New Story and New Process

This post is actually a combination of two posts I made in Holly’s How To Think Sideways/Writing Discussion forum called “Variation of the Process.”

I decided to start a new story (with an old idea) and start from scratch using Holly’s techniques (along with some techniques from other books/courses.)

I got to the pre-plotting/plotting section and had what I thougt is a brilliant idea. The idea is to apply the programming concept of progressive refinement to the story. The approach reminds me of the Koch Snowflake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koch_snowflake).  Basically, you start off at a very high level and add in details slowly over iterations.  So the first pass will just be high level subsections, the second pass will flesh out those subsections and add sub-subsections.  Then a third pass, and so on, adding detail until you reach a point where you’ve gotten everything fleshed out.

Instead of coming up with Candy Bar scenes and then filling in the story later, I am taking this approach.

1. I create my Sentence for the entire story.
2. I write down at a very high level all the “steps” that I see in my sentence. These are the different high level problems my protagonist has to face and solve to get to the end.
3. I convert each of these steps to a Sentence Lite.
4. Then I look at each of these steps that I’ve defined as Sentences and write down the steps that I see… IF it requires further breakdown.
5. Then I convert each of these new steps to a Sentence Light.
6. Repeat until I have Sentence Lites for each of my scenes.

If I’ve got a short story, then I might only do one pass. For a longer story, I’ve got more passes. It might be that some sections require more passes than others. For example, when I did my first pass, the Sentence Lite for my last section didn’t require further breakdown but the other sections needed at least one more breakdown.

This approach is really keeping me focused and the story is growing in a way that seems natural. I’m noticing problems at a high level and I’m able to address them early on. 

Here’s what I’ve done so far…

My Sentence:
A cunning Princess rallies a band of pirates to recapture her throne from a scheming emperor and the idealistic court-physician who usurped it from her brutal father.

I then wrote out some sections that I thought would take me from point A to point B:

A. Escape from the coup
B. Attempt to be normal and gets captured by pirates
C. Becoming a pirate wench
D. Becoming a pirate captain
E. Becoming a pirate queen
F. Coming up with a plan to retake her throne
G. Back at home
H. The Rebel Queen, winning the hearts of her people
I. The Battle
J. The next plan, Empress

I convert those sections to actual Sentence Lites.

A. A cunning princess escapes the Capital and the Rebels and finds herself part of peasant life.
B. A cunning princess escapes from her bodyguard onto a spaceship and gets captured by pirates.
C. CUT – although I had originally thought that she was going to have to go through a period of semi-slavery and then work her way up through the pirate ranks, I really didn’t like the feel of this.  It was getting too dark.
D. A cunning princess convinces a greedy pirate captain she can make him rich but turns his crew against him.
E. A cunning princess forges a group of pirate captains into a force to fight the Imperial fleet come to destroy them.
F. CUT – Coming up with a plan to to retake her throne is boring and I didn’t see a good way to make it into a sentence.  There wasn’t enough drama in this to create a Sentence or subsections.
F. A cunning princess sneaks back into her Kingdom evading both the authorities and those who love her and starts a war.
G. CUT – I actually wrote up a sentence for this one but then cut it during the next phase because the subsections that would have been part of this had already been covered in the previous section.
H. A cunning princess leads a force of rebels and pirates into battle against the Empire and tricks the empire into a mistake.
I. The Queen welcomes the ambassador form the Empire and plots their downfall.

The next step, is to go through and create the subsections for each section. Taking the first section as an example:

I. A cunning princess escapes the Capital and the Rebels and finds herself part of peasant life.
   a. The princess argues with her father about going to a party and storms out.
   b. The princess sneaks out of the castle and is chased by an assassin.
   c. The bodyguard saves the princess and gets her to a safe house.
   d. The princess and the bodyguard sneak out of the city to a station on the fringe of the Kingdom with the princess looking like (but not acting) like a commoner.
   e. The princess saves a child from the brutality of a Royal and gets noticed by the net.

   My note to myself on this section: I need her to see something going through this. I need her to recognize how hard some people have it and how hard they’re working. I also need a decision point, an event, that triggers the decision to go back and take her throne.

At this point, I haven’t gotten through filling out all the subsections. After I get that done, I’ll go back and create all the Sentence Lite’s. You’ll notice that the subsections a-e above have not been put into Sentence Lite’s at this point. I’ll do that in the next pass.

Also, notice that I’m primarily sticking to the main story line here. Almost all of these have the Princess as the instigating character except for the scene where the bodyguard saves her. I’m not showing the scenes that relate to other character’s stories. I know that I’ll add in scenes with the Bodyguard and the Court-Physician as the main characters. I may have a scene with her Father’s assassination and some scenes with the Emperor and there’s a good possibility that I’ll thrown in some scenes showing her attacks from the points of view of The Princess’ opponents.

So… that’s where I’m at.

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3 Responses to “New Story and New Process”

  1. Exactly how I work out a plot, main points needed to happen from both protag and antag point of view, and how each clash is solved (conflict) then pick lower level getting from point A to B to C, and smaller conflicts (against self, against friends, etc) to make conflict happen in each scene. You are on the right track for plot. Interviewing your characters also makes scene sentences to show results of questions answered. What I love is that your muse can throw other ideas at you once you start writing (muse bombs) that you can incorporate, and knowing the plot is loose enough that you can make changes without changing the high level steps from A to B to C, etc.

  2. Yay! I’ve got you in my Blogroll so I’ll be following your progress 🙂

    I think your ideas are solid and I definitely want to hear more 🙂

  3. I’d never heard of the programming concept of progressive-refinement and just reading down through your post, I have to say that it’s a really interesting technique! Thank you for sharing that. It’s another handy little tool to use when the going gets tough, although I have to admit that I prefer to just sit down and write and see what happens as the ink flows onto the page.

    All the best with your project, pencilneck. 🙂

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