(Reposted from my (not so) Live Journal.)
I always get a kick out of answering questions about writing methods, because mine are so… bizarre. ;D
I don’t actually write the stories, per se. I’ll be here, in my mundane real world existence, bored to tears, and my Brain will start telling me stories. Doing scenes, that sort of thing. The whole thing plays out on the inner cinema of my mind. So, actually, I’m the first member of the audience, and sometimes I don’t know where the story is going any more than you do when you start reading it.
But I do actually do some work! I mean, if it were just as easy as writing down what my Brain dictated to me, I’d be a heck of a lot faster at this. :X The problem is, the parts I do are so much harder and (in my opinion) clunkier than the parts my Brain does.
“Green & Black” is a perfect example of the various processes. Here’s how the whole thing came to be….
I had actually forgotten (!!) to watch Arrow one week. (That’s okay; if I get too excited about a show, it always gets cancelled.) So I watched “Darkness at the Edge of Town” and got to The Cliffhanger! And I could have just gone straight on to the finale. However, I didn’t. I was basking in the “Argh, Cliffhanger!” glow. ::shrug::
The next morning, I asked my Brain, “Brain, why do you think Malcolm said ‘Oh no’ at the end there?” and “What do you think will happen next?” My Brain said, “They’re going to sit down and have a rational conversation about their similar goals.” Interesting, I thought. I wonder how that would go.
Well, that was turning the key to Pandora’s Box, there. The next thing I know, I’m watching Malcolm and Oliver having this intense conversation. Then I wondered what Diggle would say. Yep, then I saw Oliver and Diggle talking. That did not go well. What about Felicity? Here’s what happened to her. Wait… what would Moira think!?
My plan had been to watch the finale the next night. Instead, I deferred watching it until after the weekend. During that weekend, nearly the whole two seasons of “Green & Black” were mapped out. Many, many conversations were written.
In fact, if you look at “Green & Black,” the first half dozen or more chapters are made up almost entirely of two characters sitting somewhere talking to each other.
Once the character interactions and conflicts reach a critical mass (Malcolm & Oliver team up in an Enemy Mine Trope! Hooyah!), the story Must Be Written.
At that point, I need to step in and clear some things up. Adjust the plot, fix some inconsistencies, fill some holes. And… try to develop an actual plot.
I have to confess, I suck at plotting. No, really.
Example Number One: Malcolm and Oliver team up, Felicity is being held prisoner (and causing her own problems), Diggle is still held on suspicion of theft. There should be a little mini-mission where the two go out together, before the others return to make a full team. What should they do?
Brain is no help. Bloodsong has no idea what sort of white collar crimes could fit the bill related to The List. Bloodsong watches some episodes of White Collar, which is no help whatsoever, because they all deal with counterfeiters and jewel heists.
Finally, Bloodsong decides to just swipe a typical ponzi scheme, sorta like was already done on Arrow. Bloodsong sticks a guy in an apartment and places the Vigilante and the Dark Archer on a roof across the way. Brain says, “Let’s make it like that episode of Sledge Hammer, where Sledge busts in on the Satanic cult leader who is in the shower.” Yeah, that should be fun! Bloodsong adds some dashes of real life experience with police activity in the neighborhood.
The whole thing was a boatload of work! And that was SMALL!
Example Number Two: Next, Diggle is released (Felicity is still being stubborn). Aha, they should go on a three man mission. Any ideas, Brain? Of course not! Bloodsong has a brilliant idea: Diggle hates Deadshot; Deadshot shot Malcolm… let’s do a Deadshot mission!
Boom! Brain comes up with this highly dramatic escapade on a rooftop with Malcolm and Diggle struggling with Deadshot who has a bomb strapped to his chest. Awesome. (Brain has no flipping idea how that scene ends, or what they’re going to do with a wired-up Deadshot. Brain let’s me bang my head on the wall trying to figure all that out!)
I say, “Let’s do the briefing.” Each mission comes in four parts: the setup, the plan/briefing, the action, and the aftermath/debriefing. Brain starts rolling the mind cinema film, where Oliver, Diggle, and Malcolm are being snippy with each other. Suddenly, Felicity is there, also being snippy with Malcolm. Wow, this is Good Stuff! But, Brain… Felicity isn’t there yet. This was supposed to be a 3-man mission!
Brain: “Too bad! I’m stealing it for a stand-alone four-person mission!”
Bloodsong: “Wait! What am I supposed to do for the 3-man mission?”
Brain: “Dunno. Bye!”
So now I’m stuck in the middle of G&B season one, with no mission! No ideas. I had to make it up all my myself! Argh! You don’t think I suck at plotting? I need an idea!
Well, certainly not another white collar crime from The List. That was lame. Diggle’s right, let’s fight regular crime! Or semi-regular crime. I decided a kidnapping would be fun. Kidnapping a kid. Then I got the idea to put in one of those little girl beauty pageant things. Spiced it up with some real-life plots. Cobbled it together with some half-baked backstory, glued it together loosely with some Rule of Cool…..
(Seriously, look at that plot. How much money can an upper-middle-class couple front for a kidnapping? And how many ways are the kidnappers going to divide it? Did you see how many guards they had for one little girl? SIX! Those guys were not making enough money!)
Example Number Three: All right, the end of season one needed the full on four-person-mission. Brain, what do you have for that? Brain: “…..” Right. The only thing we had down for that was the code-name bits, and Felicity’s male-slash comment. Well, so at least I knew part of the mission had to be Oliver and Malcolm sneaking somewhere….
I had been watching Sliders on Netflix. One episode took place in a chemical plant. Aha, I thought, I will steal this idea and have the G&B finale in a chemical plant. Doing what? I dunno. But, hey, chemical plant. Environmental disasters! Toxic waste dumping! Yeah!
Still no actual plot. Time was running out. I was desperate! So, I asked for some advice from StarKayak. Star has some really great stories about Jack Harkness and the Doctor’s Daughter off in the future. Amazing plots! Unique characters, interesting stuff, cool aliens…. I wish I could plot as well as Star!
So Star gets this PM from me, saying I have no clue what the dip I am doing. All I have is this setting of a chemical plant, and some vague idea that there should be military trucks there for some reason. And possibly Malcolm getting on a truck as they escape, and the others telling him to do an Indiana Jones thing, and him complaining about Indy getting old and not making the rope swing… :X! And I asked for some advice. A hint. An inkling of an idea?
Star wrote back, and I kid you not, sent like the outline for an entire Action/Adventure movie! I was like, Holy Crap! It was practically Die Hard in Starling City! Wow!
It was great, but I ended up not quite exactly using it. ;) Star gave me some great tips, like figure out what I wanted to say with the writing, what theme to explore. For G&B it was the conflict between Malcolm and his ideas of how things should be done, and Oliver’s.
In Star’s plot, the villain was going to turn out not to be the villain! Instead, the guy’s boss was going to be forcing him to do the toxic dumping. When this got revealed, it would show how Oliver’s method of talking to people and giving them a chance to make good worked better than being judge, jury, and executioner, like Malcolm wanted to.
That was awesome. But… well, I couldn’t figure out why this guy kept working for this evil boss. Why he didn’t turn the guy over to the authorities. So then I thought, wait! What if… it wasn’t the guy’s boss, but his trusty second in command, the plant manager?
The plot thickens! Especially when I made her a woman, and gave them a backstory of how they had met in college and become good friends, and worked together for years. Then it turns out this woman he trusted totally betrayed him! (See, that’s a kind of theme, there. :X)
Next, Star’s plot involved Malcolm getting unmasked. Actually, he got surrounded, beat up severely, and captured. The evil bad boss was planning to blackmail him, and they took him away on one of those trucks I had mentioned…. Then Oliver found the Dark Archer’s hood, and realized what happened. Diggle encouraged him to cut Malcolm loose, but… no.
So Oliver catches up to the bad guys, and kills them. He frees Malcolm and, without a word, hands him back his black hood. Oh, man! That was gonna be sooooo GOOD!
Sadly, it was not to be. :/
I’m sitting there thinking… ‘Malcolm gets beat up’? How is that going to work, exactly. The guy is Bruce Lee! (Oh, you don’t think so? Let me tell you something. I’ll believe that somebody can train intensively in the League of Assassins for two years and become an elite ninja. But somebody train for two years that long ago and never again, and still be as good as Merlyn is? Nope. He’s been keeping up with his training — either with some trips back to Nanda Parbat as I envisioned, or by taking up Judo, Aikido, Hop Gar…. So yes, he’s been training for twenty years. He’s freaking Bruce Lee!)
But again, I got some good ideas from the whole thing. Some themes, as it were. Malcolm takes on the whole ‘army’ there in the G&B mission and pretty much holds his own. But the villain has an advantage he doesn’t expect, and he is in deep trouble! Diggle, of course, is all for cutting Merlyn loose. Oliver disagrees.
There’s the Mother Of All Cliffhangers in that mission. (Ah, I still love that!) And some lessons learned all around.
So, yeah… for the plotistically-challenged, my recommendation… is to ask for advice from a really good plotter! ;D Star, you rule! I won’t ever forget your help, and I hope people realize how valuable it was from the credit given. Or… if they don’t, maybe they’ll read this post and see. :)