National Graphic Novel Writing Month, Day 17: Fools! I shall tell you my evil plot!
The month’s half over and amazingly, I have yet to reference former Valiant Comics editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden‘s lecture on “The Evil Overlord Devises a Plot“. This must be remedied immediately because, even though you are probably deep in your story, you may have hit a few snags along the way. Her own plot advice says “steal from the best” and so I’m going to steal from her. Take it away, Teresa:
Start with some principles:
- A plot doesn’t have to be new. It just has to be new to the reader.
- In fact, it doesn’t even have to be new to the reader. It just
has to get past him. (It helps if the story’s moving fast and there’s
lots of other interesting stuff going on.)
- A plot device that’s been used a thousand times may be a
cliche, but it’s also a trick that works. That’s why it keeps getting
- Several half-baked ideas can often be combined into one fully-cooked one.
- If you have one plot presented three ways, you have three
plots. If you have three plots presented one way, you have one plot. (I
stole this principle from Jim Macdonald’s lecture on how to really
generate plots, which is much better than my lecture on stupid plot
- Steal from the best.
Looked at from this angle, the Internet’s various lovingly-compiled
cliche lists are a treasury of useful plot devices. The instructions that
follow are one way to use them.
1. Below, you’ll find a comprehensive collection of the various Evil
Overlord lists. Don’t go there yet. First, using whatever method pleases
you, generate five random numbers that fall within the following ranges:
2. Now go to the Evil Overlord lists, which I’ve divided into five
categories. Take your five random numbers and match them up to the
appropriate entries in the lists:
- Lead Characters (Bad)
- Lead Characters (Good)
- Auxiliary Characters (Bad)
- Auxiliary Characters (Good)
- Further Evil
You now have five juicy cliches.
You’re going to make a plot
out of them. You’ll find it’s fairly easy to make a silly one, but
it’s not all that much harder to turn them into a decent one. You’ve got a
lot of potential story to work with.
3. You’re not done yet. Before you start writing, roll one die. Take
whatever number comes up, and generate that many random numbers which fall
between 1 and 141. Now go to Murphy’s Laws of Combat, which follow the
Evil Overlord lists, and find the laws that match your numbers. These are
plot twists. Use them as needed. If your story absolutely requires that
Gareth go from point A to point B and drop off a package at the Post
Office along the way, but you’re finding that part dreary, tossing in
modifiers like “Every man has a scheme that will not work” or “If your
attack is going really well, it’s an ambush” will suggest ways to liven it
Alternately, you can go here and have them
all generated for you.
4. You’re allowed to throw out one cliche, but only if you’re
convinced you know another comparably lurid thing that should be
happening there instead. You’re also allowed to use the cliches
straight or reversed. Say you’ve drawn A-34, “I will not turn into a
snake. It never helps.” You can have a character turn into a snake and
find it doesn’t help, or do it and find it very useful indeed, or decline
to do something so obviously useless and do something else instead. That’s
fine. Just get in there and make the story start happening.
5. You may be tempted to throw out awkward-seeming list picks and go for
more obviously writer-friendly cliches. That’s your choice; but try the
awkward set first. It’s figuring out how to make them work together that
produces interesting and unexpected story lines.
6. If you’re trying to write science fiction, it may be useful at
this point to pull the same stunt using the mighty and compendious SF
cliches list at http://users4.50megs.com/enphilistor/cliche.htm. For a
perfectly shameless mixture, you can also toss in a few cliches from the
“Things We Learned at the Movies” list—but only if you use them in
Me again. And since this is comics, we would be remiss if we didn’t include these comic cliche lists:
And if you have a few hours to burn, you can go through the lists at TV Tropes. But be very careful– you only have two weeks left to finish writing your graphic novel, and if you go there, you can easily spend two months. You’ve been warned.
Remember: you can follow all the NaGraNoWriMo posts here!