On Character and Pacing—a discussion on TrekBBS becomes a quick writing lesson. The participants are myself (mackillian), Naraht (Naraht) and a victim (victim).

mackillian:

Course, I may be missing your point entirely here.

Actually, I really think you might be. It seems that Naraht is talking about pacing and why a reader continues to read a story. You’ve got the idea about a main plot and subplots, but I’m not sure if you’re carrying it out to their full effect. I mean, if you only bring it out when there’s nothing happening and they’re off duty…then it seems like it would be treated as not that important. If anything, inner conflicts of characters affect the outward conflicts of characters.

The thing is, for a plot to really be compelling, we have to give a crap about a character. I don’t think Naraht is saying to delete those sections. That’s what’s providing the characterization needed to make the plot worth reading for. But that’s the thing…we need both. Both the characterization and the main plot. If the reader doesn’t care about a character, is the reader really going to be impacted if the character is put in danger? Probably not.

The plot moves forward a bit every chapter, that’s the goal. You need conflict in each chapter, it’s like a buildup of little conflicts each chapter with some resolution or what have you with each until you reach the climax of the main plot and then you’ve got the denoument that follows.

Victim:

but I’m not sure if you’re carrying it out to their full effect. I mean, if you only bring it out when there’s nothing happening and they’re off duty…then it seems like it would be treated as not that important. If anything, inner conflicts of characters affect the outward conflicts of characters.

You’re probably right there. Would have been good if the alocholic was drunk on duty or something…get told off by Captain, add some tension. Little things like that.

I’m in planning stages for sequel, that’ll go down on the to do list. Would be a heluva job to go through and edit it again and I’d probably screw up continuity.

The thing is, for a plot to really be compelling, we have to give a crap about a character.

I think people would (maybe that’s just cos I’m the author), one character has a cancer type illness and she and the husband have to deal with it whilst still doing their job (that may fit in the first section, since they’re finding it hard to do their jobs properly)

mackillian:

Sounds like you’re serious about working on your craft. Awesome. Two books I recommend to folks: Plot by Ansen Dibell and Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. These books are part of a series called Elements of Fiction Writing. They’re a great resource, whether you’re just learning, brushing up, or just need inspiration.

Anyway, so we’ve got plot. That’s the line of events that happen in the story—the important events. These events have consequences. A photon torpedo blows up a ship and there’s a court martial for the action. A crewman reports to duty while under the influence and is then put on report, turns out he’s the guy who fired the photon torpedo when he was supposed to engage the tractor beam (the buttons are next to each other on my ship. I’ve noted to the designer that this button formation should be shifted in the future).

Let’s make a story about Mike the drunken crewman (we will not be singing What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor). Say I opened up a story with that sequence:

The deck underneath Mike seemed to heave as he stepped from the turbolift onto the bridge of the ship. On the viewscreen, another ship hung in space. Mike hadn’t gotten much sleep, he’d spent the night before drinking with his friend from home. Time had gotten away from them and they found themselves in the early morning of ship’s dawn, Mike’s duty shift waiting for him in only an hour’s time. And that hour of time wasn’t nearly enough to wash the alcohol from their systems. While Mike’s buddy could stay in the cabin and sleep it off, the crewman had to put forth a sober face and hope he wouldn’t have to do anything overly difficult.
 
Like, say, fly a starship.
 
Recovering from his stumble, hoping no one noticed, Mike made his way over to the Conn station and relieved the officer on duty. The ship on the viewscreen hadn’t moved and Mike realized they weren’t in any sort of battle, but that he was less sober than he’d previously thought. The officer he’d relieved tried to give him a quick rundown of the current situation, but the words slid by Mike’s ears and didn’t give him so much as a wave, much less stick around for Mike to remember. The other officer walked off, shaking her head.
 
“Lieutenant Michaels, engage tractor beam on that vessel,” said the captain.
 
Mike jumped a bit in his seat at the captain’s voice. He brought his hands over the controls and studied them, unsure of what he was reading.
 
“Lieutenant, did you hear me?”
 
“Yes, sir,” said Mike. Then he picked out the right button to engage the tractor beam. Ahead of them, a photon torpedo flew into the space between the two vessels before impacting on the underside of the other ship. The ship blew apart in a mess of particles and light. Mike had always likened it to fireworks.
 
“Lieutenant! Do you realize what you’ve done?” asked the captain, the tone of his voice rising.
 
Mike didn’t dare turn around. He knew what he’d done. He’d just created his own set of fireworks that hadn’t even started going off.

A couple significant things happen: Mike’s drunk and Mike blows up another ship. (Another significant thing is the establishment of the narrative voice another important, um, thing).

What does the reader think? Wow, Mike is royally screwed.

Both things bring up questions. Why was Mike drinking that much real alcohol? Who is Mike’s buddy from home? What’s going to happen to Mike now that he made that Terrible Awful Mistake? I’m thinking the main plot is Mike’s Terrible Awful Mistake and his Following Court Martial.

But we’ve got subplots, too. His buddy, what role did his buddy have? Did his ‘buddy’ set him up? Is Mike an alcoholic? Now we can set up a story over this. You want to explore all these things, learn about Mike, and over the course of the story, see how Mike changes inwardly (becomes paranoid) and outwardly (is sent to prison).

However, something isn’t an actual part of the plot if it doesn’t affect things. If whatever event is removed from the story, and the story doesn’t really change (like the characters and what happens to them), then it isn’t plot. It’s just filler. And filler, even if it’s Incredibly Funny and Witty Dialogue, is pretty much boring. Why? Because it’s in the way of the damn plot, that’s why. (That reason is actually why I don’t like musicals. All that singing makes the plot stop and I get annoyed and bored).

There’s got to be stuff at stake. It’s got to matter. You know, the whole there’s got to be a conflict, a villain, something. What’s at stake for Mike? Well, certainly his career. The other thing is the friendship with his buddy. The career conflict is outward, the buddy conflict would be mostly inward, him thinking about his past, his buddy’s attitudes, all that jazz. You get to play with these two plots, figure out how they’ll affect one another, and what happens when they run into each other. Maybe Mike tries to break out of the brig and confront his buddy. Or maybe Mike becomes withdrawn.

Oh yeah, and who the hell was in that ship? It’s a grand ol’ mystery, that is. (Because I have no idea). So with each chapter and scene, you’re building your plot bit by bit. Mike is changing, inwardly and outwardly, bit by bit. We get closer, bit by bit, to an answer to the Grand Ol’ Mystery, to Is Mike’s Career Totally Over, to Is Mike’s Buddy a Total Jerk? The way to keep the pace is to have everything matter…and have plenty of bits everywhere.

As for ending scenes or chapters, the little scene about Mike is a little example. You see a result from Mike being drunk on the job–he blows up a ship. That’s a bit of resolution to ‘what’s going to happen because Mike’s drunk?’ And now we’re wondering, what’ll happen to Mike now, if the captain doesn’t kill him outright?

Um…does this help any?

Victim:

Yah yah, that makes sense, but I wouldn’t go as extreme as to include it so much in the main plot as in Mike’s case (his name’s Michael Michaels?). With something like that, you’re building up a main plot.

But while not as advanced as some subplots here, there are moments when the main plot interrupts the social subplots, like as the story wears on, the Cpatain gets more and more desperate to see the mission over and done with, and he gets more relaxed somewhat with more extreme measures, eg torture. The crew starts to worry about him.
People mourn losses accounted for over the course of the plot as well.

I tried to end chapters on personal problems and unanswered questions (damn, I’m almost giving away spoilers at every eg). But a lot of chapters ended up simply ending once they arrived or departed at an area. Typically, it goes,

depart for destination > Social life > END CHAPTER >arrive at destination > do job > Social life

I’m not nearly answering all the rhetorical questions posed I admit, but its a start.

Have a read if you haven’t started yet, I feel uncomfortable about giving away spoilers.

Am I making any sense, seems lately I’ve been getting confused and giving confused answers.

mackillian:

his name’s Michael Michaels?

If your name was Michael Michaels, wouldn’t you be driven to drink too?

With something like that, you’re building up a main plot.

Depends on how you do it. The main plot would still be Mike’s trial. Subplot would be Mike’s struggle with his drinking. Another subplot is Mike’s paranoia about his buddy. Another subplot could be what that other ship was.

You’re the author (or, in this case, I guess I am), you get to choose what’s plot and what’s subplot by giving it more (or less) significance. You also have to weave plot and subplot together, so they interact with one another. Mike’s drinking affected his job, causing the main plot (his court martial. Crap, we’ve got an episode of JAG now). Actually, you can use JAG (or law and order, whatever of the five million incarnations it’s got now). Main plot is the perp’s trial. Well, it’s the overarching plot. Will he be convicted? Then you’ve got the other stuff, the investigation, etc.

You get to poke your characters with sharp sticks and make them squirm.

the main plot interrupts the social subplots

Maybe this is where you’re getting confused. A story is a web, you’re weaving it all together. There’s no real “interruption,” per se. It all goes together somehow (I could use some analogy like a river and all it’s tributaries, but I don’t feel like going into geography).

depart for destination > Social life > END CHAPTER >arrive at destination > do job > Social life

Here’s the thing. Those aren’t plot points. They’re…scene descriptors or something. Outlining or planning or whatever you use to keep you on track while writing your story, should (oh, I hate that word) comprise of plot points, you know, important bits where conflict of some sort happens. That’s what your story builds on. Right now, that plan looks like a musical set up by what song is sung where—the places where the plot stops.

Okay. Let me use Mike again. Say we want our chapter to continue.

Mike blows up another ship—>Mike confronted by the captain, taken to brig—>Mike feels guilty over the entire thing—>Mike thinks about his buddy and gets angry—>Mike is still drunk, hits stuff or throws stuff or something and is visited by medical tech—>then we have Mike’s buddy come visit.

Because I’m evil to my readers, I’d end the chapter right when Mike’s buddy walks in. Did we really resolve anything? Well, not really. We established that Mike feels guilty and is angry with his buddy. We end where Mike gets a chance to confront his buddy (I guess there’s the bit of resolution there, where Mike’s buddy becomes a chance for real physical confrontation and not just something in Mike’s mind). We establish that Mike is confined to the brig. We establish that Mike’s got a temper.

But do you see the conflict in each point? I’m still moving things along, but each scene, I’m poking at Mike with my Sharp Author Stick.

Or am I just confusing you more?

And hereth ended our lesson.