The Story and the Plot

SwordsIf you’ve been following me in any of the circles I tend to move in, you might know I’m writing a novel about a blind swordswoman, and possibly that I’m struggling with it.

It’s set in the same world as my epic fantasy, but in an earlier time and in a different kingdom.

The plot is simple: it’s about her mastering a sword of power and defeating the ruling Warlord. Think Gladiator meets almost any Chinese martial arts movie in an historical setting, and you’ve probably got it.

Her story, however, is entirely different, and this is what I’m struggling with.

Any reluctant hero could fulfil the plot, but to give it emotional impact, the plot has to become just as personal as the things she cares about. They need to intersect.

What she cares about is her father, the local villagers, and the slave girl her father rescued a few years back.

She also has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She’s blind, but determined not to let it hold her back.

She’s fought for years to become self-sufficient, to develop her skills with the blade, and to be able to look after herself without help. What she fears most is having that freedom taken away.

Her story, then, has to about protecting the people she cares about while fighting for freedom.

Therefore, to create a novel, the plot and everything she cares about need to come into conflict.

The question is, what’s the best way to do this? I’ve got a bunch of ideas on where I want it to go, but the beginning is really stumping me.

How do I set it up so all this comes through, without looking like I’m trying to set up anything?

If you’ve got any thoughts on matter, I’d be more than keen to hear them.

Otherwise, you’ll find some more interesting posts on story development in The Craft.

20 thoughts on “The Story and the Plot

  1. I think you should focus on how she became blind as the beginning. Perhaps she could have gone blind in a battle protecting her family or the village? You could then focus on how she struggles using her other senses (supernatural or whatever) to learn how to get her powers back, and during that time with flashbacks etc you can flesh out the back-story with her family and explain why she cares about them, who she cares about, and what that means for the rest of the plot?

    So after you explain some of how she spent those years working towards bettering herself and learning to use the blade, you could go explain how/why some other character might come along and take that freedom away.

    You could go with a violent loss of freedom, like other warriors etc?
    Or, perhaps she falls in love with someone who wants to ‘protect’ her?

    Just some random thoughts. Your plot sounds cool. Good luck. 🙂

  2. Thanks James. There’s some really good ideas there, and I particularly like the idea about the flashbacks and backstory. I hadn’t actually considered someone who wanted to protect her – might work really well. Cheers!

  3. Opening the book with a battle where the heroine loses her vision is a really good idea to me.I’d have to think about it a little more to figure out a way to see if there is a unique way to implement it. Not only would it provide a good hook for the reader, but when they learn that she went blind… awesome idea!

    • Ooh, good idea. There’s a fight scene at the beginning, but hadn’t actually considered making it the source of her blindness. I’d have to rethink the backstory to do it, but wow, brilliant way to generate empathy. Thanks!

  4. Okay, first of all, my muse won’t shut up now, so thanks for that. 🙂
    This is just what sprung to mind reading your (very interesting) premise. I can’t wait to see that final fit sequence, by the way.

    1). How did she become blind?
    2). Who trained her?
    3). Where exactly does she live? What do the people around her do for fun? Work?
    4). Who’s the warlord? How did s/he come to power?
    5). What is this ‘sword of power’? How did she come to posses it? What are its powers?
    6). How much of her skill is based in the sword? This would be an awesome character arc for her. Every hero needs to fall in order to rise again.

    Like I said, this is just what sprang to MY mind. I’m looking forward to seeing where you take this. Thanks for opening it up to us!

    • Hi Avery! Awesome questions. Really made me think.

      My answers (though this is just where I’m starting from at the moment – could change at any moment or with anyone’s comments):

      1). How did she become blind?
      A: Fell down some stairs as a toddler and hit her head. Could possibly change to a suggestion where she’s a teenager and tried to save someone – and spends the next decade learining to fight and be independent.

      2). Who trained her?
      A: Her father.

      3). Where exactly does she live? What do the people around her do for fun? Work?
      A: In a village at the edge of the kingdom/empire in the mountains. The people are farmers. Dunno what they do for fun – but that’s exactly the sort of question I need to hear.

      4). Who’s the warlord? How did s/he come to power?
      A: The warlord pretty much conquered the country – but I’m considering making it his son who’s now ‘driving’ things.

      5). What is this ‘sword of power’? How did she come to posses it? What are its powers?
      A: There are exactly four swords – and they give you an advantage of some kind. The one she has makes it impossible to be caught off guard or surprised. It’s her father’s, which she inherits (not sure how yet or exactly what the rules to transfer ownership are – just because she posesses/inherits it doesn’t necessarily allow her to use its powers).

      6). How much of her skill is based in the sword?
      A: None – but to someone who’s blind it’s like being able to sense things in all directions, which combined with her learned skills, makes her pretty awesome. Although she inherits the sword, she won’t actually get to use it until the end – and she’ll be facing someone with another sword, putting her at a serious disadvantage.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and questions Avery. I would love to hear what you think of my answers (bearing in mind that it’s completely malleable at this point – just the direction I was heading in).

      • I think it’s important for her to be blind from an early age – becoming independent with such an affliction would take many years, and people born, or blind from an early age tend to adapt better. It might be worth reading about some accomplished blind people – i remember hearing of a blind ballerina once (alas, i cannot recall her name) and there’s the percussionist (Evangeline Gennie? Something like that – she’s worked with Bjork among many others, so should be hard to work out).

        As for her adversary – in ancient China, the first Emperor conquered the lands to form China as a means of stopping all the infighting between the regions (so I hear). It could be argued that in his eyes, his invasion is meant to bring peace and unity. it might be that her village is a strategic location, like a valley passage between regions that oppose one another, and so invasion is required even though the village itself may be neutral.

        it could be that whoever was Lord over the village was the aggressor in a war, and the attack is one of revenge, with the villagers unwillingly caught on the wrong side – mode medieval wars were between the Lords, and the commonfolk were often caught up in events they had no hope of understanding. Game of Thrones (the books) does a good job of showing this aspect of history).

        Finally, A blind person may use touch as well as sound to locate and predict an opponent – the chinese martial art of Wing Chun is supposed to be performable whilst blindfolded, as it is based around getting close and having touch contact with the opponent (just a light touch) and using that to sense their posture and movement.

        Hope that all helps.

  5. Coming over from Google+…and good question.

    One thing I remembered someone saying, or maybe it is in one of the “rules” I am reviewing at the moment, but try using the most obvious. Like, an evil warlord comes to her village to wipe them out. Now – explain why he would do that (i.e., put a road through there, give the land to a local lord, flood the area for a nearby damn, etc.).

    Often, going through the exercise of picking something – anything – to get the story started will precipitate the real story. Maybe. Good luck!

    • Good point. The Warlord’s motivations are a bit of a mystery at the moment. I’m not sure whether they’re going to be over the sword itself, or some other political goals which my protagonist is unaware she’s tied up in. Maybe a bit of both.

      Perhaps that could actually be at the heart of the problem I’m struggling with. Good point. Thx for bringing it up.

  6. Chris, the possibilities you have described with the swords are absolutely wondrous! As for inheriting the power, perhaps the previous owner must be killed by it? Sounds a little “Highlander-ish,” but I have always like stories that are set up that way. Gives an excellent opportunity for some in-depth backstory. I envision that the father is mortally wounded in the invasion of the village, before he can get to his sword. Once he does, he gives it to his daughter, they have a heartfelt goodbye and maybe some direction, and then he finally falls upon it while she’s holding it. Immediately, her mind is flooded with the power of senses she has never experienced her whole life. As a downside, maybe she only has the full effect of the power when her hand is on the pommel?

    Just a thought that blew out of my mind when I read your sword concepts. Man, I can’t wait to see where you go with this. Ingenious!

    • Nice thoughts, I’ll take you up on them. Will definitely kill off the father, and the sword can only work when she’s touching it. Thanks.

  7. That’s tricky. I love to open books up with an action scene. You’ve got a lot of possibilities for it. Perhaps a small threat to her village at first before it gets more personal with her family. Good luck!

    • Thanks Christine. Great minds think alike. 🙂 The attack on the village is actually what I started with. I’m just not sure where to go from there though I’ve got a few ideas on where I want it to end up. Muchly appreciated.

  8. I’m loving the plot, Chris! Sounds quite original with the blind hero! Just don’t make her aggressive and violent like many writers like to do nowadays 🙁

    • Definitely not! I’m thinking more reluctant hero than kickarse.

      I made my first novel’s protagonist too powerful, and learned the hard way over several rewrites that it just doesn’t work. 🙁

  9. When opening a novel, I think you have two choices — make the reader invest in the character or invest in the story. Notice that I said invest in, not love. Doesn’t matter if he/she hates the character…just have to be willing to pay to resolve the tension in the set-up. On your plot I’d start with the blind girl in danger. Play on sympathy, desire to protect helpless, etc. Hiding, listening to attack, attempt to protect father and slave girl, but she fails. Father dies after bequeathing sword and slave girl saves her. That leaves them on the run, pursued by villain, mourning father, dependent on slave until she can master the sword and find way to attack. You have good plot. BTW, I’d avoid flashbacks in this kind of story. High tension and driving action are crucial to success.

    • Hi Harlen.

      Good advice all around. While I’ll admit I’m a bit of a fan of flashbacks (Highlander did it very well), they’re pointless and even damaging if the only thing they’re doing is conveying backstory. IMO they need to tell their own story, as well as move the plot forward. Probably going to take your advice and shy away from them in this story.

      Either way, you’ve certainly given me some good stuff to work with.

      Thx for commenting.

  10. How about…the village is protected by a series of enchantments, known only to the village chief. But he’s becoming old and senile and someone is wheedling the secrets out of him and passing them on to the warlord. It’s clear to the heroine and the villagers that in time the warlord will break through and achieve his objective of enslaving the villagers. (He needs people to work in his mines. Only slaves work in the mines because it’s hard, dangerous work – the heroine’s father rescued the slave girl from it. Plus the warlord just plain hates the fact that these people aren’t under his control.)

    Suspicion falls on the slave girl as she’s an ‘outsider’ and the heroine fights to protect her and her father, who also sides with the girl. Is she the traitor? Or is it someone else we least suspect? Make us wait until the final chapter to find out, haha!

    Just some ideas.

    • Nice ideas. I’d kind of envisioned the land as being united (if unruly) to a fair extent, but hadn’t actually considered putting the village in the middle of that kind of conflict. The slave girl was a bit of a latecomer to my plans too, so I hadn’t gotten much mileage out of her either. Good call. Thanks.

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