Story Engineering: Concept

Welcome back to my series on Larry Brooks’ book, Story Engineering. Finally. Things got a little delayed because of the fire upriver. Things have stabilized, and I’m no longer concerned with suddenly needing to evacuate so I can go back to bumbling along.


There are 51 days until November 1. Until the start of NaNoWriMo. Until I spend a month losing my mind and typing like a madwoman. Fifty-one days to actually prepare.

Last week, I talked about ideas and concepts. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll say ideas are the initial spark while concepts are that spark fanned into a small flame (I might have fire on the brain here).

The Idea

So, in the last post, I rambled on about where ideas come from and how they can be turned into a concept. I also chose an idea for my NaNo novel:

a story about a YouTube vlogger

I got the idea from my eleven-year-old daughter who is obsessed with YouTubers. The idea is character based as opposed to one of the other essential elements–concept, theme, structure–Brooks talks about. Just because the idea was sparked by a character doesn’t mean I have to start with character development first. I decided to work on the concept before I dug deeper into the characters.

Developing Concept

Larry Brooks talks about how a concept can be summed up by a “what if?” question.

“[If] the concept is rich and compelling to any degree, phrasing it as a “what if?” question will not only be possible, it will be clarifying and empowering.

lastsupperHe uses The Da Vinci Code as an example. “What if Leonardo da Vinci implanted clues to his views on Christianity and the veracity of scripture within his painting of The Last Supper?” Well, I’m hooked. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen the movie. I found the concept fascinating. See, already using terms without thinking.

Of course, you might not have that one ultimate “what if” right off the bat. And even if you do, you can still play the “what if game” as I call it because as Brooks says, “… when you pose one ‘what if?’ question, it immediately leads you to another.”

Well, that doesn’t seem so hard. Sounds like brainstorming to me. Only a little more organized and structured. Can’t hurt to try. Brooks says you can jump in anywhere, but as Freuline Maria said, “start at the beginning–it’s a very good place to start.” (I might be paraphrasing there.)

What If?

I decided to try out this “what if?” thing with my idea and realized I’d already set the first few up when I initially came up with the idea. I wanted to write a story about a vlogger. A vlogger that was tired with vlogging. A vlogger whose family won’t let him stop vlogging. Because they like the money he earns. So, let’s see where this goes.

  • What if the vlogger doesn’t want to do his vlog anymore?
  • What if his family doesn’t want him to quit because the vlog makes them a lot of money?
  • What if he runs away?
  • What if he finds a town that has little internet access?
  • What if he meets a girl there?
  • What if the girl helps her grandmother run a campground?
  • What if the campground is failing?
  • What if the vlogger decides to help so he can hide out?
  • What if she decides making YouTube videos will help advertise the campground?
  • What if he agrees to help only if he’s not in them?
  • What if business picks up?
  • What if the vlogger gets to know the other campers while filming?
  • What if he starts to trust people again?
  • What if he trusts the girl enough to tell her how he feels about her?
  • What if the girl goes behind his back and puts him in a video?
  • What if a fan recognizes him and spreads the video?
  • What if a bunch of fans show up at the campground?

Well, that’s a start. It’s the basic plot–at least of the first two acts. Without even trying. I just kept asking questions based on the previous ones. Simple. Brooks mentions that you can jump in anywhere with a question. You can work forwards and back. Or to the side as questions advance the story or spawn tangents that dig deeper into the concept.

Like, in my example above, “what if he starts to trust people again?” That’s an interesting little detail. But why does he need to learn to trust again? A whole new round of “what ifs?” branched off from the original.

  • What if he’s been making videos since he was thirteen?
  • What if his parents got involved because they knew they could make some money?
  • What if they started filming everything he did whether he wanted them to or not?
  • What if they ignored his wants?
  • What if they manipulate him to do what they want?
  • What if his friends use him for the fame?
  • What if the vlogger has asthma and has an attack?
  • What if his mother films it instead of helping him?
  • What if he finds out his friends and family triggered the attack to film it?
  • What if they hid his inhaler to make it more dramatic?
  • What if his sister was the only one to help him?
  • What if he finds out she was involved with the whole thing?

Can’t blame him for not trusting people. My notes go on and on, but I won’t bore you with them.

Concept Criteria

All of these questions are great brainstorming. But is there a concept in there somewhere? Brooks gives a list of criteria that should be met in the development of a solid concept. Let’s check.

Is the concept fresh and original?


Fresh and original are pretty subjective. A majority of YA fiction follows a basic plot: girl meets boy, hilarious antics ensue, girl gets boy at the end. Authors stick with the format because it sells. I’m not trying to win the Pulitzer here. It’s commercial fiction. So is it fresh and original? Not so much. But I haven’t read any novels about YouTube vloggers (yet).

If not fresh and original, does your concept at least present an opportunity to impart a new spin on a familiar theme or premise?

Honestly, at this point, the answer is probably a no–it’s still the same predictable plot. The closest I can get is that the book is from the boy’s POV which isn’t common in YA romance. The vlogger angle is different but not necessarily “fresh.”

Is your concept compelling?

I don’t know. Brooks says, “It isn’t enough that your character and your theme be compelling… you need to give your hero a motivated situation and an intriguing goal or problem to conquer.” That makes a little more sense. Is my main character motivated by a situation? Um, his family nearly kills him by hiding his inhaler. To increase their viewer numbers. I’d say he’s pretty motivated to get the hell out of Dodge. An intriguing goal? Eh. That still needs some work.

Does the concept set the stage for an unfolding dramatic story?

Okay, I think I got this covered. The whole him running away because his family almost kills him sets up all sorts of drama.

Does the concept lend itself to the other three essential elements of storytelling?

The other three elements are character, theme, and structure. Well, the concept I have so far builds up an interesting array of characters. The two main ones are shaping up to not be stereotypes (no girl waiting to be saved by her knight in shining armor). I actually do have a theme that came from my “what if?” brainstorming (I’ll talk more about that later). Structure is the outline. The sequence of events that supports the rest. That was the big thing I discovered while looking for the concept inspired by my little idea–the structure just kind of builds itself. My structure, though, is still a little lacking in the second half, but it’s getting there.

Can the concept be expressed in a succinct “what if?” question?

questionI already answered this. Not yet. But I’m getting there. Obviously, I need to do some more work. There’s probably a concept in the pages of questions I’ve asked, I just haven’t put it into words yet.

I’m not sure if this is what Brooks really meant when he talked about “what if?” questions. But for me, it worked as a great brainstorming exercise that sorted my thoughts and showed the direction the story could go in logical ways. I’m just gonna keep doing things my way.

Next week, I’m going to skip ahead to look at the structure of my story. The four essential elements don’t have to be worked in any particular order, but as Brooks says, “at some point in the development process you must create a concept for your story.” I like to get that done right off the bat. I’ve found that figuring out the concept leads to the other elements.

More in this series:
Part 1: An Introduction
Part 2: Ideas Vs. Concept



Story Engineering: Ideas Vs. Concept

storyengineeringIn the 2nd part of my series on Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, I’m going to discuss “ideas” vs. “concept.” If you’re just turning in, you can find part 1 here, but I’ll give a little refresher for everyone.

Story Engineering is Brooks’ method of planning out a novel. It’s not what to write, but how to gather all of the needed components before writing begins. He breaks this down into “Six Core Competencies”:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Structure
  • Scene execution
  • and Writing voice

Brooks says, “… the Six Core Competencies is a checklist that must be addressed and completed before a story will work.” I’m going to take his word for it since he’s actually published books.

The House Metaphor

snoopyhouseFor me, the Core Competencies are like building a house. You need a foundation, walls, tools, etc. to design, build, and finish a house. Not having everything will build a house that topples or is never finished. Sounds like most of my novels to date.

The main problem I have with Brooks is that he’s very wordy (that’s saying a lot coming from someone who likes to ramble) and tends to talk in confusing circles. That’s why I’m attempting to break things down and cut out the clutter, so to speak.

I’m going to start with his first Core Competency. It’s good to remember, though, that you can start with any of the first four which he calls “essential elements.” These are the building blocks of the house: the blueprints, the foundation, studs, and walls. You can start a project by gathering these things in any order, but you can’t actually build a house until you have all of them in one place. I like to start with Concept because it’s the “foundation” in my metaphor.

Concept, though, can be confusing. Brooks goes around and around trying to describe it and how it’s different from “ideas” and a “premise.” It doesn’t help that people often use the three terms interchangeably in common vernacular. In the end, he says it doesn’t really matter what you call it, as long as you get that foundation laid.

Ideas vs. Concept

So, what’s the difference?

lightbulb-ideaI look at it this way: Ideas are those little sparks you get in the shower while you rush to get ready for work. You know what I’m talking about. They’re the most basic building blocks of a story with little detail. An idea is that first shovel of dirt moved as the foundation is laid.

I want to write a story about aliens.

That tells you nothing about the story except that it is about aliens. Which may or may not be interesting to read.

Concept takes that up a level. It evolves that simple idea into something usable. It’s kind of like a short summary or logline you might pitch to an agent.

I want to write a story about a teen alien that must stop his mentor/father figure from invading Earth while living secretly among humans during an anthropology school assignment.

That’s a concept. It tells you a little about the character and main conflict. There’s something original and interesting–a twist on the generic alien invasion story.

Premise goes a step further. It tells you what the story is about underneath. Is the story about the struggle of the alien coming to terms with his mentor/father figure betraying him? Does it expose the hypocrisy of humans through the alien’s eyes? Does it highlight the inherent racism and division of human society and how they get past that once aliens attack? Answering those questions would raise the concept to a premise.

This is actually the plot of one of my unwritten novels, although it hasn’t been fully developed. Someday I’ll write it because I really want to read that.

Where do ideas come from?

According to Brooks, ideas can spawn from any of the four essential elements.

  • Character – “I want to write a story about a girl with a famous brother.”
  • Theme – “I want to write a story about the consequences of abandoning your friends.”
  • Structure – “I want to write a story about two kids that survive an accident that kills their friend.”
  • Concept – “I want to write a fanfic about an alternate universe that reverses the roles of the main characters.”

None of these are concepts yet, but they are, coincidentally, the ideas for some of my novels and fanfics.

Boys Like Mine – My 2015 NaNo novel about a girl whose TV star brother has a breakdown and comes to live with her while getting his life together and inadvertently throws hers into chaos with his fame.

“Homecoming” – A 2005 That 70s Show fanfic about Hyde disappearing for twenty years after the season seven finale and the emotional struggle of picking up the pieces of his life and friendships when he finally returns to Point Place.

Whatever It Takes – A novel I wrote in 2013 about two teens thrown together (and eventually falling for each other) in their grief and guilt after they survive a car accident that kills the girl’s sister who was dating the boy at the time.

The Great Ring Series – A Stargate SG-1 fanfic series I wrote in 2011 set in an alternate universe where the Stargate isn’t understood until modern times which results in Sam being promoted to Lt. Colonel and leading SG-1 while Jack is demoted to Major and has to learn to be subordinate to an inexperienced field officer. (There are four stories, but the series is unfinished.)

These descriptions are a lot closer to concepts, although they could be fleshed out more. Hopefully, you get the idea.

Where am I going with this?

My goal is to actually develop an idea through all of the levels of Brooks’ Core Concepts (hopefully before NaNo starts in November). So, I should probably come up with some ideas. I spent a little time brainstorming the other day and hit on these four generic ideas–one for each essential element:

  • a story about two teens that meet in the virtual reality of an online game (concept)
  • a story about a YouTube vlogger (character)
  • a story about mental illness (theme)
  • a story about what happens during a traffic jam caused by the total eclipse (structure)

After consideration, I narrowed the choices down to two–the one about the virtual world and the one about the vlogger. And after a little more brainstorming, I settled on the vlogger story.

My daughter being creepy AF

I actually got the idea from my eleven-year-old daughter who is obsessed with vlogs, especially the ones that involve entire families. I was sitting there one day, while she rambled on again about this guy she watches, and I was like, “you know, I’m totally going to write a story about a vlogger one of these days.” She got annoyed that I interrupted her. Then I did it again: “I’m going to write a story about a vlogger that decides he doesn’t want to do the vlog anymore but his family won’t let him quit.” Even then, the idea was evolving into a concept.


How do you go from idea to concept?

Brooks idea is to list “what if” questions? They will lead one to another if the concept is good. In other words, brainstorming. Sometimes, the questions open the plot up. Other times, they illuminate some hidden, deeper aspect of the story.

What if the vlogger wants to quit because his parents film everything he does?
What if they won’t let him quit because the vlog makes them a lot of money?
What if they are negotiating to turn the show into a reality TV series?
What if the vlogger runs away to avoid being exploited further by his family?

That’s the general idea.

Next week, I’m going to focus on developing this idea into a concept. And hopefully, that will lead to Brooks’ other Core Competencies.

You can join in the fun by brainstorming an idea for each of the “four essential elements.” Pick one then take it a step further by asking “what if” questions to see if there’s the hint of a concept hiding in there somewhere. Let us know what idea you chose and why.


More in this series:
[Part 1] An Introduction


Story Engineering: An Introduction


It’s that time of year again. Summer is coming to a close, kids are gearing up to go back to school, and people all over the world are prepping for NaNoWriMo in November. In between the back-to-school shopping and last-minute summer trips, I’m planning story outlines in my head. Or trying to anyway. There are three weeks left before school starts and two and a half months until NaNo. I can do this.


I have no idea what I want to write in November, but I know I can’t have a repeat of last year. I didn’t pick an idea until October 30 and didn’t have time to prep at all.

patricktearsI gave up after a week despite really loving the premise of the novel. I just didn’t have time to world build. This year, I want to be ready ahead of time. And I want a solid idea that I can grow into an actual publishable book. I thought my 2015 novel would be that, but the more I go over it, the more I realize there are some fatal flaws in the plot.

storyengineeringMy solution is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I’ve had this book for years and have read it several times, and each time, I put it down more confused than when I started. It’s been a couple of years since I last tried to understand Brooks’ theories, so I pulled it out, hoping for inspiration and direction. Shockingly, it all started to make sense. Once you get past Brooks’ long-winded, round-about way of describing things. I mean, seriously, it took 23 pages before he even got to listing his “core competencies.” Twenty-three pages of him talking circles.

I’ll save you the headache and break it down for you.

Brooks has a method for writing, and since he’s published multiple books and coaches other authors to publication, I’m going to assume he knows what he’s talking about. He calls his method, “The Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing.” And it’s less a method of writing and more a process of story development “that must be addressed and completed before a story will work.” With me so far? Probably not.

What I mean (and what Brooks takes eleventy billion words to say) is that the Six Core Competencies don’t tell you how or what to write but how to gather all of the elements you need to kickstart your writing. It’s a list of things that need to build your novel. And it can work for planners and pantsers once you know what you’re doing. Or so Brooks says.

So what are these mystic Core Competencies?

Here’s one of Brooks’ descriptions:

… The Six Core Competencies are like six categories of aligned pieces of the storytelling puzzle. Within each is a longer list of specific things to consider, and then each of those specific things has its own qualitative criteria and checklists that ensure you’ve considered them properly. There is nothing about storytelling that doesn’t clearly and cleanly fall into one of these six categories.

See what I mean about “wordy?”

Brooks’ book is full of anecdotes and examples from films and novels, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to his metaphors, and he tends to jump from one to the next like a hummingbird on crack. By the end of the first chapter, I wanted to smack his editor upside the head. I’ll give you my short version:

1. CONCEPT. Concept is the development of your idea. You have a basic idea that just suddenly comes to you. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that dream about dragons or that crazy conversation you overheard at the coffee shop or the article in the newspaper that sparks your imagination. But “concept” is more than just that first idea. It’s the development of that idea into something that resembles a story with a protagonist, conflict, and resolution. It’s the foundation of your novel.

2. CHARACTER. This one is kind of obvious. You need good, solid characters or nobody is going to care about what happens to them. Like studs holding up walls, they support the rest of the story and give you something to build on.

3. THEME. Theme is one of the most confusing things he talks about in his book, and one of the things that often eludes me. Theme is what the story is about. Not what happens or who it happens to, but what gives the story meaning. Theme is the walls wrapping around your novel and pulling it all together.

4. STRUCTURE. This is the biggest component of what Brooks calls the “four essential elements.” Basically, it’s the plot. He breaks it down into four parts which correspond with the basic Three Act Structure most people know with Act II separated into two parts. The structure is like the blueprints of your novel telling you where all of those studs characters need to go and how to arrange the rooms scenes.

5. SCENE EXECUTION. Scene execution zooms in on the structure. It’s about how you format a scene. What is happening? Why is it happening? Does it set up the next scene in the sequence? If Structure is the blueprints, then Scene Execution is the layout of furniture in the rooms. (I think my metaphor is running away from me.)

6. WRITING VOICE. For a lot of people, voice is one of the hardest parts of writing to nail down. It’s not just the “voice” of the characters, but the broader sound of the prose. Meaning, the words you choose can dramatically change the feel of a story. There’s a big difference between a mystery novel and a young adult novel. Between J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. Your voice is the personal style you bring to the novel–the way you “decorate” the scenes.

duhI’m sure some people are reading the list and thinking, “well, duh, you need those things.” Like building a house, though, there’s a lot more to it than just listing your characters’ names or picking an idea from thin air. If you’re missing any one of these elements, your house isn’t going to stand up. Or it’s going to be a maze of rooms that all look the same and no one will want to live there. In other words, your story will be boring or confusing or a rambling mess.

Story Engineering is about how to gather all of those little elements and assemble your house novel.

So, my plan is to tackle each competency one by one. There are ten and a half weeks until NaNo starts. Hopefully, by the end, I’ll have a solid outline of the plot and a firm grasp of the characters and goals–to guide my writing. In other words, I’ll have the foundation dug, the studs and walls ready to go up, and a plan for how to put it all together. All that will be needed is the finishing touches. The paint and drapes and kitchen tiles that make a house unique, so to speak.

spongebobdanceThere won’t be a repeat of last year.

So, come back next week when I’ll be discussing ideas–where they come from and how to use them to develop a “concept”–the first essential element of story development.


Part 2: Ideas Vs. ConceptPart 2: Ideas Vs. Concept

kids, writing

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

I convinced all four kids to join the Young Writer’s Program.  I knew I could get Brenna to do it because she likes to write but I was shocked when Meagan nearly fell off her chair with excitement.  MEAGAN!  Wanting to do something educational!  Owen was reluctant but then came up with a story idea and wants to try.  Nora, of course, wants to do everything the older kids do.

Meagan has decided to write fanfiction.  She’s reading James Patterson’s Maximum Ride stories (on book 2 now) and she already has an idea for a story.  She’s plotting it out in her head, she said.  She chose a 2000 word goal but thinks she can write more.

Owen isn’t sure what he’s going to write.  I suggested something about a space war since he’s into sci-fi and military stuff.  So now he’s doodling space wars.  His doodles are hilarious and so cute.  They’re all stick figures but really detailed.  Hopefully he’ll come up with an idea before November.  He chose an 800 word goal which is a lot for a kid that HATES to write.

Brenna’s idea is my favorite.  She told me she wanted to write about our move across the country last summer so I suggested she do that but from the point of view of a dog because she loves dog.  Her eyes lit up at that idea.  She’s already decided on what kind of dog (chocolate lab) and her name (Flower) and a title (Flower On the Move).  I told her she should draw a cover for the book with a truck piled super high with stuff and a dog sitting on top and mountains in the background.  She was so excited that last night she did some brainstorming and outlining then wrote 40+ words on another topic (supposedly about being grounded and how much she hated it but I haven’t read it).  She chose a 500 word limit which comes out to like 17 words a day but she thinks she can write more.  Her story idea is so cool I’m thinking of writing my own version later on.

And then Nora just HAD to have her own account and challenge.  So she chose a 100 word limit (which was middle ground for a kindergartener according to the website) and wants to write about our family going to a pumpkin patch.  I told her she should write about a zoo but she be the monkey wondering why all the people kept watching her.  We’ll see what she’ll come up with.

I’m glad they’re all interested but this is going to create a huge scheduling issue with the computer.  That’s 5 people wanting to use the computer.  And we only have the one.  Should be interesting.

On a related note:
Meagan came home from school yesterday and suddenly “found” all her missing math assignments.  Four of them were stuff done in class.  Apparently they do an assignment from their book every other day or so and then have to turn it in the next morning.  So, if you don’t finish it in class you’re supposed to do it for homework.  Her binder was so disorganized she couldn’t even find where she stuffed the papers.  So I spent almost four hours helping her with math to make sure she actually understood what she was doing.  I now have had plenty of practice in fractions, long division and decimals.  Oy.

But she now has all 6 assignments finished plus her homework from last night.  Not sure we did them all right because it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve done 6th grade math, lol.  The highest she can get on each assignment is 80% so if she gets some wrong her score won’t be high but it’s better than a straight 0.  If she got all the answers right it will bring her grade up to a B.

We also worked on organizing her binder.  I have no idea why they don’t use folders and didn’t have dividers on the supply list.  Luckily I had dividers in our school supply box so she pulled everything out and organized it by class.  She also knows if this happens again she’s grounded.

I was also shocked at how messy her work was.  I can’t believe the school allows the disaster that was her homework pages.  When I was a kid it would not have been accepted and I would have had to redo it.  She doesn’t use the lines on her paper at all.  She just randomly puts a number down then does the work and then starts the next problem where ever she wants.  Nothing is written on the lines (not even non-math answers).  I was appalled.  I told her she will write on the lines and write neatly or she’ll be doing lines every day… 50 times of “I will write neatly on the lines,” should get it in her head.  By the last page she was using the lines and being neater.  Hopefully she’ll transfer that to other classes because her world history teacher has been on her case about neatness.  But his papers are printouts and don’t have lines.


NaNo planning: plot

Anyone have any pointers on planning out an episodic story arc like in a TV show?

I’ve always been fascinated with how a show’s story arcs progress and the whole process of coming up with the ideas.  Especially with the number of writers, producers and creative minds are involved with plotting/developing a show.  I watched all of SG-1 with the commentaries on (for every episodes they are available) and ate up all the little tidbits about the behind the scenes writing and producing.

Anyway… my NaNo endeavor this year (I refuse to call it a novel or a story because it’s not really either) is going to be plotted out like a TV show.  It will be made up of shorter stories linked together.  I’ll probably refer to them as “episodes” from time to time because that’s how I view them in my head but I’m not writing it script style.  They’ll be full stories just not 50k words each (I hope).  We’ll see how the “pilot” story goes before I decide on a word count per story.  I’m hoping to keep them kind of even with the first story being twice as long as the others (a double episode!).  There will probably only be a few episodes included in my NaNo but this is all for me.  It’s just one of those projects I’ve always wanted to do and NaNo is the perfect time to try it out.

Anyway, plot is kind of an issue.  Mostly in that many of my stories have none.  At least not when I start writing.  I might have an idea of what’s supposed to happen but I don’t really think about it.  I just start writing and it usually works itself out.  If it doesn’t than the story doesn’t get done and no one ever sees it (and I slowly go mad with my growing pile of “in progress” works that scream to be finished).

As with my character post I want to be a little more prepared this year.  Especially since I’m writing original fic.  I’ve learned through some fictionland challenges this year that I can play around with my own created universes and write stories for them as if I’m writing fanfic.  Only difference is I’m the only fan and the only one that knows what’s going on, lol.

So, in my head I see me kind of planning out a TV show.  What *I* would like to see happen in each episode and then writing it fanfic style.  I’ll be my biggest fan.  I hope.  I’d hate to write something I dislike.  Hmmm.

Yeah, so I want to write something epic.  Which takes planning as I discovered last year because my “epic” SG-1 novel is still unfinished (*cries and stomps feet*).

So this is my plot planning post (who’s the queen of alliteration?)

My main story arc is that Logan (our intrepid hero) is thrown into the future while on a mission to the moon (which takes place in our future to begin with…timeline isn’t set yet).  The time flux that caused his own temporal leap begins showing up all over the galaxy.  If they don’t figure out where it came from or a way to stop it the flux will tear the entire universe apart.

Yeah, generic (it’s much better in my head, I swear).

That would be the main story arc for a “season” of stories/episodes.  The overlying motive of Logan but probably won’t become glaringly obvious until several stories in.

Another story arc will be his animosity for the “leaders” of the ship he’s on for their support of the cultural slave society.  He doesn’t understand the workings of the world they live in or how slaves fit in but because in his time enslaving someone is morally wrong he fights against it.  He has to learn his own place in their world.  So’Fey and Del help him come to terms with that.  But, because of his own ethics he can’t ever stop fighting for the inherent freedom he believes all people should have even if he has to accept that he probably won’t see any change in his lifetime.

But that leads to him having to make alliances with the “leaders” that he despises so, having them come to some kind of understanding (mostly with him and the chief and Captain Bay).  When Bay is gone and the chief seems to slip over to Logan’s side the antagonist will switch to the new captain (Mr. No Name).

My big problem is deciding on more short term arcs.  The ones for individual stories.  The pilot is pretty easy as it’s taken up mostly with setup stuff–introducing characters and setting up the story arcs themselves.  Pilot episodes are usually too rushed or seem overly “talkative” as characters flat out explain everything that’s going on.  Like the horrible opening of Angel where Doyle gives a rundown of Angel’s history from start until the end of Buffy season 3.  Lame and hard to watch if you were a fan of Buffy first and already knew the story.  And just plain lame if you have no clue what’s going on because it sounds completely forced and stupid because Angel already knows his own history.  Joss does much better in Firefly… sort of, it’s hard to tell with FOX fucking with the schedule so badly.  I liked his slow introduction of characters… except for the part that he never really gets around to showing their background because the show was canceled so quickly.

I’m aiming for somewhere in between.  With some stuff quickly put out there but the background stuff being reveled more slowly (like Del’s history of being a princess sold into slavery by her own father and her being a “prisoner” of the ship after Bay dies).

I have a few more “concrete” (and, yeah, I’m use quotes all over the place in this post… imagine me giving this post orally with lots of air-quotes all over the place because I really have no clue what I’m talking about, lol) scenes in my head for the pilot story.  As in I can picture Logan and his team on the moon and losing contact with Earth.  Then they finally get a view and the planet shifts from a lush green and blue ball below (or above or from the side… 3 dimensional space confuses me) them to a debris field.  That’s immediately followed by mass confusion by the astronauts and then things get really weird as the world (or moon as it is) around them begins to flux, fading in and out–the gray dirt and rocks of the Moon suddenly replaced by polished stone and windows and many people wandering around.

Then I have a vague idea of how Logan will meet So’Fey in lock up after he’s dragged away from what’s left of his landing pod and crew (who die because they happen to be standing right where there’s a wall when the future shifts into their reality–or they shift into the future to be more accurate).  He’s confused, scared and more than a little upset, yelling for someone to tell him what’s going on.  They think he’s crazy and stolen a costume from the museum (the space suit) so they strip him and lock him up.  So’Fey then helps calm him down and figures out what happened to him.

I also have a sort of vague idea of how he’ll meet Del but I’m not sure I want to use it.  I’m not really sure how I want to revel her character.  One idea is to have him literally run into her as So’Fey is leading him to her quarters or where ever it is she sleeps so she can get him some clothes and keep him calm.  But it would be really short as he just bumps into her and she glares and walks off.  It could be he’s really taken by her (love at first site kind of set up without the love… just interest) or he doesn’t notice her at all because he’s so confused.

Or I could wait until later in the episode when he’s introduced to Captain Bay since she’s like his 2nd in command without the command part (getting things done in the background without any of the recognition or perks).  Where, once again he can either notice her or completely miss her because she is so common.  Either way her history will be reveled later on and slowly.  First the realization that she’s Bay’s slave.  Then later still that she doesn’t mind being a slave really and then the story of her entry into slavery (her father selling her) and finally what happened to her as a slave (mainly the brothel stuff because that’s the most serious stuff in Logan’s mind… it will sort of taint his image of her).

Other than that happening in the first story I’m not sure what else I plan.  I had thought of killing Bay off before Logan meets him but then decided I wanted him to actually know the captain so he can see the contrast between Bay (who he thinks is a monster for allowing the slave trading) and No Name who really is a monster.  There’s also going to be another time flux while Logan’s on the ship (which would probably be mid-story so right around the end of hour 1 in a 2 hour pilot episode, leading into the bigger problem at hand).

But I really don’t know how I want to work it.  I think I’m going to get my notebook and just write down a bunch of permutations to see which ones I like the best.

I do have some broader story arcs in my head like the time flux keeps disrupting areas of the galaxy like the Moon.  Sometimes the ship will jump times and other times other ships will or whole plants.  I envision one story where the ship stops at a known trading planet (as part of the pilgrimage or to refuel or whatever it is the ship does to keep ferrying people to religious sites) only to find the entire planet is out of sync chronologically (real nice timey-wimey stuff).  The people and the technology on the planet are from several hundred years in the past are just as confused as Logan was.  But it takes awhile for the pilgrims to realize it causing all sorts of issues on the planet and for the ship.

Another will have the entire ship transported in time only to be taken back to their original time (or close to it).  Eventually all this time hopping begins to takes its toll on the ship and people.  Some of them start looking for a scapegoat and realize all their problems begin when Logan, a strange stranger, first appears on the ship.  He has to convince him that he didn’t cause the flux and will probably be aided by So’Fey.  Who devoutly believes Logan is some kind of god-incarnate.

For other episode-stories I’m just going to raid tvtropes sci-fi tropes list, lol.  All my favorites will get an episode.  I just have to write them all down and decide which order to do them.  If I was really daring I’d put them in a hat and draw them at random.  But I think I want the storyline to make more sense than that.  We’ll see.

I’ll use non-sci-fi tropes, too, of course.  I’m sure the characters will easily snap into a trope because they’re meant to.  I’m not going for overly complicated here.  Maybe in later stories if I ever feel like continuing the series.  There’s always room for character development, right?

There is so much planning to do and, as usual, I left it to the last minute.  There’s, what? 21 days until NaNo starts to plan this stuff out.

So, yeah, this post isn’t all that helpful.  Well, maybe slightly in it got some ideas on paper and sorted out.  Any trope requests out there?  Favorites you want me to fit in somehow?  Ideas for story arcs/plot twists.  TV shows are written by multiple writers so all suggestions are welcome.



NaNo planning: characters

[not to self: need AWESOME NaNo icon pronto]

Last week some time, on another site, I made this very awesome post about my proposed NaNo endeavor that went into detail about the characters I have figured out thus far.  I was quite proud of it but didn’t think to copy any of it down.  Why would I when I planned to check back into the thread in the following days to see if anyone responded.

Except when I checked back said post was no where to be found.  It has disappeared into internet oblivion along with my descriptions.  That I DIDN’T.  WRITE.  DOWN.


It’s not that I don’t remember most of the details it’s just that the whole thing came sound really put together in that post.  Like I actually knew what I was talking about and that these characters are more than just shells floating in my head.  Sigh.  I sigh a lot lately.  Now I have to try and remember what I had.

+ Logan March: an astronaut who is on a mission to the moon when he and his team lose contact with Earth.  He finds himself transported into a very distant, strange future where Earth is no more and there’s a shrine on the Moon to the “lost ancestors”.  He’s accused of defiling one of the exhibits in the museum when he’s found in his spacesuit and arrested by the temple’s security chief.  He meets So’Fey, a priestess, while in the jail.  She realizes he is in fact an “ancestor” and helps him to get out of custody and fit in with the denizens of the pilgrimage ship that is in orbit around the Moon.  He’s instantly at odds with Captain Bay and the ship’s own security chief.  He also meets Del-Bay, a slave belonging to the captain.  He doesn’t get how the future can be so dystopian with slaves (sex slaves, no less) and feels superior to the modern humans inhabiting the ship.  Which doesn’t help ease things between him and Bay.  Del becomes a sore spot between the two with the security chief getting caught in the middle of their dispute (hence his loathing for Logan).  Eventually Logan comes to terms with the issue and learns to live with things as they are.  The fact that there are more pressing matters at hand helps.  The whole universe is in flux with time warping bubbles popping up all over the place causing all sorts of havoc.  Now he has to find a way to get back to his own time or stop the flux before it tears apart space-time.

+ So’Fey is the first main character Logan meets after jumping to the future.  She’s a “priestess” in the loosest sense of the word.  She’s older, probably in her 60s, but is sharp and not afraid to speak her peace.  Which doesn’t help her in her in her spiritual endeavors.  She’s constantly in trouble with the law and her own religious order for not following traditions and rules but she has her own moral and ethical code she lives by.  She also knows how to work the system to get what she needs.  She comes off as being this kind, flakey gramma type but it’s obviously some kind of ruse because Logan first meets her in the temple jail where she’s locked up for unknown reasons.  The chief lets her go, though, with minimal fuss making it seem as this is a common occurrence for them.  She realizes right away that something is different about Logan and surmises that he is from the past (an ancestor) who most people in her time worship like gods.  She helps him get out of jail and takes him to the pilgrimage ship in orbit and teaches him about her time.  Her motives are unclear, seemingly altruistic and selfish at the same moment (is she in it for the greater good of beings or wanting to use Logan’s ancestor status to gain power/respect in her own order?).  But she does help him and seems to be liked by the slaves and other lower classes in the strictly class-bound ship.

+ Del-Bay (who has a last name that I can’t think of at the moment) is a slave attached to the captain of the ship, Bay.  Her hyphenated name denotes her status and owner.  She was born on a small moon, one of many daughters of the ruling king.  When famine strikes the moon he sells his children for the “greater good” so to speak.  She doesn’t know if her planet survived since she was very small when she was taken away (around 5 or 6).  She’s gone through many owners, changing hands depending on her usefulness.  Despite the distasteful nature of slavetrading they have strict rules about what certain ages/genders can do.  When she comes of age sexually she is then sent off to a brothel.  She’s not treated badly persay and since being a slave is all she knows it isn’t extremely traumatic for her but she’s never felt loved or even has a concept of love.  She’s just passed from one owner/lover to another without much thought of it.  As long as she pleases her owners she will be well treated (like a prized pet or star worker).  Sometimes she was treated better than the paid workers.  At some point Bay comes to own her and becomes captain of the ship.  He treats her okay and her capacity is strictly that of assistant, managing many of the mundane tasks on the ship in the guise of the captain.  She isn’t treated as well by other crew members.  Many don’t take highly to the lofty position she holds as just a slave (having basically more responsibility and better perks than they do even if they have freedoms she doesn’t).  One of the higher officers (no name at the moment) is particularly hateful towards her.  Later he tries to gain ownership of her when Bay dies.  The other slaves don’t much care for her either, thinking she is snobbish even when she isn’t just for the fact that she is held in such regard by the captain (just the fact that he trusts her explicitly with the day to day activities of the ship results in her being an outcast on all fronts).

+ Captain Bay (haven’t thought of a first name yet) is the original captain of the pilgrimage ship.  He’s a mostly fair leader and strives for efficiency in the running of the ship, using Del to keep things running smooth.  He’s more about following the rules and keeping with the status quo.  That despite the fact that he uses Del as, basically, an XO instead of the military trained officer at his disposal.  Which, according to their laws, is acceptable.  His ship, his choice of servants, officers, assistants and their official jobs (they technically aren’t a military vessel–complicated political-social muckings will be thought about later, lol).  Eventually he dies, though, leaving the ship in turmoil.  Well, that and the fact that the ship is nearly destroyed in one of the time fluxes.  Lots of people die, the ship is wrecked and things are all over the place in chaos.

Those are the only characters that I have even really thought out.  I have more details for some of them or, at least, ideas of the plots surrounding key moments for those characters.

Other characters (mostly no names at the moment):

+ Mr. No Name Officer–he takes over after Captain Bay dies and immediately tries to take Del, too.  She is literally enslaved to the ship by something techno-babbley that I won’t think about at the moment so she can’t physically leave even though Bay is dead and her servitude to him is ended.  She’s technically free since he didn’t leave her to anyone but No Name insists ownership should revert to the new captain.  The law isn’t on his side, though, and Del is free to go about her life… never leaving the ship, though.  This creates more tension between him and Logan who has deemed himself Del’s champion (much to her chagrin, she doesn’t need a champion and thinks her life is not too bad despite the slavery).  Not sure how long No Name will be in command since he’s not well liked.  Might have to kill him off early (friendly fire, anyone?).

+ Security Chief (of the ship)–doesn’t have a name yet, either but he’s going to be kind of one those flip-floppy friend/foe kind of guys.  He’s morally sound so will side with whoever his own conscious tells him is right so he gets stuck in the middle of a lot of posturing between Bay/No Name and Logan.  The captain usually has the law on his side which Chief holds highly but Logan has ethics and morality on his side (sometimes).  Eventually it will come to a head where the Chief finally has to choose a side causing him to be outcast along with So’Fey and Logan, his two biggest troublemakers.

+ The “Big Bad”–since this post doesn’t get into plot all I’ll say is he’s a mad scientist guy but I don’t have any real motives behind his actions, yet.  He’s the one causing the time flux stuff and needs to be stopped before his insanity destroys the universe.

I’m also in need of a “sidekick” for Logan.  Not sure if I want to go with another guy or a tomboyish girl (I’m partial to the tomboy because I am one).  I know it’s all cliche but that’s the point.  I’m getting all the plots straight from TVtropes.  All my favorite sci-fi tropes will be included.

For the sidekick/best friend I could go with the guy that kind of takes pity on Logan and helps him out in jams but ends up being evil in the end throwing things off balance.  Or with the girl who’s “one of the guys” or in another way under the radar but turns out to be totally kick ass when she needs to be.  Or it could be both as in it starts out mainly being one or the other and has to switch because of events.

The plot is following a television episodic storyline.  So there will be many shorter stories (or episodes as I will call them) linked together by longer story arcs.  I was thinking he’d befriend both the guy and girl and when the guy turns evil he’ll have the back up of the girl as his sidekick.  I also want her there for later “love interest” because I have an idea for later (don’t want to spoil it just yet).

Plus I need like a million other smaller characters to flesh out the reality.  Firstly Logan’s crew that he’s with on the moon before the time flux.  They’re going to die right at the beginning but I need names and something to make them real to him.  Plus other officers, crew and slaves on the ship.  Other people in So’Fey’s religious order (her leaders that don’t like her).  And other random miscreants on the ship.  Just your regular extras you’d see on a TV show.  It helps to have this all plotted out or have them in reserve so I’m not making crap up on the fly (which is my usual style).