There are many methods of plotting a novel. Two methods I’ve used before were the snowflake method and what I call the “There and Draft again” (TADA) method, named after the blog where I found it. I blogged about the snowflake method, used for Rise of the Vengeful Dragon, but am not a fan of it. The TADA gave me more room to work with, less concrete compartmentalising of my story, and the percentage makeup became a good guide to aim for. I’ll talk briefly about character creation, magic lore, and world-building, too.
So let’s work through how I plotted my YA fantasy adventure, Rune Mage. I’ve condensed my plotting notes to make for easier reading. This will contain spoilers!
For me, the mains came into being long before the story started rolling. I used a modified version of epiguide.com’s “Character Chart for Fiction Writers” to create character sheets for each main gameplayer to know their basic appearances, backgrounds, and personalities. I started with my MC, Seiren Nithercott; her twin sister and voice of reason, Madeleine; Seiren’s begrudging tutor, Rowan Woodbead; and foul-mouthed mastermind Kommora Haigh. The antagonists, the king’s mages, manifested as a group rather than individuals initially.
Start with a single sentence to describe your entire story: orphaned sassy mage tries to resurrect dead sister, accidentally foils whole-country mass sacrifice. This is her MOTIVATION.
Each major character must have a motivation or aim, and the antagonists’ must somehow force the aims to be mutually exclusive. This gives me the CONFLICT.
Seiren desires to bring back Madeleine by becoming a king’s mage, but the king’s mages are strict in maintaining their status quo. Rowan desires to lead a straight and rule-led life, but the king’s mages are going to force him to break rules to use him as a scapegoat. Kommora desires to overthrow King Pollin and the king’s mages’ tyrannical reign, but the king’s mages are going to kill her as she poses a threat to their greater plan.
When writing magic, I find it helpful to keep a few rules in mind.
HISTORY [Or, “Can everyone do magic? Why (not)?”]
Magic stems from humans in the country of Karma acquiring the ability to utilise celestial energy showered from planets orbiting aeons ago from a pair of magical sisters. Genetics determine one’s ability (and its extent) to utilise celestial magic.
LIMITATIONS/WEAKNESSES [Or, “Can my magic do literally anything?”]
Rune magic must be drawn (in chalk, ink, etc.). Burst magic requires a tranquil mind. Flash magic demands a controlled surge of emotions. Organic magic needs the blood of the victim drawn into a rune. Chaos magic is weak unless in the presence of life or death. There is a resource/fuel limitation or cost in how much magic output a person can produce in a set period of time before physical exhaustion (stamina).
INTEGRATION [Or, “How does magic fit into this story?”]
If magic is part of your story, then it will be part of the world you created. State mages are civil servants who aid the running of society by the provision of goods and services (runes for powering rune motors and trains, building repairs, light and heat) and occasionally call of duty if war arises.
I’m sure some could write a whole essay on the art of world-building. Most of my worlds come fairly formed to me, which means I’m not well-versed in actually the creation process. I found Taran Matharu’s tips quite helpful in making the world of Rune Mage.
[Tell me four things about the basis of your world]
- Summoning (by Hannans) and creation magics (by Karmans) used to be the same vein of celestial magic, powered by planetary orbits, until the country splits into two.
- Magic users are usually from in the same magical bloodline, but some are born naturally with it.
- Hannans are taught from a young age to bond with one special demon, summoned from the netherworld, which persists in this realm using the Hannan’s stamina.
- Karmans are taught from King’s to utilise their ties to magic flow powered by planetary orbits for creation.
[Tell me four ways in which magic impacts your world]
- Magic has multiple uses including for warfare and healing. Burst and flash are primarily used in combat due to speed and power but rune is more versatile but slower.
- Rune magic can aid everyday things including construction, modify conditions (e.g. keeping hay sheds dry), taking place of technology (runed motors).
- Magic can be used in research e.g. in warfare, healing, technology, although most laypeople tend to manage without.
- Use of magic in warfare has been implemented in the past, making Karma a major threat to other countries.
[Tell me four groups of people in your world]
- King’s mages: Hanna sends spies into Karma to liaise with king’s mages to plan a coup and overthrow Karma due to Karman king’s oppression of magic.
- Hannans: they feel Karmans are selfish for occupying their sacred land, thus preventing magic working in its natural state, and fully support the Hannan king’s intention to reunite the two countries despite his violent methods.
- Karmans: they feel Hannans are uncultured swines who wish invasion and destruction of peace and wish to have nothing to do with them. History books documenting the original source of magic as one was long overwritten by the Karman royal family.
- Pollin, king of Karma: his selfishness and desire for solo power despite not possessing any magic himself is a source of ridicule and disdain from the king’s mages who felt they alone hold the right to magical power, and should not be shackled.
[Tell me four geographical facts about your world]
- Mountains in the north separate Karma and Hanna, making the city of Acrise difficult to penetrate due to high cliffs and runed walls.
- Wastelands to the southwest are due to a magical war 2000 years ago between Teirrin and Karma, and rebels had sacrificed Teirrin to recreate ancient celestial magic, resulting in devastation of Teirrin. A small collection of survivors live in the hazardous wasteland.
- Desert to the east separates Karma and Moakai. Moakai has travellers, hunter-gatherers that survive dry conditions through constant moving for lush lands. The long stretch of desert prevents them from wandering into Karma.
- An artificially-created river flows from east Karman-Hannan border via Lydden, Keycol, to Benover (via Danaway to the sea in south) to prevent Hannans from blocking off the water source to threaten Benover.
Part 2 will be coming next week. Do you plot in a similar fashion? What worked/didn’t work for you?