I mentioned in the Novel Support Group that I started using a new technique to help me outline my current novel. Below is my (long) post regarding this.
I recently read on another forum something that gave me an idea that may help me outline my current novel. Essentially this forum thread presented a question to ask yourself when analyzing a scene. I don't remember verbatim but this is the question I now ask on my scenes.
* Previous to this scene, what must occur for the events and actions in this scene to be plausible?
I added some additional things I wanted to determine about the action(s) the character would perform in a particular scene:
These may sound familiar. I think these questions are often used in mystery stories (especially in murder mysteries). I wanted to apply them to the final climax in my novel. Essentially I'm outlining backwards. From that analysis I hope to gain a list of scenes for my novel. These scenes would be "required" in that they must appear in the novel in order for the final scenes to be plausible. This will become the "bare bones" of the plot outline.
Let me know what you think. This may not work for me but hopefully this discussion will help someone. Many of you are more experienced than I am but I will demonstrate how I hope to apply this. Feel free to add opinions.
Let's say we have a novel which can be described like this: A humble servant boy kills his King. It may not be a "high concept" idea but hopefully it will suffice for this example.
We immediately know of two scenes we will need to write. One shows the servant being humble. This will be our Ordinary World and should be one of the first scenes in the novel. The second is the battle between this servant and his King. This will likely be the final climax in "act three" if you use the Three Act Structure (this is what I try to use currently).
Since I'm working backwards I will analyze the final battle scene. So, the question now arises: What previous events would allow this scene to be plausible? Let's take the three questions (motive, means, and opportunity) and apply them.
What would motivate a humble servant boy to kill his King? You would need to create an entire story arc to completely do this justice. Such scenes in that arc would be the Inciting Incident and the Act Climaxes of the story, especially if this battle with the King involves the Central Question to the novel.
How big this story arc is will depend upon this servant. For example, if he loves his King in the beginning you will have more scenes to portray than if this servant already hated his King. To answer the motivation will likely take a bit longer with a "loving servant" because you need to convincingly change that character.
To me this asks the question: What does this servant need to have or know to kill his King. Let's say his King is a gifted swordsman. If the servant is to kill the king with a sword what skills does he need to know to defeat the king in battle. This will be another story arc of the servant learning the skills needed to challenge the king in combat. If this servant has never held a sword you will have a larger story arc than a servant who has studied the sword for years (such as a squire).
The servant will need to somehow have access to meet the king in order to do battle with him. If the servant works in the stables he may never have a chance to meet the king. However, as a personal servant he could see the king every day. In either case you will again have a full story arc to develop where he eventually gains access to the king so that he may battle him.
I will take one extreme of this servant and provide him the following traits:
* The servant loves his King
* The servant has never held a sword
* The servant works in the stables and has rarely even seen the king
Now I have a very daunting task of getting this humble servant boy to kill his King. For the sake of this example I will take the means analysis and start from there. I don't know that it matters which one you start with but it's the one I felt like doing for this example. So, what skills or knowledge do I need to give this humble servant that will allow him the ability to kill his King? Since I will have this servant battling with a sword (rather than magic, which is just as possible if you like) I will have the following scenes (but I'm not limited to these scenes):
* Gaining a desire to learn the sword
* A mentor figure willing to train him with the sword
* Several practice sessions with the sword (another mini story arc demonstrating increased skill)
Optional scenes include:
* A situation where his (or someone else's) life is in danger and he uses the sword "for real" for the first time
* An event where he is tested against others (a tournament of some sort)
You could certainly branch from these scenes. Now, if I were to work on the the motive analysis I have a branch from there already with this mentor. Perhaps this mentor is the one who stirs up the trouble and encourages the servant to go against his king. Therefore, I have some additional scenes I can add.
* The mentor discusses some truths about the King's true nature (these truths can be fact or not)
* The servant requests to be trained or the mentor approaches the servant
Optional scenes include:
* The servant learns some things about his or her mentor (this could create some inner and outer conflicts)
Moving onto the opportunity analysis I can again branch off and have the mentor provide some access to the king as below:
* The mentor informs the servant that a "castle job" is now available
* The servant's first day on his new job (now has access to the castle)
If you want to add some point of view scenes for the mentor you have some additional scenes to add:
* The mentor talks with the king about a new servant he would like to bring into the castle
* The mentor talks with his "contacts" and they discuss plans to kill the king
I have only scratched the surface on this example story. I only worked on this for an hour or so, but have an interesting start already. What I have done so far on my own novel is to take the final scene and try to determine what scenes I need to have it be plausible. Then after that I will analyze each of those scenes to determine what I need to make those work. I will do this all the way back to the beginning.
By starting at the end of the story I can work my way back to the beginning and build a plausible ending. Whether this will work or not I do not know. I have already gained several scenes through this method that I feel will help the overall story. In addition, using this method allows me to analyze the story and add only scenes that specifically add to the plot. As I developed this example, I came up with an unexpected point of view character: the mentor. That also has added some potentially important scenes.
After I have my list of scenes I can then determine whether I have enough for a full novel. If not, rather than adding "fluff scenes" I can make it more difficult for my character to accomplish his goals (e.g. make the character a stable hand that lives and works in a different city under the King's rule). Once I have a good number of scenes I may try the Snowflake Method to organize all of this together. That may add some additional scenes depending upon the order in which the scenes best fit.
I'm still experimenting with this technique but I hope that it can help develop more interesting middles and make my endings more plausible to the reader.
Feel free to add your opinions.
EDIT 1: Basic sentence clean up; no new content added.
[This message has been edited by WBSchmidt (edited August 30, 2009).]