I'm having some problems to get a character from a place to other. Basically, her parents died a while ago and she's living somewhere else. She lived in their parents' manor, now she lives at a relative's, and has just discovered a (magic) artifact that may belong to her mother, but she doesn't give it much importance. I want her to go to the manor but don't know how to set up the necessity. A young naughty girl may activate the artifact and raise questions, but don't know if it's good enough.
Unmovable Plot Facts (or what I like to call Very Important Facts - V.I.F.)
This sounds like a case of: “I need event B to happen, but it can’t happen unless event A happens, but event A has no logical reason to happen.”
It’s rare that we ever plot stories in a linear way, that is, we hardly ever plot our stories out in order. We often get ideas for much later in the story, and then we have to backtrack to figure out how we make those ideas happen. And this can be really difficult to do when our ideas don’t seem to fit together. So how do we fix it?
- Assume NOTHING about your plot.
When we’ve been working with a story for a long time, there are certain facts and details that have been part of the story since the beginning. These facts are so cemented in our minds that we don’t even question them anymore. Things like: So-and-so’s the villain, the story takes place in a forest, my character is new to all this crazy phenomena.
But what if so-and-so wasn’t the villain? What if the story took place in a desert? What if your character is a seasoned pro to the extra-terrestrial or paranormal?
Whenever a story fact is proving to be inflexible and immovable, to the point where your story can’t operate around it, it’s time to make a change.
And it can be scary to make that change, especially when we’ve been plotting the story for so long with these facts in mind. But if we need event B to happen, and the event supposedly causing event B to happen (event A) is a longshot, then maybe we need another event to cause event B.
TO MY ANON: What that means is, rather than coming up with a reason to get her to the manor, why can’t she already be there? Isn’t it possible that after her parents died, they willed her the home, and she moved back in? Could she have found the artifact while cleaning out an area of the house as she was moving back in? Or even years later when she suddenly needs the extra storage space/living space?
When changing one fact, you might argue that you can’t change said fact, because then you’ll have to change another fact, and what if you end up changing the whole story? Maybe you will, I don’t know. The goal is figuring out what facts of your story are most important, and if you can’t work out how to make other facts work with those Very Important Facts (V.I.F.), then those less important ones will have to change.
- Examine the V.I.F. itself and decide if it truly is a V.I.F.
So in my last point, I talked about changing event A entirely to work with event B (our V.I.F.), and in the case of the anon, event A is our character returning home, and event B is the character finding the magical artifact. She cannot find the artifact unless she goes home. If you can’t come up with ideas for how to get her to the manor, and you can’t really change the fact that she no longer lives there, then you have to examine what event B is actually doing for your plot, and decide if perhaps there is another V.I.F. that events B/A are getting in the way of.
In this step, ask yourself: what is my story’s conflict? And once you’ve defined that in one sentence, determine how many different paths there are available to getting there. Is event B directly tied to your conflict? Or is it merely one option of jumpstarting the real V.I.F.?
For example, if the conflict of our anon’s story had to do with our protagonist inadvertently activating this artifact and then becoming involved in some epic quest to stop a great evil, there are actually numerous ways of getting there. Some questions we might ask:
- Does the artifact have to be a family heirloom?
- Does she have to discover it after her parents are deceased?
- Could the artifact have been passed down to her years ago, got lost in a box, and resurfaced at the onset of our story?
- Could she find it in an antiques store?
- Could a friend find it and give it to her as a gift?
The important part of this story may not be how she comes by the artifact; instead, it could be what happens as a result. In which case, you could explore other options for getting it in her hands and activating it.
- For a rough draft, skip A entirely. Focus on B, because B gets you to C.
My last option for solving this problem is basically to ignore it. If you’re working on a first draft, or even a second draft of the story, and you can’t get over this one problem, then solve it by ignoring it. For our anon, if you can’t come up with a reason for her to go to the manor, then simply say: “She decided to go to the manor,” and let that be the end to it…for now.
Because allowing yourself to skip event A enables you to focus on fleshing out event B - something you seem much clearer on- so you can move forward with the story. When we’re working with drafts, it’s best to work on the parts that exist most vividly in our minds, and then work on stringing them together in whatever haphazard way we need to. Cohesion and structuring will come later on, once we know a little more about what we’ve created.
One last note to my anon: Try not to get too stuck on this detail. Change the setup if you need to, in order to make it work, or gloss over it until you’ve got more of the meat of the story written. As you’re writing the middle, you might come up with some amazing backstory detail that helps explain how everything started, and it may have nothing to do with her going to the manor.
I hope this wasn’t a confusing post! I tried my best, but I think what it comes down to is accepting that your plot should be flexible, and you should be willing to change details to work with other details, rather than trying to force them to work together when they don’t.