Once I settled on my vision for the Sy’Arrian Legacy Series (SLS), one glaring facet became abundantly clear; simplicity. It does not matter if you write romance, thrillers, mystery, fiction or science fiction; if a content creator cannot keep it all straight convolution will rear its ugly head and send readers running to the hills. This is particularly true when articulating your plotline(s).
There is a tremendous amount of material on the information super highway regarding the difference between a plotline and a story. Yet, no concrete agreement exists related to their difference but there is a relative consensus. LEARNINGNERD, link provided below, explains it very well: A story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order. A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. Most people I have spoken with regarding the two tend to blend them together and while deciphering which is which is important, the intent here is to maintain clarity no matter the scope of a particular story.
Let me attempt to practice what I am preaching. My husband and I loved the television series, The Vampire Diaries on the CW channel based on the book series of the same name and spawning a spin-off series, The Originals. On numerous occasions watching the show, I had to juggle between my writer and audience member hats; see my post, Characters: They are not expendable for additional insight.
From the perspective of an audience member, I loved how each episode pulled me into the story week after week. I was genuinely interested in and cared about each character no matter how many times I wished some of them would mysteriously disappear because they whined too much. As a writer, I admired the interwoven nature of each character’s storyline and how it fed the overall plot of the series. There were times I felt they stretched creative boundaries or focused too much on one specific element; however, as a whole, I respected the show’s ability to challenge me no matter what hat I was wearing. The show had an extremely large cast of characters with unique plotlines for each. In my opinion this is where it fell short, especially whenever it attempted to bring in additional characters.
In 2014 it was announced The Vampire Diaries would be getting a prominent gay character in the form of Luke Parker, played by actor Chris Brochu. As part of the LBGTQ community, I was excited to see how this character would progress and grow in the story. Having been born in 1967, characters during my teen years who were out and proud were non-existent and I felt privileged to begin seeing it in my lifetime. Kevin Williamson, the openly gay co-creator of the show had this to say in a Huffington Post article:
“It’s one of those things that needs to feel organic and seamless. I don’t want it to be a character that comes in and is a one-off,” said Williamson. “I want someone to come in and have a reason and a purpose and really push that story forward the way I want to do it, and they’re so important to the story that without them the show won’t happen. That’s what I want.”
Here’s the thing; it did not happen at all the way Mr. Williamson articulated. Luke was not prominent; he was practically non-existent. We barely saw him and when he was in an episode, the appearance was so short-lived I would proclaim, “Oh, is that the character who is supposed to be gay?” Calling him a gay lead character was probably one of the biggest bait and switch tactics I had experienced in a long time. They did, however, spend much greater time on the relationship between Tyler Lockwood (Michael Trevino) and Olivia Parker (Penelope Mitchell), Luke’s twin sister. In predictable fashion, Luke’s character was killed off in an act of self-sacrifice. Yeah, didn’t see that coming. I will save my deeper thoughts on how gay characters are treated in entertainment writing, especially if they are male, for a later time. Fortunately, The Originals is doing a much better job with the character, Josh Rosza (Steven Krueger).
I understand this is a great deal of context but I am not one who likes to skimp on details in honor of brevity. A couple of things happened here; the importance of Luke’s character was overstated and he was pitted against an extremely large cast of main characters whose intricacies easily overshadowed a character the audience very seldom experienced.
Let me be clear in my observations of the show and its characters. This criticism has nothing to do with the actor’s ability to portray his character. I think Chris Brochu did a wonderful job considering the hand he was dealt but to be brutally honest, the character was forgettable. This was not the actor’s fault; it was content creators attempting to appease a desire to be inclusive in a show already full of memorable characters.
How does this relate to my series? The SLS is huge. I have characters vying for my attention, mainly because every one of them thinks they are special and a mind wanting to constantly add nuance to already established story elements. At times, I feel like I am swimming in a sea chalk full of developing concepts with no life preserver. It’s a miniature big bang and my constant note taking is the only thing keeping me sane.
Well, not the only thing. A mentor of mine said, “Create no more than three storylines. More than three will not only create additional confusion for you but for your readers as well.” Keep in mind, it is only me, myself and I who is creating a potential eight book series with a large cast of characters and converging plotlines. In addition social, political and religious meanderings continue to evolve. I do not have a team of writers at my disposal to ensure all the details are consistent; however, I do have a husband and writers group who has no problems red inking my rough drafts.
I have three main plotlines, which I will not provide too much detail in order to keep future elements hidden until I am ready to release them in future books. All of them are currently in play; I have merely limited the content available to readers. The challenge lies in how to integrate them at the appropriate times in the series. Too much too soon can serve to overwhelm and lose readers, while too little too late could result in the same outcome.
The Cradle of Destiny is the foundation book of my series. No matter if readers are on book two, three or six, they should be able to link what they are reading to the plotlines revealed in book one – assuming I managed everything appropriately. There have been times it has taken me almost one hour to add a simple four to five line definition in my glossary because by the time I did the necessary research to ensure I was accurate in my thinking, I realized an inconsistency between what I was putting in the glossary and what I had already written in the finished story. Even the smallest contradictions can break seemingly unbreakable plotlines.
Bottom line? Keep detailed notes and continually update or eliminate ideas. When you come up with what you think is the next best thing, jot it down but do not act right away. I cannot begin to describe how many times I have written down a wonderful idea, let it sit for a few days, came back to it and said, “Uh, no. What was I thinking?” In tandem, do not be afraid to run potentially new plot elements by a neutral party; they are not emotionally invested in your creation and will keep you grounded.
Most importantly, do not force something to work. In the end, story elements should fall neatly and effortlessly in place. I am not saying it will not require hard work and proper attention to detail; however, if implementing a concept requires too much reorganizing of what is already established, you may want to seriously consider leaving it out. If you find yourself unable to let go of a new idea, keep it off to the side in your notes. It really is not going anywhere and it will help keep everything relatively simple…hopefully.
When I looked at the size of this post, I chuckled. I wrote an article about how to keep it simple. Did I?
Feel free to post your questions, comments or concerns. I will respond, if need be, when I am able.
The Vampire Diaries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Vampire_Diaries
Huffington Post Article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/20/vampire-diaries-gay_n_4823061.html