Medievia Mudslinger

July 14th, 2001

Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part II - By Excrucior

The Plot's Afoot

Inspiration, as previously mentioned, is all well and good - but is the tale itself a good one? I touched briefly on this in the last part, but the main point remains that the author has to provide something that will engage the readers' interest. You have to turn your inspiration into a plot.

Let's get down to the fundamentals here - what is a plot? Your inspiration will probably (or, rather, should) take the form of a scene where something happens. A plot is a number of scenes strung together by narrative. It sounds simple, but you have to be wary of simple things - they can often turn out to be harder than you think.

We'll take a very simple (and inadmissible on grounds of tedium) scene that someone was inspired by. The budding author ventures deep into the Mines at Riverton and is impressed by the fact that Malevich is imprisoned in his rocky lair. What would it be like if a party came across him down there?

You have a scene - not a great one, but this is an example. You have to string together a series of events that explain why the party is in Riverton and why they descend into the Mines.

Let's examine the list of events - scenes - that the author can concoct to force his heroes into the mines.

Party arrives at Riverton.

For some unknown reason they go into the mines.

Find Malevich's prison.

Kill him.

There we have it - a very basic plot. Now you have to keep in mind that each scene must logically join with the scenes on either side of it. You need to put reasons for the next scene to happen within the narrative. I would advise you to make a list of events such as this and maybe flesh it out to keep your ideas where you can see them.

Reasons tend to require extra scenes. Start adding them in and amongst to make it a longer list. Feel free to make your own version of the above list but I've had a think about how it could go. Use the environments that you can see when in the area. Why are they there? Maybe they've arrived at the trading post with wagons full of goods. Use the word "If" a lot here - "If I do this what happens next?" Think about things and why they happen.

Think about what happens when you arrive at that side of Riverton - you meet the Greycap on duty, right? So maybe they have a problem with him? Maybe the thief of the group tries to steal the Greycap's money and he notices - this could lead onto them arresting the offending party member and having the militia take him off to jail.

Party arrives at Riverton Trade Post.

Altercation with Greycaps - attempted theft by kleptomaniac thief in their form. Thief captured and friends stand by helpless.

Greycaps summon militia to take their captive to the gaol.

So that's an element you can bring in easily there - Riverton has a Gaol (and other prisoners), so you can easily imagine the results there. What do the rest of the party do? Well, if they managed to rescue the guy from the gaol then you can easily have a decent reason for them being chased into the mines (Keystone Kops anyone?).

Party arrives at Riverton Trade Post.

Altercation with Greycaps - attempted theft by kleptomaniac thief in their form. Thief captured and friends stand by helpless.

Greycaps summon militia to take their captive to the gaol.

Friends get to the gaol in time to knock the militia unconscious and rescue their friend.

Militia raise an outcry and, despite their best efforts at hiding, the party are spotted.

Party runs for their horses which they left at the trading post, but the Greycap in the way sees them - they run into the mines to shake off pursuit.

Still being chased so they go deeper, beat up foremen.

Find Malevich's lair while running from more dwarves.

Beat Malevich up (why? maybe you can work in a scene where they talk to a dwarf who tells them that something has been killing miners down below? Extra scene there and another plot element) and get out - transport spell?

Arrested for wasting police time but let off because of their heroic efforts.

It's better than it was - there's some flesh to the bones of the basic plot element. It makes more sense than it did, and you have a few more scenes to work with.

You really ought to try for more than one plotline in your tale. I can hear the cries of "But I'm only writing one story..." already so I'll explain. There are many plot ideas submitted that rely on people doing just one thing. You need twists and turns, reverses of fortune and the like - that's why I added the part about something killing dwarves in the deeper tunnels. It adds depth to the tale, something else going on, and fits with the zone's storyline. It reverses some of the expectations of the reader.

If you were feeling really brave you could add an extra plot in there. This is when you start to really write - can you think of anything to add into this plot line? Maybe the Greycaps were going to put the party member in with Anel, but as they opened the cell door the party made the rescue, Anel came with them. In the Mines Anel goes her own way secretly. When the party find Malevich they see her talking to him - what's going on? Merging plot threads together can be difficult, but will make for a better tale if it's done properly.

What else could you add here? Think logically - Malevich is trapped, no doubt by magical means. Think about it logically - they would need someone with magical skills to let him out. Who could it be? Pilgrims and priests aren't quite the right type of people to do this - but there's a visiting dignitary who is a spellcaster (top floor of the inn on the south east of the city). Use logic - one scene should lead into another - and complicate matters.

It's not actually required to add in the extra plotlines - you have to remember to work within a reasonable space of text. If you try it and it doesn't work then trim it down - an unwieldy/too intricate plot will annoy and bore a reader. If it does work and it ends up as a huge section of text then feel free to make a multi-part tale.

Make up a bare bones of a story, incorporating your inspirational scene. Use your imagination and think about plot elements/scenes of any size - then try and fit them in logically. If they don't fit then keep them to one side on a piece of paper and look at them later for another work. You can add or remove scenes at any point, expand them or alter them at will until you have an idea of what you want to do.

What is interesting to people? Well, the activities that you normally pursue are not really going to be fascinating for the people who do this all the time. "I went to the war-room and found out the location of the catacombs..." etc is going to be just another catacombs tale. "I went to the trade post..." is another trading story. People do this all the time.

A plot has a direction and a reason for the story to be told. A good plot will often present its own reasons and justifications. Try not to come up with something rather simple and boring - complicate it somewhat. Did Conan ever just walk into a temple and steal the gem without some problem rearing its ugly head? Hardly. Reverses are interesting to the reader - a reader should empathize with the protagonist and feel the reverses.

Also, the heroes need to have reason for their actions. Introduce these elements properly, and use as many of them as is comfortable within the length of your tale. A good plot also has an element of danger for the heroes - and I use the term to mean the main characters in your tale that the action revolves around, not just people who have reached the top of every class.

What makes a boring plot? Start trading at one place, beat off Kobolds and Trollish Mob Factions on the way, get to end and sell gear for cash. Two people meet up and decide to have a duel - one of them wins. You know the sort of thing - exactly what you do every time you log onto Medievia. Make people think that there's more to the game than just the coded responses - live it and breathe it. The mobs you meet must be considered as real people - what are their motivations? What do they need? Use your imaginations to get into their heads and this will provide you with different aspects to your tale.

Does a plot have to contain inordinate amounts of violence? Once again this is something that a player experiences every time they log onto the game. However, there is a need for an amount of danger and physical violence is perhaps the easiest way to bring this in. It is possible to manage on a different level, and often this can provide a better experience if done correctly. Maybe there is a threat to a person's finances - "I'm throwing you out on the street if I don't get my rent by sundown". Maybe there is a threat to someone's love life where a romantic rival is attempting to woo their (intended) partner. There has to be at least a risk of loss, if not actual loss and pain from combat. The audience is happy to see someone suffer - an odd statement, but absolutely true because it usually means that the heroes will often triumph over the adversity that they face.

A plot has to have reason behind it - use people and their motivations and characters to move it along. Just going to an area to explore it because your clanleader says so is one way to get a plot moving, but if the clan leader expresses a personal interest for the investigation then that makes it more acceptable to the reader. What one person wants, another can empathize with.

Perhaps the best advice to give here is that there are only so many scenes that an author can use because there are only so many scenes out there. The story of Excalibur - the Sword in the Stone that can be drawn by only one special person - remember that? That theme reverberates throughout fantasy literature - Rand Al Thor in the Wheel of Time obtains a crystal sword from within the Stone of Tear. It's the same idea dressed up in a different way, but people accepted it - it was familiar and the tales were told differently.

A plot also has to fulfill one great criteria - is it credible? The average warrior fresh from the guild is not going to be able to take on Elnissa, for example. A reader will forgive you for stretching the reality to a certain extent, but too far will just earn you disdain. I'll be dealing with that next.


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