Story Forge Plot Card Update: The Menage A Trois Plot

For those of you who bought the Story Forge cards (and for why you should, if you haven’t already, here’s my review of them and a sample spread), creator BJ West has released a new spread: the menage a trois. (Spread… probably not the best word to use in this particular situation, although I find “layout” and “grouping” almost as problematic.)

Menage a Trois Spread

Once you have all of that established–plus the backstory that leads up to it–you’re going to have a major chunk of your novel done. If you use one of the other plot spreads to create a story plot that’s going along while this love triangle is working itself out, you will have enough to make an entire novel–maybe more than one, depending on the pacing.


Writers: Break in Case of Emergency

It has come to that time of NaNo when plots are out of steam, grand plans for a 400-page novel has turned into a 100 page novella, and you can’t even focus enough to write your name on a blank piece of paper.

My NaNo group plans for this eventuality. At one of the early meetings, everyone writes down a plot-changing situation. That is put into an envelope and everyone gets one envelope (hopefully not their own!) to take home. When the going gets tough, you’re allowed to break into the envelope and employ the plot ninja.

Plot Ninjas

Here are some plot ninjas. If you’re stuck, try them–even if they don’t currently fit into your plot at all. You never know how they might work their way into your story. (And even if you end up cutting them out, they could be the jump start you need. At the very least they’ll help your word count goals.)

Your main character, in a fit of craziness, drunkenness, emotional frailty, etc. kisses someone completely unexpected. The kissee is not their current partner. If they have a mad crush on someone and are trying to hook up with him/her, the kissee is NOT that person. It has to be unexpected. Note: your MC must be the one doing the kissing because this sets up internal conflict, whereas if they are the recipient of a drunken smooch, it can be too quickly dismissed.

Kill one of your secondary characters who is close to your MC. Personally, I have a reputation for killing characters–even ones that I build up well with back story and put on a clear path to romance. That’s because real life works that way. Also, I want to keep my reader guessing: will my MC even make it out the series alive? This creates suspense and keeps people emotionally invested and reading. (J. K. Rowling did this.)

Your MC has a sudden medical emergency. This can be from an accident or from a previously-undiagnosed health problem. It may or may not result in a permanent disability (although a permanent disability makes for a more interesting character), but it does need to involve a lengthy process–perhaps by being in the hospital for a while or having to take treatments or physical therapy afterwards. It could involve: a fall from a horse, a wound from a fight or attack, cancer, MS or MD, sudden blindness or deafness, paralyzation, a career-killing injury, a stroke, a fall from a building or bridge, a car accident, etc.

Your MC is laid off/fired from his/her job unexpectedly. If your MC is a kid, a parent suffers a sudden job loss that necessitates moving to a new school district. Or s/he gets expelled (given that some schools are expelling kids for having cold medicine at school, even a good kid can wind up on the wrong side of draconian policies).

Your MC gets religion. Preferably one they weren’t raised on and preferably one that requires a big change of lifestyle. (Orthodox Judaism or Mormonism anyone?) Your MC may or may not stick to it.

Additional Resources

Dragon Writing Prompts – typically small, random items to put into your story (which you then have to explain). For when you need a small nudge to your plot, not a major course correction.


Let’s Play with Plot Cards

These are now available for purchase. Click picture for link.

This morning, I laid out a basic story spread with the Story Forge plot cards. I thought I would share it as a writing exercise.

I would really love to see all the variations people come up with, so I encourage everyone to write the story, post it online somewhere, and share a link to it in the comments. If your story is flash fiction (1,000 words or less), you can share it directly in the comments, or you can share your first page.  (Yes, I’ll do up a story and share it, too!)

This is from the “Once Upon a Time” spread, which is short and fairly basic. You could get a rough outline for an entire novel from this, but it really seems best for short stories/novellas.

The Protagonist: A doctor or healer.

The Current Situation: Catastrophic physical disaster for individual, community, or humanity.

What Makes the Situation Unstable: Red tape

What Prevents the Protagonist’s Involvement: Lust

What Overcomes the Resistance: Epiphany (In an overwhelming instant, the true nature of the universe and one’s place in it is revealed.)

What Pushes the Protagonist into Action: The Officer (A career soldier with many years of training, combat experience, and a life in the military.)

Direction the Protagonist is Pushed: Courage (Emotional fortitude is found. Even in the face of impending doom, the will to go on is within reach.)

Goal: Solitude (The goal must be pursued alone. Either assistance is not available or it must be refused.)

Four of the eight cards were destiny cards which “represent the big issues in one’s live, those events that strike like lightning and leave everything completely changed forever.” So this catastrophic disaster is going to cause a major life change for our protagonist.

I debated whether or not to leave “solitude” as the goal card, because that’s not exactly a resolution, is it? But I decided that I liked it because it leaves the end more flexible. Does the hero conquer the disaster? Succumb to it? (Death is the ultimate solitude!) Or is he going to have to fight the good fight for the rest of his life? Solitude also implies that he loses his lust-mate, but it can also mean that he loses his officer mentor/partner/friend. Or it might mean that he is the sole survivor or has to shut himself off from others in order to work on a solution. (Think I Am Legend.)

There is nothing that says you have to adhere to the entire spread. For instance, “red tape” might be something that you don’t bother to represent (especially if you’re wanting a fairly short story), or it might appear towards the end of the story rather than at the beginning. The point of the cards is to give you an idea for a story, not write the entire story for you. So use them as a jumping-off point and feel free to deviate where necessary.

I will try to have a rough draft (or at least a start) by next week. So we’ll revisit this next Thursday and see what we come up with. Writers, start your computers!

My Apocrypha

When people have writer’s block, I advocate writing things which you know you will not put into your story. It can be as simple as a day-in-the-life of your main character. What does your MC do when the shit isn’t hitting the fan? Laundry? Cook from scratch? Lounge around the house in his underwear playing video games?

Personally, I think this serves two purposes. One, writing without a purpose can relieve the tension which is holding you back. Secondly, this is actually a good way to develop your characters without having to worry about being boring or having no plot. When you know your characters like you know your friends, it becomes much easier to write because you know what they will say or do in any given situation.

I have so much that I want to write, I don’t have much trouble with writer’s block. However, I sometimes write scenes which are not meant for my Acceptance trilogy just because it’s in my head, and I occasionally need to empty my brain of excess ideas. I end up liking these scenes because they are about character development and the relationships between my characters, but what exactly should I do with them? I’ve shared a couple of these scenes on my blog before, but not all of them.

And then it dawned on me the other day that these things are apocrypha. They’re scenes and short chapters which are done in the style of my books, but they don’t fit into the time frame of any of them. In short, perfectly good works which cannot be part of the canon.

And given that I have a slew of background information on my trilogy already available, why not add a section for apocryphal stories? God knows other authors of multi-book/epic novels do the same (Tolkien comes immediately to mind).

So expect to see some posts over the next week containing my apocrypha.