The Plot Thickens

Yeah, these are still waiting to be pulled

I am, by nature, a writer remarkably short on literary corn starch. I like characters, settings, and emotional development which often results in problems and conflicts, yes, but how to get those problems and conflicts to build into tidy, well-crafted crises is a whole different thing.

Part of the problem is that I have never written much about villains. It’s not that I don’t understand the supreme usefulness of them, I just find them sort of boring. When I was little and used to watch my brothers playing hours and hours of video games, I used to think about the endless stream of henchmen pouring out of elevators and halls in the villain’s elaborate secret hideout. What did they do in there all day? I imagined them playing cards and eating pizza, hopping nimbly through the complicated set of conveyer belts Jon or Michael had just spent two minutes navigating just to get to work in the morning. Did they bring their lunches with them? Did they go on team building retreats?

Generally at this point I would just start laughing.

Mostly my villains are not villains so much as characters who, by their selfishness or insecurity, create problems. Mostly it sucks to be them even more than it sucks to deal with them. That’s how life seems to me, anyway, so that’s how I write about it.

But when you don’t have clearly defined villains who are focused with razor vision on ruining your main character’s life, it becomes difficult to build a satisfying plot. I mean, you can go all literary, but I’m not an All Literary person. (It’s ok; I’ve made my peace with that).

I enjoy realism like I enjoy oatmeal: in cookies.

So when I started thinking about my old friend Lydia last week, I had lots of ideas about characters and the personal conflicts that might develop between them, but nothing really big. Nothing satisfying. Nothing I could summarize in a sentence and plunk down into a cover letter.

So I had to start looking. I knew I wanted the majority of the story to revolve around her interactions with a family of distinctly French background, and I thought that might yield a fair amount of conflict. Being French and being Catholic in 1850s England would have to hugely color a person’s social life and outlook on the world. I don’t know much about either, to be honest, so I decided to start looking around and see if I found anything promising.

I started with an historical timeline.

Did you know that in 1848 Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (nephew to the more famous Bonaparte) was elected to a four-year term as president and that four years later—hello, exact date of my story—he declared himself emperor? Declaring yourself emperor in a nation famous for that one revolution where they guillotined aristocrats is definitely one way to create major conflict.

Now, clearly I don’t know enough about French history or politics to write a convincing novel about power grabs and revolutions, nor can I imagine a good reason my provincial English girl would get involved in French political intrigue (a problem not shared by romance or mystery authors around the world). But I can imagine my French family having strong views on the subject, and I can imagine them knowing people more involved.

It isn’t the plot, but it’s a chunk of granite that the plot can be cut from.

In celebration of the mini-breakthrough I went to library earlier this week and got a stack of books about French history and Paris and people rhapsodizing about all things French. It’s been a fun week of reading.

And I’m getting closer.

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One thought on “The Plot Thickens

  1. Well if you’ve ever watched Princess Mononoke or Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (both excellent films by Hayao Miyazaki, you would see that there really doesn’t need to be that one evil guy who really sucks and everyone hates him.

    It’s easy for characters flaws to be the source of the conflict and have their realization of said flaws be how they work towards a resolution. So all-in-all it sounds like you’re doing just fine!

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