKU, blaster drawn. Anakin wants answers, and Dooku explains that he’s been ordered to kill him. A fight breaks out, and Dooku reveals some Force ability. Many objects are hurled or exploded. Big fight. 

Kenobi and Maul fight just as intensely. We intercut between the two fights. Maul taunts Kenobi over Jinn’s death and Dooku taunts Skywalker over his weaknesses. Back and forth both battles go. Kenobi this time is patient, not falling for it. 

The same cannot be said of Anakin who has taken an aggressive position and looks to be unstoppable. Dooku loses a hand, yet still compliments Anakin on how much like a Sith he could be before making an escape.

Maul and Kenobi stalemate, with Maul Force-kicking Kenobi down a hallway before closing a blast door between them. Kenobi can only watch as Maul and Dooku board a ship and escape. Kenobi yells in frustration before searching out Anakin. Skywalker is back in the room we last saw him in, looking down at his own hand. Dooku’s severed one is just out of focus on the ground below. Anakin is shaken. And the two men talk. It’s Anakin’s first battle, and he was angry. Kenobi says that’s normal, but a Jedi controls his emotions. Anakin says “That’s just it, it felt good.” 

Kenobi consoles him, struck a bit by Anakin’s answer. This is an unexpected part of having a Padawan. He never got a chance to ask Qui Gon about how to handle it. Kenobi says that together they’ll be mindful about it. Each man catches the other up on what happens. They attempt, and fail, to send word to the Jedi Council, but the system has been disabled. Anakin patches it together well enough to get a message to Cody and Rex who report that they’ll pass it along, but everything’s fine on Naboo.

Cut to the ship with Dooku and Maul. Dooku sets the navicomputer and gets up from the cockpit. He finds Maul in communication with a Palpatine hologram, and overhears the status update Maul is giving his Master. Palpatine ends the transmission with, “You’ve done well my Apprentice. Now we move onto the next stage in our plan.” 

Dooku wants to know what the plan is, and Maul explains it has to do with seizing control of many situations at once. Like a fist closing around a victim’s throat. Dooku starts to say something about not having faith in so aggressive a move, but Maul Force chokes him replying, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Dooku is dropped, and just before we wipe, we hear Maul ignite his lightsaber. 

Back to Naboo, a hologram of Palpatine speaks to one of the clone troopers, one by one appearing on their helmet display. The hologram says, “Commence”, and as if by magic, troopers begin drawing weapons. We cut to other planets: Endor, Mustafar, Bespin and see troopers beginning their assaults. 

There on Naboo, a platoon marches on the throne room, taking Padme and the droids by force. Rex and Cody rally their men and begin mounting a counter-offensive. 

On Coruscant, troops flood the Jedi Temple. They overwhelm a majority of the recruits and their families. The more experienced Jedi Council retreat to the Council Chamber, hunkering down. They send out a distress call to Kenobi and Skywalker. 

Word reaches the two Jedi as they’re setting a course off Kamino, and each side relays the relevant information – a clone army looking like their own troopers, Maul, Dooku, Jedi under siege. Once the call ends, Anakin worries over Padme saying they should check on her. Kenobi says their priority is the rest of the Jedi. The two friends disagree, Anakin’s emotions getting the better of him as pieces of the ship fly off shelves. Kenobi calms him down saying they will get to Naboo, get Padme and some troops then head to Coruscant. 

Naboo is in full-on battle. Troopers are only distinguishable by blue on their armor, or they’re unmasked. It’s pitched warfare everywhere. Skywalker puts the craft down on the Palace roof, and meet Cody and Rex, who are shooting their way through clones. The foursome rescue Padme and the droids and make it back to the ship. 

As they break atmosphere, they can only watch as the giant Separatist ships come out of hyperspace and begin to bombard Naboo’s surface. 

We go to credits as we watch Padme cry against Anakin. Rex and Cody each put a hand on Kenobi’s shoulder. The war has certainly escalated.

*

So that’s part 2. Part 3 will be up soon.

FiYoShiMo – Day 14 – Plot Negligence

Let’s go FiYoShiMo Day 14, there’s a good topic on our plate today. Onto more plot goodness!

We’ve all been there – we left a light on in the kitchen, we forget to replace the toilet paper, we skip items on the grocery list. It’s easy to overlook and forget things, especially when we’re stressed (it is the holiday season after all), or when we’re already so busy worrying about whether or not some fascist with a combover might be a legitimate political presence sans a Hugo Boss leather trenchcoat.

Today we’re going to talk “plot negligence”, which is the collective term for all those plot elements that get introduced but don’t get resolved.

It’s so easy to write a thing and forget about it, when page counts climb and larger plot things kick off. “Oh I’ll get back to it,” you say, but then the minor point falls to the wayside. Or maybe it’s not a minor point. Maybe it’s a big deal, but due to time or space or energy, you don’t address it when it needs addressing.

The good news is that you can learn to curb the habit. I can’t promise you’ll never do this again, not without miniaturizing myself and navigating your mind. And I’m not sure you want that, especially if I find out where you store your weird freaky thoughts about that one teacher you had, or the people you work with. Yeah, you should totally give that person your number. And give them my number. Hell, give them all the numbers hashtag ifyouknowwhatiamsaying.

So we begin by figuring out what you’re leaving unresolved. We have to talk about that, we can’t talk plot and not talk about plot construction. A plot is built out of a scenes, like we talked about yesterday, and these scenes are scalar, to some degree.

In shortest, simplest terms, plot is a set of scenes strung together because they represent an arc, or a progression of ideas that show some kind of change from beginning to end. The change doesn’t have to be all positive – you can show someone diving face-first into a habit or addiction, you can show someone on the decline – but there does have to be change and it has to be “visible”, meaning the reader can pick up on it. To be visible, you have to put it into words, because readers read text not minds, so if you don’t say anything about a thing, who’s going to know about it?

An arc has parts we all recognize to some degree: a beginning (inciting action), a middle (rising action), and an end (climax and conclusion). It has to start somewhere, it has to travel to some other point, it has to end at that other point.

Usually the negligence happens during the middle. It’s easy and even exciting to start stuff, but when it’s revealed there has to be a middle, screw that, let’s do something else exciting (you may have heard this same idea expressed around diet, exercise, doing your job, or cleaning). So what is it about arc-middles that makes us not followthrough?

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These guys know all about followthrough.

Maybe we can come at this from the ends. What makes plot-start exciting?

New is always exciting. New toys, news people, new experiences. Since we’re early in our exposure to a thing, we’re not sick of it yet. There are things left to discover, and often a lot of unknowns to make known. Plot-starts, also called inciting actions, are interesting to write, because we’re usually writing them as an alternative to what we’ve been writing already. We take a break from the middle of something to introduce something else.

These introductions can happen any time, though they’re best when started in the first act of whatever you’re making, because the later an element is introduced, the less time you have for a payoff and the less native it will feel to the story. Imagine reading hundreds of pages about a questing knight, and only in the last fifty does the knight get a sword, but not the sword he’s been hearing about all book, just a plain old magical sword. If that sword suddenly becomes the go-to weapon that kills the dragon he’s been battling all book, whatever weapons he’s had pre-sword get cheapened.

An inciting action (or incident) has two pieces: a tension, and a release.

The tension is the moment or event the character sees happening that prompts action or intervention. It isn’t the moment where they act (that comes next), this is the moment that leads to them doing something. For a budding superhero, this is the mugging they see and think they can stop.

Tension prompts action. They see the mugging, so they go do something about it. Whatever they do (and if you’re showing a character’s first attempts at something, barring superpowers, that first attempt is often played for comedy. With superpowers it’s played for amusement or excitement), they do something, and that leads to the release of the inciting action (beat). Yes, it’s our old friend, the action beat, making an appearance.

The release is the character doing something about it. They see the mugging, they intervene. The payoff, the reward for seeing action is taking action to do something about it. It’s a cycle of beats. It doesn’t have to get more complicated than “see a thing, react”.

An inciting action (beat) to your character is some other character’s climax, or their conclusion, or whatever, it falls somewhere on their arc already in progress. The mugging our proto-hero stops, if we look at the mugger’s arc, maybe that’s the height of their (the mugger’s) story.

These inciting actions are exciting to write, because they’re new, because they’ve got stuff going on, because it’s a chance to show the character doing something. Doing stuff is a chance to show off your writing skills. It’s also a chance to show off the ideas you have for the character, at least in part.

Once things are started though, they do have to be sustained, and that’s where we start to lose interest. Because it’s work. Because the newness has worn off. Because once you rescue one cat out of a tree, the idea that you have to rinse-and-repeat for all the cats in the forest is tiring, and you haven’t even started yet.

We’re going to talk about plot sustenance tomorrow in more detail, but let me lay out some foundations here – nothing has changed so drastically since the inciting action, just your view and expectation of the idea.

Sustaining an arc is not the same as furthering it or developing it. Sustaining the arc means it doesn’t do anything other than progress at its current pace in its current direction. It doesn’t speed up, it doesn’t slow down, it doesn’t rise or climb, it flattens out and stays in that direction. How could that not be duller than watching hair move?

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Topical.

Yes, I hear you, doing things the same way over and over is how we build a habit. But we’re not talking about writing everyday or not eating that candy bar, we’re talking about showing your character do stuff in your story. The specifics of what your character does are immaterial at this point, so long as the character is doing something.

It’s still work, I know. It takes up space and words, and you have way more exciting things to talk about. It’s way cooler to use the computer than to build it, I get it. But you have to get through this stuff to get to whatever you think is the more exciting part.

Here too, I question you, why isn’t talking about a character’s arc exciting you? Why is the arc here? Yes, you need one, but if it’s not interesting, compelling, or exciting to you, why are you writing it, and do you think it will excite the reader if you’re not jazzed by it either?

When I look at discarded arcs, I see either a deficit of excitement, or over complication.

The second part of an arc, the rising action, is a build-up to a climax. This consumes the second act of the arc. It’s what happens after the hero discovers powers, before they go confront the big bad. This is often a montage, but since we’re writing, we get to detail the montage.

Look, complicating a thing doesn’t necessarily make it better. Think about cell phones and your parents. You know they’re just going to use it to make calls and barely listen to voicemails, so why bother explaining to them that they can make a WiFi hotspot or that it can listen to all the music ever?

The climax needs to be reached no matter what, so why clutter up the route to it? I don’t mean get to it quickly (not A-B-done), I mean why make so many digressions? Why dilute the progress with detours? Are you just showing off that you can write? Are you hunting for someone to say “Good job <YOUR NAME HERE>, you’re officially a writer now. Take off your pants and relax” ??

You have the whole second act, so use it. Keep each action beat functioning as the cog in the machine it is. You don’t have to escalate the power level so drastically every step of the way, the increase comes in the potential for success. Just like the montage, the outcome is mastery and confidence, progress from unknown to known.

The last part of an arc is the climax and resolution. In larger terms, if we zoom out, this is just a release for the tension of the first two acts.

A climax is the height of story experience. It’s where all the groundwork of the previous parts gets acted upon, which is why a climax often lives in the back of act 2 or start of act 3. It needs that much time to germinate, it needs that much prep in order to get a proper delivery. Rush your climax, and no one is satisfied.

unsatisfied

You get what I’m saying?

But your climax is built on your prep work. Skimp on the development, and it will read and feel like things are missing (because they are). Diligence, here, dear writer. Keep your focus small and keep going, a beat at a time.

That’s all you’re doing. Yes, you’ve got your outline, your character study, your developmental notes. You’ve got a queue of beta readers, you’ve got all these things in a row like little ducks … but they all come AFTER the part where you tell the story a beat at a time.

Post-climax, there must be resolution. Resolutions are the other part people skip, and I think it’s because it’s either perceived as boring to wrap things up (remember how weird it was that so many 80s cartoons ended with characters in a group all laughing?) or there’s some fear that if this thing ends, you won’t be able to generate a next exciting idea? I know that fear really well, it has kept me from finishing a lot of things in my life.

Ideas are always there, as is your ability to craft and shape them into story. We all got this. We can all do it. We just have to keep at it.

Tomorrow, we’re talking plot sustenance, see you then.

 

 

 

 

FiYoShiMo Day 10 – Character Goals

Hello! Welcome back to FiYoShiMo. Today’s Day 10, and it’s the last day we spend on character development. The next two days of character stuff we’ll focus on types of characters based on the information of the last four days.

Having covered all the whats and hows so far, we can look at the whys of a character. The tricky part here is that the character’s goal overlaps too closely with their motivations.

A goal is what the character wants to specifically accomplish, earn, receive or have at the end of the scene, story, arc, or series. A motivation is a driving force that puts momentum and a vector under their efforts.

There are goals to every unit of storytelling. In a beat, scene, or chapter, every involved character has a goal. In a book, every character has a goal. In a series, every character has a goal. And sometimes those goals are shared by other characters, and sometimes the goals parallel other elements of storytelling (a goal within a series may mirror the goal within a beat, but on a larger scale, for instance)

If you’ve got unclear goals, then the moment in the story isn’t going to fit in with the other moments around it. Two people have been arguing all day in other scenes, so it makes sense for them to continue arguing if they’re not near resolving anything. It would not make sense for them to suddenly be all chummy when they get to the frozen food aisle of the grocery store.

To help distinguish the goal from the motivation, you need to look at where the element of storytelling is taking you next. So we have these two arguing characters, they argue when they wake up, they argue over breakfast, they argue after breakfast, they argue in the grocery store. Looking at their activities, we’ve got them starting their day together and needing to go shopping.

Each character’s motivation doesn’t determine whether or not they go to the store, it determines the reasons for the arguing. They’re going to the store because the plot needs them to be shopping. It’s the arguing that’s the variable here, so here we have motivations informing their actions so they can get their goal – each character wants to be right, each character wants to be heard, each character wants to “win” this argument.

Where this gets tricky is when we start to see the plot tree branch away from the main storyline (the villain is going to strike again!) and give us subplots and character arcs (the villain is going to strike again, but we’re over here bitching about cauliflower). When we write, we are aware that we can get off track. We can get distracted while we’re putting the words on the page, as well as within the story as we’re building our worlds and telling our stories. Those deviations from plan affect us in many ways. We start to feel like we’re bad writers, we start to lose readers when story meanders. So we buckle down and we overcompensate. The story gets streamlined and we lose some of the secondary stuff because we didn’t want to risk losing anything.

This gets done a lot. Like your friend’s mom. And like your friend’s mom, it’s not always a good time.

What’s the fix? Clarity.

Yes, the writer has a goal of finishing the story and getting it published or read. Or to make a living as a writer. Those larger goals are important, for sure, but they’re not what we’re talking about here. We’re just cover to cover here, so we have agree that we as humans have that bigger goal, and it’ll get talked about later.

Inside the story, everything has two goals – to keep the reader engaged and to do whatever storycentric thing it has to. Here the tricky part is not inducing panic that any misstep will immediately send the reader running away, because they won’t. Yes, too many mistakes will send them away, but your reader would have to be a complete ((word deleted because while it is one of my favorite words to use, it makes people upset, and probably not because it rhymes with “stunt”)) in order to look at an unclear sentence and declare your work awful.

And frankly, if your reader is that difficult, I don’t think you’d mind seeing them next Tuesday.

Every sentence is a brushstroke in the painting of the mural of your story in the mind of your reader. Whether that sentence is part of a beat, or the closing of a chapter, or a piece of dialogue, or whatever it is, the sentence has to deliver the reader some information. It has to connect the previous one to the one that comes after it. It has to all cohere in a way that makes sense when expressed both individually as as the greater whole.

That’s why we place a premium on structure. That’s why you label your beats, why you map so many facets to your characters, that’s why your characters have something to do. The goal of a character is as big or as small as it needs to be within the confines of the pages, but to that character, it’s a big deal. If it’s not a big deal, why hasn’t it been accomplished yet?

For instance, it’s really important to me that I communicate clearly. It makes my job easier, it makes my relationships with the world easier, it makes good things possible for me. It’s how I get nachos, cocoa, time to play video games, clients, whatever. Wherever you live, my communicative skills aren’t as big a deal to you. You have whatever you have in life. My ability to describe my headspace isn’t going to pay your mortgage or keep your kids from complaining about how grandma smells, or get your boss off your back after you said that you’d handle the Johnson account last week. But if we’re looking at my story, then communication becomes a big deal. If we’re looking at your story, my goal is minor, if not negligible. If we’re looking at our story, my goal has to split time with yours, assuming we’re both protagonists. Seriously though, you said you’d handle the Johnson account. Go do that.

Here comes push-pull again as we move the characters nearer to and then away from their goal. That dynamism is what keeps the reader engaged. Will they accomplish their goal? How hard will it be? What will happen next?

You have to adjust the path of the character to their goal. Keep it too easy, too linear, you’re removing the doubt they could accomplish it, even if you challenge all their weaknesses. Even with objects of weakness, you’d still have to find a way to shoehorn it into the story (how many times does kryptonite just show up because Superman has to have a page of difficulty in a comic?), and that still doesn’t mean the character won’t come out ahead.

Make it too hard, or slow the character’s progress towards the goal, and you’re not making the accomplishment “more worth it”, you’re actually devaluing it. We have a fundamental understanding that the amount of hard work is proportionate to the accomplishment. A doctor performs a difficult surgery to save a life. A cop goes all over the city to catch the criminal. The harder something is, the more satisfying the payoff is.

When we build up a goal and then too quickly pay it off (like in those moments where we realize we’ve written 20K and just now get around to putting in an action scene), that payoff feels out of place, unless you’re going for comedy – all this guy’s hard work, and he just wants a Coke.

In role-playing games, there’s often a difficulty assigned to a goal. Want to get that treasure chest? You need to roll a die and get a certain value or higher. This is a really elementary solution to the problem, but it requires there be a scale for any difficulty a character encounters. How would you compare picking that chest’s lock to finally working out their relationship to their dying parent? Not everything can be made mechanically comparable and still hold impact.

A goal should not only have a reward, but it should carry some element of necessary change to it. Sure, the cop can catch the killer, but along the way they’re going to learn to be okay with their new partner. Yes, the defense attorney can finally find time for love, but she’ll learn this moment while in court, right at the peak of her toughest case. A goal that doesn’t require effort and change to accomplish is not a goal that tests a character.

I have a weak heart, and it’s tough for me to be as active as other people. (Forget for a minute that I’m not supposed to be that active in the first place) I have to do a lot of sitting and breath-catching in the course of anything that isn’t sitting and typing (although lengthy bouts of typing do exhaust me). This stress makes what I say and how I blog it important, a premium over the simple text messages that I send or notes to myself about needing bread on the grocery list. So when I go write 1565-ish words, that’s a big deal to me. The amount of satisfaction I feel is relative to the hard work I had to do. It’s important to see though that the character is the arbiter of the work-satisfaction relationship, not the reader. Too many books make the reader handle the judgment about what is and isn’t good enough, and that leads to softer weak characters and weak actions.

Take the reader along for the ride by demonstrating over the course of the story what the character wants and what they’re doing about it. Be clear and expressive about it. Use the best sentences you can muster. The reader will buy in, and doesn’t need to (or want to) be the boss of your story’s decisions.

What are your character’s goals? How do their motivations and philosophies influence their approach? How do their skills and weaknesses make that goal easier or harder to accomplish?

Tomorrow on Day 11, we’re going to look at what it means to be a Protagonist and an Antagonist. See you then.

FiYoShiMo Day 9 – Character Weaknesses

Welcome to FiYoShiMo Day 9. We’re still working with characters, and whereas yesterday we talked about their skills, today we’re looking at their weaknesses.

Not every character is supposed to be, or even can be, good at everything. Are you good at everything? I’m not either.

When we talk about weaknesses in people, it’s easy to become judgmental or critical, assigning some power dynamic or superiority to one person or the other, so that the weakness is some shackle or proof of the not-fun-kind of bondage.

As my many therapists and caregivers point out to me on the regular, weaknesses are only limitations if you let them be so. They are not the bars on your prison cell, they are just activities you do where you don’t do them as well as other things you do. I like that definition, even when I struggle with any associated inadequacy.

So let’s be objective about weaknesses. Let’s not fall into the spiral of whose weaknesses are worse or which weaknesses aren’t really weak, and let’s break down the types of weaknesses characters have.

Yes, there are types of weaknesses. When I first heard about it, I never really thought about it, I thought weaknesses were just one group of sucky things. But in finding out there are classifications, I also found that weaknesses in fiction characters need to be there, so that the good parts of characters can stand out in contrast. Contrast is critical in building relatable characters.

Should we define what a weakness is? A character weakness is a reduced capacity or inability to perform or function due to belief, skill, existence, or environment. This definition is clinical, but it also sets up the classifications for weaknesses.

Wait, let’s pause here to talk about why flaws aren’t weaknesses. A character flaw is a defect of some size that may or may not impact the rest of the character. A character might be blind, but they can still be a spouse. A character might fear aging, but they can still be a bus driver. Flaws are not weaknesses because flaws don’t stop a character from taking action. Weaknesses are where there’s a reason a character can’t do something. Flaws are the things that keep a character from doing something perfectly.

A weakness of belief is where a character thinks they can’t do a thing, so they can’t do it. It’s Neo unable to jump across the rooftop. These weaknesses are all about perceptions, how the character views the moment and views themselves in that moment. These are often the most emotional of weaknesses, and they’re great fodder for emotional beats.

A weakness of skill is where a character can’t do a thing because they don’t know how. It’s the character on the first day of a new job, it’s Crocodile Dundee not understanding bidets. When you use this for comedy, this is where we get fish out of water situations. When you use this for drama, you’re often highlighting how serious the action needs to be, and you’re showing the character as brave or gritty or strong for trying to do it.

A weakness of existence is where a character can’t do a thing because they’re physically unable. Like a toddler can’t slam dunk or reach the gas pedal in the car while sitting behind the wheel. Sure, some people are going to get all screamy about privilege here, or that any character should be able to do whatever they want, because they’re not defined by what they can’t do … and yes, that’s true, but we need the character to not do these things, so that when they try and succeed, we celebrate. Their inability (not their disability) is why we invest in their story.

A weakness of environment is where a character can’t do a thing because of something external. This is Superman and Kryptonite, or Indiana Jones and snakes. Some element of the story, often an object, is inhibiting the character’s success. When the element is a thing, it’s an “object of weakness”, when the element is a circumstance (like the guy who books two dates at the same restaurant at the same time, and tries to keep the two people from catching on), it’s a “situation of weakness”, because it affects the power dynamic and control of a scene (we’re going to talk more about that starting on Day 13, when we talk plots).

The above list isn’t comprehensive, there are other classifications for weaknesses or other names for the classifications, but there’s enough here to get you started.

Write out your character’s weaknesses. Then see if you can apply these types to them. No, a character doesn’t need one from each type, and chances are your character is only going to have one or two of these weaknesses at best, when we talk about their best skills or strongest personality traits.

So far, we’ve mapped out a character’s motivations, philosophies, skills, and now their weaknesses. We’ve looked at what they do, how they do it, how well they do it, and how they don’t do it. So what’s next?

Tomorrow, we talk about why they do it, when we talk about character goals. See you then.

FiYoShiMo Day 7: Character Philosophies

Welcome to Day 7 of FiYoShiMo, and welcome to the end of the first week! How’s it going for you? Ready for this?

Today you’ll need your protagonist and antagonist in mind, although later you’re going to apply this to all the major characters, we’re just starting with the primaries. If you don’t know, a major character is a character that interacts with other characters AND the plot through both dialogue and action. So this isn’t the story of guy filling the gas tank on the police chief’s cruiser, just because he has a name and he pumps gas in chapter two. We’re looking at bigger characters than that. People who matter to the story. Sorry gas station guy, you don’t really cut it (but we’ll see you again on Day 12, I promise).

We can sum up today’s lesson with this image:

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and I could just stop there, but you know I won’t.

I want you to stop thinking about your characters based on their labels. Forget protagonist and antagonist for a second, consider them as characters in your story. They’ve got plans, based on their goals (we talked about that yesterday with motivations), and now we’re going to marry those plans, motivations and their personal philosophy together.

If their plan is what they’re going to do, their motivation is why they’re going to do it, and the philosophy informs how they’re going to do it.

A person’s code is developed based on both their experiences as well as their ambitions and interests. I have a distrust of lawyers, stemming from a number of bad relationships and experiences, so I believe that the law, on the whole, does more to pervert honesty than preserve it. You may believe that everyone should own six attack dogs and have a room full of munitions, based on whatever your experience and beliefs are. These ideas form the core of who we are, and they help determine what we’re going to do or not do, or how we react to events and other people.

It’s no different for characters. Just because you label a character as an antagonist doesn’t mean they have to go be the most evil of evil characters doing only evil things to earn evil points they can trade in at the evil prize booth. A label on a character only exists so that characters can be compared to other characters. Over time we’ve let that label stretch out so we have a set of expectations to go along with it, but there’s no reason you can’t muddy the waters and subvert expectations.

I don’t always think there should be a clear line between protagonist and antagonist. Yes, I admit to having a deep love for the “we’re not so different you and I” moment in stories, but as I’ve gotten older and been working with more writers, the stories with really clear white-hat/black-hat distinctions are boring. We live in a world with a whole lot of grays. (If you ever want examples, listen to a conversation between family members about hot-button issues. Once you get past the intensity of belief, there’s tons of nuance there)

To blur those lines for the reader, you as a writer need to have crystal clear blueprints. The reader will never see them, but the sharper your image of the character, the easier it will be to present a smudged projection of the character. So let’s build a blueprint.

I’m going to assume we’ve already got the character physically described. Height, weight, race, sex, all the visual elements. That’s the easy stuff. Now we’re going to look at the interior elements, the stuff not seen directly, but the stuff that’s expressed directly … sometimes.

See, a character can express their philosophy directly, like this:
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That’s actually a line in the comics, and I think in the first movie. (The one where Superman doesn’t snap a dude’s neck). That line gives the reader/audience TONS of information about what the character believes in and sets up the expectation for how they’re going to act (or not act). The visuals (or in text, the description) help sell that idea. He appears strong, credible and honest. Wholesome.

There’s a fine line between clearly stating the philosophy and jumping all over the place with it. Here’s another example:
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I’ll wait here, you go tell me the character’s belief system. See, if you say “anarchy”, or “he doesn’t have one” I’m going to tell you to look again. Every iteration of the Joker has some kind of philosophy. You can’t have a not-flat character and not have a philosophy. And no, psychopathy is not a philosophy, it’s an influencer on philosophy. Everyone believes in something, even the nihilists and solipsists.

This comes down to making decisions. You’re going to build a box and put the character in it. The four walls of this box reflect the character’s limitations, regardless of whether they’re self-imposed or not.

Here’s today’s project:

1. For every major character you have, draw a box. Put the character’s name in the box. (This box is gonna be big, so plan accordingly)

2. On the left side of the box, that’s the hopeless boundary. That’s what it would take for a character to lose all hope regardless of opportunity. Would they have to be rejected romantically? Would they have to lose their family and income? Would they need to be accused of a crime? What makes the character lose hope?

3. On the right side of the box, that’s the hostile boundary. How far is “too far” for this character? Will they kill? Will they kill a child to prove a point? Will they blow up a city to get one person? Will they torture? They might be comfortable going pretty far, but even the most ardent killer has a limitation in terms of environment, interest or external factor (time, attention, that it might slow her from her agenda, etc)

4. The top side of the box, that’s the success boundary. What does success look like for this character? No, not just in terms of this plot, but what’s their relationship to success? Do they say they want to succeed, but if they ever did, they wouldn’t know how to handle it? Do they know they’re capable of getting an A, but the pressure scares them so they manage to do straight B+ work? Do they think they will always succeed? Do they reject all notions of success?

5. The bottom side of the box, that’s the failure boundary. What does failure look like for this character? How do they handle it? Sulking? Do they go have a burrito, watch a lot of porn and then cry while playing video games? Do they swear vengeance and then go push old ladies down stairs? Do they expect failure no matter what?

A character and their philosophy exists larger than the plot. The plot is just the snapshot during which we encounter them.

Box out your characters. When they’re all done, see if you have characters whose boxes share a boundary (if they share more than one, I challenge you as to whether or not you can’t collapse the characters down, so pick one), and then put their boxes next to each other, redrawing them if you need to.

When I say “Share a boundary” I mean where one person has a hopeless boundary, that’s practically another character’s hostility boundary. Or someone’s success boundary is someone else’s failure boundary.  There’s no rule that says you can’t rotate these boxes to see how character philosophies conflict or connect.

And it’s through those conflicts and connections that you have reasons for tension in your story. Two cops, one who follows the rules while the other hates Jews:

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Nailed it

brings inherent tension that can extrapolated across the story as an arc unto itself. We’ll talk arcs on Day 13.

Tomorrow, we’re going to look at character skills. Go draw some boxes.

FiYoShiMo: Day 6: Character Motivations

Welcome to Day 6 of FiYoShiMo, and today we start looking at your characters. Before we go anywhere, go get a piece of paper and a pen. You’ve got some work to do as we talk character motivations.

I always start character building with their motivations, because they’re going to be one of the strongest parts of who or what the character is.

To figure out motivations, ask the following questions:

1. What drives this character to take risks?
2. What drives this character to take action?
3. What drives this character away from taking action?
4. What inspires or motivates or haunts this character?
5. How does the character feel about themselves, and do they want to change that?
6. Is there anything this character is putting off doing? Why?
7. Has the character lost anyone or anything significant? Do they want to change that?
8. What’s your character’s relationship to money, fame, power, or authority?
9. How trusting is your character?
10. What’s your character’s nightmare scenario? If they were in their worst situation possible, surrounded by the worst people, facing the worst outcomes, what does that look like? How do they react? How urgently? How aggressively (Yeah I know, that’s a whole bunch of questions all by itself, sorry)
11. What can’t this character stand or tolerate?
12. What traits in other people does this character despise?
13. What traits in other people does this character feel threatened or made inadequate by?
14. Is your character a planner?
15. How patient is your character?
16. How does your character handle pressure?
17. How does this character respond to threats?
18. What does a situation have to have in order for the character to see it as a threat?
19. Does your character ever give up?
20. Does your character think of themselves as a failure?

Got that piece of paper? Answer those questions about your protagonist. And no, you don’t get to skip any. And if you can’t think of any answer because it’s not in your story, write the answer, put a star by it, and then really REALLY think about putting it in your story (which is code for “it’s very likely in your best interest to have this stuff in there”).

I’ll wait right here.

Good to go? Alright then, onward.

A character without clear motivations is a character that a reader cannot relate to. And in the absence of clear motivation, characters often default to what’s called a “role completer” which is someone who just does a task. Like the barista who pours coffee but isn’t involved in the story beyond that. Or the landscaper you vaguely reference because your protag hears a lawn mower one morning.

A “character of substance” is a character with motivations that converge and diverge with the plot. Meaning they aren’t just there to info-dump knowledge like some sage you’re consulting about three hours into a quest, or they’re not Google. Characters exist larger than the plot in the story you’re telling, and it’s essential that the plot be something they do, not the only thing they do.

More work for you now: Ask your antagonist the same questions. Then pick any other character in your MS and answer the questions a third time.

Let me stress again that skipping a question because it’s not relevant is a great way to get me to saying something you’re not going to like hearing – like you’re afraid to write a deep character, your storycraft needs some big time development. Or maybe I’ll just get extra grumpy and tell you that your story won’t engage past the first beat if your characters have less crunch than the Cheerios you left sitting in the milk for the last six minutes. Don’t skip questions, and don’t settle for brush-off answers.

Tomorrow, we’re going to look at how today’s work feeds into character philosophies. See you then.

FiYoShiMo Day 5: Theme

Theme gets a bad wrap in school. Sometimes a theme is what you have to write, though at some point we stopped calling them themes and started calling them essays.

Theme gets extra attention musically, as motifs make appearances throughout scores to cue our attention. Personal note: I’m a sucker for a good movie score or soundtrack.

Theme gets a little muddy when we talk writing. It gets confused for subtext. It gets mistaken for summary. It might even be absent.

Theme is important. But what is it?

Theme is what your MS is about. It’s got two parts. Two parts and a lot of facets. The concept (thematic concept if you’re wanting the full name) is what the reader thinks the MS is about. The statement (you guessed it, thematic statement) is what the text says about the subject.

What the hell does that mean?

You can summarize most themes down to a single word or a phrase, to give the reader an idea of the subcutaneous message of your MS. And chances are you do this without realizing that somebody made a whole ton of jargon about it.

Is your story a tale of loneliness? Is it one woman’s quest for justice in the face of a system far too corrupt? Did you just write tens of thousands of words about redemption?

No, I don’t mean “This is the story of Sarah as she tries to get custody of her daughter back.” That’s factual, and that’s not thematic. Find the emotion and ideas behind your story, and express them in somewhat bigger and broader terms.

You need a theme. A story without theme is a disconnected series of themes, and that’s not going to work as a story.

Want to find your theme? Check out this blogpost from my archive. Tomorrow we start talking characters.

FiYoShiMo Day 4: Genre

Welcome back! How’s your FiYoShiMo going?

Wow, that good/bad, huh?

Ready for today?

Today’s topic is Genre, and for something we talk about a lot, you’d be surprised how few people actually know what it is. So let’s start with a definition.

Genre is a category of media based on stylistic criteria. In simpler language, a genre is a group stuff that share common elements.

Have you ever seen the list of genres? No? Here you go then, straight from my 1990s notebook:

Drama – stories where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action

Classic – fiction that has become part of an accepted literary canon, big deal in schools

Comic/Graphic Novel – scripted fiction told visually in artist drawn pictures, usually in panels and featuring speech bubbles

Crime/Detective – fiction about a committed crime or a crime to be committed, how the criminal gets hunted or caught, and the repercussions of the crime

Fable – narration demonstrating a useful truth, especially in which animals speak as humans; often a legendary or supernatural tale

Fairy tale – story about fairies or other magical creatures, usually aimed at children

Fanfiction – fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, etc.

Fantasy – fiction with otherworldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality

Fiction narrative – literary works whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact (real life with a twist)

Fiction in verse – full-length novels with plot, subplot(s), theme(s), major and minor characters, in which the narrative is presented in verse form (usually free verse) (note: can be whiny and angsty)

Folklore – the songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a people or “folk” as handed down by word of mouth; supports an oral tradition

Historical fiction – story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting, or an element out-of-time (Uzis in Rome)

Horror – fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread and sometimes fear in both the characters and the reader (Gothic variant: More focus on atmosphere than direct action)

 Humor – fun fiction meant to entertain and sometimes cause laughter; elements found in any genres, skewed through wordplay or perspective

Legend – story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, that has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material; amplified reality for sake of hyperbole or attention

Magical Realism  – story where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic environment

Metafiction – also known as romantic irony in Romantic literature, uses self-reference to draw attention to itself as a work of art, while exposing the “truth” of a story; can verge on satire

Mystery – this is fiction dealing with the solution of a crime or the unraveling of secrets/conspiracy

Mythology – traditional narrative, often based on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena via symbolism; involves pantheon/deity as social reinforcement for behavior (intense version of Fable)

Mythopoeia – this is fiction where characters from religious mythology, traditional myths, folklores and history are recast into a re-imagined realm created by the author. (Let’s pretend Zeus gets his oil changed…)

Realistic fiction – story that is true to life (but it’s still fiction)

Romance – story centering on the emotional relationship(s) between characters, regardless of exterior dressing (setting, other genres)

Science fiction – story based on impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, usually set in the future or on other planets

Short story – brief fiction that supports no subplots

Suspense/Thriller – fiction about harm about to befall a person or group and the attempts made to evade the harm

Tall tale – humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering heroes do the impossible with ease/nonchalance

Western – set in the American Old West frontier and typically set in the late eighteenth to late nineteenth century

Is that the be-all, end-all list? No, I’m sure there’s one or two not accounted for, but I’m satisfied with that list about two dozen years later.

Today’s question for you is this –> Look at your MS. What genre is it? Use these definitions and figure it out. Sure, you’re maybe straddling some fences because you’ve got a little of this and some of that genre melding together (mysteries often blend with crime/detective, nearly anything can be a short story)

If you need some structure, have this:

1. It’s ideal if you can get your MS identified by 1 genre, maybe 2, but try to figure out what genre covers the majority of it.
2. Write the genre down somewhere, it’ll come back throughout this month.

Short and simple today. Tomorrow we look at Theme. See you then.