February 12th, 2007

brick puzzling rubix

Plotting a mystery

As I was sitting down to start revising that outline last night, I commented to Chris about the 'making everything fit better' change the group had helped me come up with, and we ended up having a two-hour conversation which was mostly me explaining to him how the plot was going to work (he'd only known the bare basics before), and him questioning anything that he didn't quite understand. He got me to think about it from the point of view of every player in the "mystery", and to go back right to the beginning (not of the story, but of when the events in the story got started behind the scenes), until it all made sense for everyone. And I ended up with a backstory and through-story that completely makes sense for all the characters involved. Woot! (Naturally I typed this all up immediately for fear I might forget some crucial detail.)

I've never gone over a plot quite that thoroughly before, but I think it's necessary for something like a mystery. I was dealing with four major players/sets of players who each were looking to achieve different things, and who were often deceiving each other on top of that. So to look at it first from the perspective of group A--what do they want to accomplish? How would they have decided what to do? Therefore why would they have decided this? How then would they put that into action? How is this decision going to come across in their interactions with group B and person C and D? Now let's go back to group B. What does group B want? When group A interacts with them, how do they respond, and why? Back to group A--how do they respond to group B's response? And so on. And every time I realized, oh wait, it wouldn't make sense for group A to want this and get B to do that, I had to rethink what A was going to do, which then meant rethinking how B would respond...

It sounds like a headache, and it certainly made my head work, but the way I was doing it before (knowing a couple of character's motivations, and making up sketchy motives for the other players) I was running into a lot of things that ultimately didn't make sense if anyone stopped to ask themselves "but then why wouldn't they have done it this other way?" or "and this really just ended up happening by coincidence?" The new plotline has no coincidences. Everyone's actions in the new plotline (I think) make sense. There's going to be a trick in getting those motivations across, considering that a couple of the big-big players are mostly behind the scenes through the whole novel, but better I know what I'm trying to get across in the first place.

So, if you're plotting a fairly complicated story, with several diverging interests, I highly recommend breaking it down like that. (Heck, it'd probably be useful for a less complicated story, too, it'd just take a lot less time.)