Plotting any novel can be exhilarating, frustrating, giddy, nerve-wracking work. It can be like hang-gliding, or tight-rope walking … or hacking your way through an overgrown jungle with a dull machete. Plotting a Star Wars novel is like doing all that in a mine field.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining. Writers (well, at least Michael and I) are often risk junkies. So the climate in the jungle is just fine by us, and we sort of know where the mines are so we can avoid most of them. (“Don’t step there—that hasn’t happened yet!”)
That novel you hold in your hand in the bookstore begins with the merest germ of an idea. In the case of Holostar, the idea was a couple of paragraphs Michael sent in an email to our editor: “Hey, what if…?”
“Interesting,” says the editor and bounces the idea off the folks at Lucasfilm.
“Interesting,” says the contact at Lucasfilm. “Tell me more.”
“More” is an outline for the book—somewhere around 10 pages—that lays out the plot as we see it. How do we see it? That’s where the work really starts.
Michael sends me the email he sent the editor with instructions to throw ideas at it. I pop it into a word processing document and walk around and around it, figuratively speaking, until I figure out what I need to know that I don’t already. I go online and look for information on our hero—Dash Rendar—and other plot elements. I get a history, I find out what kind of ship he flies, who his sidekicks are, where he was on the night of the… Oh, wait, that’s a detective novel I’m working on.
At any rate, I look up any information I can find online and in my print resources. I get images. I get a sense of where the characters have been before and where they’re going after. These are some of the mines, I was talking about. I have to avoid timeline violations, for example, or giving the character characteristics he doesn’t have (pink hair, moles in obvious places, tattoos, a Wookie mother-in-law, that sort of thing).
I put all my “goodies” into a file (product placement ad: I’m using Circus Ponies “Notebook” for data collection), and I start moving the pieces around on the board. We need high stakes; I try to figure out what they might be in context with the basic plot Michael’s proposed and who might best try to thwart our hero in his effort to deal with them successfully (make the GOOD THING happen, stop the BAD THING from happening. etc).
There must be a worthy adversary, of course. It can be a group or an individual and it must be something from the canonical universe. There might be several candidates for this role, so we discuss in a flurry of emails:
“Been there, done that.”
“Emperor? Darth Vader?”
“Too big. Too done.”
“Too small. Too done.”
“Yeah, yeah, that one. They’d have the resources to pull off the BAD THING.”
Okay, now I have a potential adversary and “walk around” the idea again with that in mind and, by golly, the characters start revealing who they are, what they want, why they want it, what they’re really up to. Sometimes I have to beat the information out of them. Sometimes they’re downright chatty.
I put all this into the outline. I see the action; I watch the characters interact in imagined scenes. I write some dialogue to get a sense of the character’s voices. I make sure there’s a BIG, NARLY, DANGEROUS CONFRONTATION about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through. I hint at an epilogue. I read it out loud. I send it to Michael.
Now he gets down to it and really goes over the outline, adding, subtracting, twisting this, turning that, putting in detail. When he’s done, he sends back an outline with an absolutely marvelous new plot element that I had not even dreamed of using (well, except for a wistful, “Gee, I wish we could…”) Fearless, risk-takie kind of guy that he is, Michael just DID it.
And no, I can’t tell you what IT is.
He ships it back to me and I take one more crack at it. Then he does the final polish and sends it to our editor.
It comes back with (sigh) notes. But not many. We are asked to verify a timeline element to make sure our action can really take place where and when it does and with those characters. We’re asked not to use a particular alien species. We are good to go.
And now we are, as Blue Oyster Cult would say, “ready to rock.” I sit at the computer with a blank page lookin’ at me and think, “Where is Dash Rendar at the beginning of our tale?”
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