Story planning and creation – developing the protagonist’s story

Text over a line drawing of a city - Story planning and creation: Developing the protagonists storyFollowing on from the previous posts where I’ve been outlining a new novel, we now know a little about the story world and its conflicts. It’s a world where:

  • the supernatural intersects with the mundane
  • a woman is in trouble because of her new youth.

So what do we know about the protagonist, Rose Thorn, and her situation?

  • She wakes up with no memory of what’s happened to her.
  • She’s much younger than she was.
  • Time has passed – several months.
  • She has a daughter called Hope, and Hope’s going to be used against Rose by the antagonist.
  • Depending on your definition of what it is to be human, Rose no longer is. She’s transforming into a dryad. I think a ticking clock might be useful here.

We don’t really know much more about Rose at this stage, so let’s focus on fleshing her out a bit.

What she knows

Rose has to realise she’s ‘different’ very early on in the story, but can’t remember what happened too soon. It’s a question that will be answered as the story progresses.

All she knows initially is that she had a normal life until she woke up youthful again after going missing for several months. As her foggy memories return they will be balanced with the physical changes she’s going to have to rely on to survive.

She quickly learns someone is after her, and because of that her daughter is at risk. This needs to become clear during the first quarter of the story to develop the story’s main conflicts and threat.

Story drivers

Her lack of knowledge creates story drivers. She needs to figure out:

  • how she was gifted or cursed by a dryad
  • what becoming a dryad means
  • why this happened to her. Red herrings (or real scenarios) could be:
    • something she did (is what happened to her some form of payback, or a gift for some favour/help she gave)?
    • something she found/stole – a Magic McGuffin which turns her into a dryad?
    • wrong place – wrong time (bad luck)?
    • she escaped some supernatural attack and this was the result?
  • did the dryad have her own motivations?
    • does the dryad have a secret?
    • is the dryad playing her own game?
  • how can she use her ‘gift/curse’ to help herself and her daughter.

What happened to her can either be directly related to the antagonist (ie, Christian inadvertently caused it, for instance), or totally unrelated. Either way, it draws her into conflict with him as she has something he wants.

What does she know about Christian Godson, the antagonist?

She doesn’t know who’s after her or why (initially), though she eventually discovers Christian wants to use her gift and has the means to take it from her. The main things I need to figure out here are:

  • How exactly will Christian gain from this?
    • Just a long life, or something more?
    • How is this furthering his goals and hurting his enemies?
  • How will her ‘gift’ affect Christian?
    • Will it make him instantly younger?
    • Does it take time to work?
    • Will it cure any illnesses he has?
    • Does he have minions he can share it with?
  • What does he need to do to attain it?
    • If he catches her, can she be forced to just ‘hand it over’?
    • Does he need to do something drastic to extract it?
  • Could Christian be someone she trusts (plot twist?)?

How will the secret of her youth hurt Rose (emotionally)?

There must always be consequences/effects.

  • Does she go into denial?
  • Is she determined to find a cure and return to being human?
  • Does it affect her in other ways?
  • What will be the effects on her family?

How can she use her new knowledge about what happened to her advantage?

  • We can’t drop her secret into the story and give it no impact, or fail to provide her with any means of taking advantage of it.
  • It’s essential that it be part of the story’s resolution to produce a satisfying ending.
    • How can she use this change to defeat or destroy the protagonist?

A line drawing of a woman - head and sholdersWho can possibly help her?

She needs both allies and people she cares about. As well as help her, these ‘extras’ can also be used against her (they can be threatened, hurt, or killed, for example). Possibilities include:

  • Someone associated with Christian (an untrustworthy ally who plans to double-cross him (or her)).
  • Her best friend (I assume she has one).
  • Family/daughter.
  • A third party who knows about her gift/curse but is content to let her keep it
    • Why would they do this?
    • Christian’s enemies?
  • Someone who’s been through what she’s going through – the person (dryad) Christian really wants to get his hands on?
  • More than one of the above?

I don’t know that I want a mentor for Rose in this novel – it’s not a coming-of-age story, though it has similarities. I think it needs to be more of a ‘finding yourself’ or ‘figuring out what’s most important to you’ story, which implies signposts rather than a guide.

Lets put everything we know into a timeline

The beginning:

  • Christian (and friends?) seeks the fountain of Rose’s youth, and has for generations.
    • For him, it’s a temporary thing, requiring ‘top-ups’ at regular intervals to stay young.
    • Perhaps it has a law of diminishing returns – every time he ‘uses’ it the effects don’t last as long, requiring more and more.
  • Rose is transformed (is she left for dead and saved by a dryad/forced to change by a desperate dryad?).
    • She wakes up alone, in the woods, with no memory of what happened.
      • She has to claw her way out of a shallow grave
  • Rose discovers she’s youthful again
    • perhaps after being taken to hospital/a police station
    • some sort of test shows she’s the same person, despite appearances.
    • How does this affect her? How does she react? (does she go through the seven stages of grief over the course of the novel? – I might need to do a little research for this)
    • How do her family react?
      • her parents/siblings reject her
      • her daughter accepts the truth, and can therefore be better used to hurt Rose.
  • Rose tries to lead police to the place she woke, but can’t find it. No one can. This casts doubt on her story.
    • The dryad who transformed Rose is either gone or dead and all evidence of what happened to her removed.
  • Her family reject her – despite the evidence – they don’t believe she’s the same person.

The middle:

  • The supernatural world intrudes (don’t know how yet, but it needs to play a part)
    • Her nature is changing – that is the intrusion on her normal world
    • She resists what’s happening to her, though she’s forced more and more to rely on those changes to get by.
    • Possibly someone from her new world also intrudes at this point (another dryad? Someone from Christian’s line – distant relative he has issues with)?
  • She discovers someone is after her – they want her secret/gift.
  • Her family is threatened: not too serious yet.
  • She’s increasingly caught between worlds, with the supernatural world a huge temptation
    • The supernatural world offers safety and a way out of the mess, but it comes at a cost: her family remains in danger, keeping her from accepting.

The end:

  • Christian goes directly after her family (Hope) and tries and force her hand.
  • She must accept what happened to her in order to save her daughter, herself, and the bigger threat to the supernatural world.

That’s it in very broad strokes, with a lot of detail yet to fill.

How do you think it’s shaping up so far?

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