Story forming

In my last blog , I mentioned I had eight ideas to develop a new storyline for my second novel, but didn’t know which one to choose. After teasing out these ideas further into rough outlines of about three-quarters of a page each, I narrowed the story choice down to three.  Then using some mind mapping software to flush out my ideas further (I tend to think visually), I made my choice.

At that point, it was difficult to resist the urge to fire up my computer and start writing my second novel.  But I didn’t want to repeat the large number of re-writes that I had with my first novel. Therefore I was determined to take the outlining process a stage further and produce  a story board of the principal scenes of the book.  Some authors who like to plot, use scene cards and pin boards to produce a visual representation of the story line.  Unfortunately a pin board is not a particularly attractive feature in a dining room that has to double as my office. So I decided to experiment using story boarding software. The software I chose was Storybook Pro. The principal benefit from this approach was that the story scene structure could be viewed on screen and a detailed outline of the story (about 16 pages in my case) could be produced in hard copy by printing out the scenes. The software was relatively easy to use and did not disappoint.

Most of the storyboarding was completed within a week. But when I read  the outline,  I realised the storyline I had produced just didn’t work. There was something missing.  If I had not gone through the story-boarding route and started writing I am sure that sooner or later I would have recognised what the problem was, but I would have probably wasted 25,000-50,000 words to find it.

So what was my problem you might ask.  The story just wasn’t exciting enough;  and the reason was I had a light weight antagonist. Not all stories or genres need a strong antagonist.  But my story definitely needed one.  And if you have a bad guy, he has to have his own story; he can’t just turn up in the final battle scene to make the hero look good. Story forming is therefore not just about a plot-line, but it is also about the characters and how that plot-line affects them.  In my case, I had casted the hero and heroine and threw them into the plot, but had forgotten about one of the most important characters of all – the antagonist.

In some genres, particularly action stories or horror stories, the antagonist is absolutely vital. For example, in the action movie Die Hard, what would John McClane (Bruce Willis) have been without the evil Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman)? In the Dark knight where would Batman (Christian Bale) be without the Joker (Heath ledger)? In other genres, the antagonist may be not be a character but something more abstract like the elements or environment.

So I have learnt and important lesson, and still have some work to do on character development before I can start writing in earnest.

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