5 June 2017, Writing Ideas – New Novel, part x65, Creative Elements in Scenes, Plot Devices, MacGuffin
Announcement: Ancient Light is delayed due to the economy. You can read more about it at http://www.ancientlight.com. Ancient Light includes the second edition of Aegypt plus Sister of Light and Sister of Darkness. I’ll keep you updated.
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I’m using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I’ll keep you informed along the way.
The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:
- Don’t confuse your readers.
- Entertain your readers.
- Ground your readers in the writing.
- Don’t show (or tell) everything.
- Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
All novels have five discrete parts:
1. The initial scene (the beginning)
2. The rising action
3. The climax
4. The falling action
5. The dénouement
I finished writing my 27th novel, working title, Claire, potential title Sorcha: Enchantment and the Curse. This might need some tweaking. The theme statement is: Claire (Sorcha) Davis accepts Shiggy, a dangerous screw-up, into her Stela branch of the organization and rehabilitates her.
Here is the cover proposal for Sorcha: Enchantment and the Curse.
The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I started writing my 28th novel, working title Red Sonja. I’m also working on my 29th novel, working title School.
I’m an advocate of using the/a scene input/output method to drive the rising action–in fact, to write any novel.
- Scene input (easy)
- Scene output (a little harder)
- Scene setting (basic stuff)
- Creativity (creative elements of the scene: transition from input to output focused on the telic flaw resolution)
- Tension (development of creative elements to build excitement)
- Release (climax of creative elements)
How to begin a novel. Number one thought, we need an entertaining idea. I usually encapsulate such an idea with a theme statement. Since I’m writing a new novel, we need a new theme statement. Here is an initial cut.
For novel 28: Red Sonja, a Soviet spy, infiltrates the X-plane programs at Edwards AFB as a test pilot’s administrative clerk, learns about freedom, and is redeemed.
For novel 29: Sorcha, the abandoned child of an Unseelie and a human, secretly attends Wycombe Abbey girls’ school where she meets the problem child Deirdre and is redeemed.
These are the steps I use to write a novel:
- Design the initial scene
- Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)
- Research as required
- Develop the initial setting
- Develop the characters
- Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)
- Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)
- Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)
- Write the climax scene
- Write the falling action scene(s)
- Write the dénouement scene
Here is the beginning of the scene development method from the outline:
- Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)
- Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)
- Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.
- Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.
- Write the release
- Write the kicker
Below is a list of plot devices. I’m less interested in a plot device than I am in a creative element that drives a plot device. In fact, some of these plot devices are not good for anyone’s writing. If we remember, the purpose of fiction writing is entertainment, we will perhaps begin to see how we can use these plot devices to entertain. If we focus on creative elements that drive plot devices, we can begin to see how to make our writing truly entertaining. I’ll leave up the list and we’ll contemplate creative elements to produce these plot devices.
Deus ex machina (a machination, or act of god; lit. “god out of the machine”)
Flashback (or analeptic reference)
MacGuffin – Current discussion.
Story within a story (Hypodiegesis)
MacGuffin: Here is a definition of a MacGuffin from the link– A plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so important.
Also from the link: As noted by Marjory Ward, “the use of a MacGuffin as a plot device far predates this modern nickname. For example, the Holy Grail of Arthurian Legend could be considered an early MacGuffin, doing for the plot all that a good MacGuffin should do”. Objects that serve as MacGuffins are familiar in narrative fiction. For example, a small statuette provides both the eponymous title and the motive for intrigue in The Maltese Falcon. The name “MacGuffin” was coined by the English screenwriter Angus MacPhail, although it was popularised by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s, but the concept pre-dates the term. The World War I–era actress Pearl White used weenie to identify whatever object (a roll of film, a rare coin, expensive diamonds, etc.) impelled the heroes, and often the villains as well, to pursue each other through the convoluted plots of The Perils of Pauline and the other silent film serials in which she starred.
The MacGuffin is an interesting device. As noted, it does predate the movies, but it is primarily a device of modern creation. I think the writer of the article doesn’t understand the MacGuffin or the concept of the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail, at least, is what we term a sufficient or a satisfying MacGuffin. A satisfying MacGuffin is one that is important in itself to pursue. In other words a satisfying MacGuffin is just a normal creative element. A creative element is an item that starts as a setting element but then when used by the protagonist or another character becomes a creative element—an element important to the plot. In some ways a creative element is the opposite of a true MacGuffin. A true MacGuffin is also an unsatisfying MacGuffin. A creative element is more akin to a Chekov’s Gun. A Chekov’s Gun is a critical item (creative element) that is necessary to the plot. A MacGuffin is also critical to the plot, but in itself is not critical to the entire plot. In other words, what the MacGuffin is doesn’t matter to the plot.
Back to the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is important because of what it is. It is important in itself. The search for the Holy Grail was made into a MacGuffin in the Monty Python movie of the same name, but to the writers of the Middle Ages, it was a self-evident item of importance. In a sufficient MacGuffin, the item is important to the plot. In an insufficient MacGuffin, the item is not important.
The MacGuffin is not a good plot device. I do not use it, and I consider it a bad device to use in a novel. It holds together poor movies and makes an exciting story, but it isn’t a good plot device. It is an insufficient plot device. If you desire to use this type of plot device, ensure the one you choose is important in itself. I’ll give you an example of such a device, but not really a MacGuffin from my writing:
Dr. Yosef unlocked the top of the drawer and opened it up. He pulled open the velvet lining and began removing pieces from it. As Dr. Yosef laid each artifact before her, Leora read and evaluated them. They were all trivial and unimportant artifacts until the Doctor pulled out a small golden breast piece. It was round with a stylistic eagle below and a sun above. Leora said nothing. She allowed no outward indication that would reveal her thoughts. Her sister would not want this, it was the disk of Ra. Literally a piece that encapsulated the power of Ra so that the sun’s energy could be later recalled.
When all the pieces lay on the table, Leora worked painstakingly through them. She meticulously evaluated each of them and studied their inscriptions. She was careful not to touch the Ra piece. When she was done she glanced up at the expectant Doctor.
Dr. Yosef made a face, “Well, Madam Bolang, what are we dealing with here?”
“The Osiris Offering Formula is not here.”
The doctor slowly let out his breath, “Are there any critical pieces?”
Leora almost said, “There is one critical piece, but the Germans will not want it.” Instead she stated, “There are no significant pieces here. The Germans would not bomb your palace for any of these.”
“That is good to know. Could you document these and translate their hieroglyphics?”
“I will. You will call on me when you receive more?”
Leora spent the remainder of he afternoon documenting each piece and translating their message into English and French in the notebook Dr. Yosef provided.
The next day Leora received a letter from the palace:
23 November 1941
Dear Madam Bolang
Your help in identifying some specific antiquities of Egypt was a fantastic blessing to me and my nation. Please state what I can do to repay you. You simply need to ask.
Again, most of the page was filled with seals, marking, and titles. Leora wondered if the full-time job of some poor underling was to ensure the proper proportion of wax to ink was applied to a king’s letters.
Leora immediately penned a response:
24 November 1941
The simple gift of the Ra pendant from your collection of antiquities would be more than sufficient payment for my services. Although the Ra pendant is not a significant piece, it is important to me because it represents the beautiful nation of Egypt, the land of my birth.
Madam Leora Bolang
Leora was certain King Farouk would not send the piece to her. She was so certain that when a courier from the palace called for her, Leora was astounded. She took the box from the courier and thanked him then quickly returned to her room.
The box was heavy. She untied it and pulled open the flaps. Inside a velvet bag held something very solid and heavy. It was the correct shape and the weight. As she slipped the contents of the bag into her hand, Leora held her breath. It was gold and beautiful and exactly like the piece she saw in the king’s vault. The moment she touched it, she knew it was a fake. Likely pure gold, but it was not the Ra pendent. She could not feel the burst of power she expected from it. She could not pull a single thread of Ra’s energy from the gold. “It is a fake.” Leora almost threw it from her. But she stopped, “Two, King Farouk, can play at this game.”
I also have used the Osiris Offering Formula and the Ra Offering Formula as items to pursue in my novels. These are not MacGuffins, but more akin to a Chekov’s Gun. We will see what these are a little later.
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