Sunday, December 27, 2015

David Farland: My Story Doctor: Story Puzzle - Part 4

In this fourth segment on my review of David Farland's online workshop, Story Puzzle, I will be analyzing lesson four: Plotting. (Coming into the middle of this series? You can find the first post here.)

As you'll remember from the previous lesson, I am used to plotting and outlining my stories in a certain way. In lesson three (where we discussed conflicts), my first attempt at the assignment was basically a plotting assignment. Essentially, I jumped the gun and used my plot to help identify the conflicts.

So, you can probably guess that the plotting assignment was pretty straight forward. I took my final attempt from the conflicts assignment, and combined it with my initial attempt, and tweaked it just enough to follow the important take-away from the plotting assignment: try/fail cycles.

Let's take a moment to discuss try/fail cycles. As the name implies, these are cycles wherein a character attempts to accomplish a goal and typically fails ... until they succeed. A great analysis of try/fail cycles can be read here on Heidi Tighe's blog. The gist, however, is this: A character has a goal (be it rescuing the princess, escaping prison, fleeing the police, or making breakfast) and, as a means of escalating the dramatic tension over this course of the character's attempts to accomplish said goal, the character must make several attempts to accomplish the goal.

Why is this important? Because if your character succeeds in accomplishing his or her goals on the first attempt each time, your character will be unbelievable and, ultimately, uninteresting. Of course, the number of try/fail cycles a particular goal requires is directly proportional to the importance of said goal. Escaping prison is probably fairly important to a story and would therefore require several try/fail cycles. Eating breakfast ... no doubt not so important and therefore may require one or no try/fail cycles.

In crafting my own try/fail cycles for each of the major conflicts from assignment three, I chose to stick with the "Yes, but.../No, and..." format. This is a great way of escalating the tension for each goal. I won't get too detailed in this post since there are better examples here, here, and here. However, the gist is: Does the character accomplish his goal? Yes, but ... [escalating incident which creates a bigger problem] ... or ... Does the character accomplish his goal? No, and ... [escalating incident which creates a bigger problem]. This continues as necessary until the character ultimately attains his goal or ultimately fails.

Part of the importance of this particular assignment was to ensure the try/fail cycles of each character conflict could be braided together. For my particular piece, this was the greatest struggle for this assignment. I have thirteen characters, each with their own motives, and each with their own conflicts with each other, society, or themselves. Ensuring each of these try/fail cycles and conflicts wove together seamlessly was a bit of a struggle, but, a few weeks later I was able to finish it off.

All in all, this has probably been the best assignment within Dave's Story Puzzle workshop; in my opinion, the most helpful. Again, if you think one of Dave's workshops is good for you (and I think each of you should take one), you can find him here.