I have discovered I have a problem when I write. I always go for the hurt.
I have an idea for a series of short stories following this man who works for a very unique company. Basically think Star Trek red shirts, henchmen, cannon fodder, and the extras that always seem to suffer horribly, for hire.
Extremely funny, if dark humour, lots of breaking the fourth wall, making fun of cliches, extensive use of the Evil Overlords list, and office politics.
Too bad for me, as I keep thinking about it, and developing plots and characters, I keep moving away from the sheer comedy. If I think about it for too long it becomes a soap opera, with morbid drama, angst, murder (more then I planned originally), and other things that just weren't in the original plans.
So rather then having a story about a guy trying to survive in insane situations I find myself going to the darker side of my mind. I keep thinking of giving him a morbid past that explains why he took this dangerous job, when I have a funny idea already semi-planned.
Instead of being willing to kill to keep himself alive, he is becoming a psychopath. More and more of his friends are dying, which I don't want to do. And my brain wants to give him a love interest that will be going on other missions, which leaves him feeling terrible, and not in a funny way.
I know I have a sense of humour, but it's annoying I can't write it down in its pure form. At least not without a lot of editing, and forcing.
Ok I'm done ranting now.
Something I have noticed in many books is that characters don't really plan anything. The author will say that they spent time planning, but when you read what the characters are doing you realize they spent five minutes talking and wrote the mission down on the back of a bar napkin.
In fantasy novels this is seen most frequently when attacking a castle. The main characters will have two of their numbers dressing up as washer women trying to sneak in, while the thief will slink over the wall and "do something", and the big fighter will either hide in the washing, or pretend to be a fellow guard and kill anyone who gets in his way. For the most important part of the plan, if anyone is seen "ATTACK!"
This can be funny. It can even be a little thrilling, but for a reader who expects more then basic level strategy its extremely disappointing.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" dealt with this nicely. So that I don't give anything away I'll be a little vague.
When Harry needed to get an item from a heavily guarded building, he and his friends planned for weeks to get in. When they got in they realize something. They screwed up. All of their plans involved entering the building. They didn't have a plan for if they were separated, if they were caught, or if their actions were discovered and security measures were activated. It took a bit of luck for them to get away, and Rowling did an excellent job of showing this without having to rely on deux ex machina.
Now you are probably thinking, but showing the characters planning everything is boring. You're right it can be boring, it can also be interesting but that takes effort. So here's the easy solution, don't show all the planning. Have them discussing some of the highlights, make it the equivalent of a traveling montage in a movie. The reader will realize whats going on, and it doesn't have to take up more than a few paragraphs.
Now why are plans important?
The main reason is most people hate deux ex machina. This means when everyone knows the hero should die, but something improbable happens saving his life, and possibly saving the entire day.
The calvary just happens to be patrolling in that exact area at that exact time.
The hero suddenly develops a fantastic new power, saving everyone.
In at least one book, the God or his/her angels come down and whisk the heroes to safety.
I could keep going for several pages but you get the picture.
These are all tired and worn tropes. They can be done well, but it all too often comes out as poor writing.
So how do you solve this?
You plan the characters plan carefully.
This isn't the same as planning the plot of the book. You can still be spontaneous and write on the edge of your seat. But you have to ensure the characters have a valid plan.
If they want to kill a big evil character who goes to the same bar every night, and decide they will wait in the ally beside the bar until he comes out and stab him in the back, this is not a good plan. This is the equivalent of saying "There he is! Jump him!"
This can work. But you leave the reader wondering what about witnesses, what if he comes out with a friend, what if a gang sees the characters in the dark ally and decide to rob them. So many things are left to chance its ridiculous.
So what are some guidelines for planning your characters successful plans.
1) What information do the characters have. The more info they have, the better they can plan. When do the guards walk past a certain door in their rounds? How many people are likely to be inside? Who exactly is inside? All of these are critical to a successful plan. Just getting the information can be an adventure in itself.
2)What experiences do the characters have? A mild mannered accountant who has never even jaywalked is going to look at things differently then the hardened thug. But don't discount a character because they're inexperienced. The thug will have more experience, and know what to watch out for. But the accountant may take more time and effort planning everything out to the letter, so that he can get away without a confrontation.
3) What can possibly go wrong? This is wide open. Figure out what can go wrong with the plan. As the author you should know if Prince of the Realm is having a late night torture party which means the hero's can't climb through the sewers and come up through the dungeon to kidnap the princess in her bedroom.
4)How will the characters escape if something goes wrong? This is very rarely considered. Usually the author leaves it as a wild escape with the heroes fleeing the castle guards and having a few cool stunts. Or the evil person who catches them turns out to be an ally or not so evil after all, or has their own scheme that involves the characters. Again it can work, but it's been done to death.
5) Do the characters have the proper skills. Picking a lock is hard if you don't have experience. So when faced with the locked door that contains the McGuffin, does one of the characters suddenly remember they're past life as a skilled thief? Make sure before everything starts, that all the necessary skills and equipment are available. Write down a list of what their skills and equipment are. It will help.
6) Remember the consequences. If a plan is poorly thought out there will be consequences. If it is properly thought out there will be consequences.
If a plan doesn't work or barely works and the characters remain free what happened? Were the characters seen, were they recognized, did they have to kill a lot of people on the way out? All sorts of interesting things can come about from this. They might see their faces on wanted posters if they were only seen. If they are Rebels who were recognized in a bungled plan, they might become a laughing stock. If they killed people they suddenly have new enemies. Use these.
If it was successful, they might gain new allies who think the characters are competent enough to help. The enemy might put more of their resources into killing this now dangerous enemy. If it's discovered who stole the MacGuffin all types of new enemies might appear who want it, and know who has it. Again use these.
For further help with plans, watch some thrillers and spy movies. I'd recommend "Ronin" right off the bat. It has the planning stage, double crosses, more planning, really bad consequences, and the like. Also "Munich" is a good example of real life missions. Its not as detailed about the plans, but still a good movie. And check out some table top role playing game forums. Every role player has stories of horribly bad plans, well thought out plans that failed because they forgot a flashlight, and beautiful plans that had everyone grinning like idiots as they marched to glory.
If you stay in China for any length of time, and wander around a bit, you will notice something. There are a hell of a lot of massage parlours, and barbershops that are really massage parlours.
Its kind of nuts.
I'm used to seeing brothels in cities. But in China, its' almost impossible to miss them if you veer slightly out of the tourist areas.
Even in Beijing where they have really cracked down on prostitution, you see a lot of it. I've walked past perfectly legit barbershops and massage clinics during the day without any women propositioning me, only to walk past the same place at night and being offered all kinds of interesting experiences.
In Shanghai and Nanjing they don't even bother with hiding what they do during the day.
Now I have walked in and asked questions, at one point I was dragged in. But I will state for the record I have never actually used one of these places. You can believe that or not, I don't care. As a writer I wanted to see how they tried to convince people to use there services and things.
I understand why these women do it. They've asked for anywhere from 50rmb for a hand job, to 700rmb for sex. Now as a tourist, more specifically a young man on my own, they were trying to get me for as much as they could. But even from natives they would still earn a tidy little sum.
Compared to a lot of jobs they could do, they earn potentially as much as higher up office workers. For women with few skills in a very crowded market place prostitution makes sense.
So today I was thinking. China could go and get a lot of these women away from prostitution if they allowed strip clubs to operate.
Think about it. The women don't have to be skilled, they just have to have average looks. There is less risk of disease, rape, and violence. And they will still make decent money.
Now I'm not a fan of strip clubs. But I'd much rather see these women working as dancers, then seeing them run to the doors of their little shops and trying to convince men to screw them.
Also China is big on employing as many people as possible, even if it isn't efficient. I've seen workers tearing down an entire block by hand, when some heavy machinery could do the work in a quarter of the time.
Now with these brothels most of them are very small, with 1 to 5 ladies, and maybe one male. If they allowed strip clubs, they'd have to have several dancers, a few bouncers, waitresses, and cashiers. A lot more workers involved, so more people are making a living.
Unfortunately since China wants to appear proper and chaste, they'll continue employing millions of women in prostitution as long as the police keep getting their bribes.
The world really sucks sometimes.
City Name: Lucaret
Ruler: Master Lan Whitewall.
Power Structure: A Council of Merchants control the city. Anyone with assets in the city equaling 2000 Gold can petition to join the council.
Population: 180,000 in the city, 30,000 in the outskirts.
Population breakdown: 40% human, 35% Dwarf, 10% Elf, 5% Half Giant, 4% Orc, 2% Goblin, 4% Other
Army: 2000 City Guards (Average), 20,000 Militia (very poor), 5000 Mercenaries (average to elite)
Focus of knowledge: Technology
Important Resources: Mostly Trade, very few taxes, and a genial attitude to most cities, keeps goods flowing into the city as a market place where enemies can buy and sell essential goods from each other without angering anyone.
Short Bio of the city Lucaret is a traders paradise. Built centuries ago it is ideally placed along a main river which makes it almost as important as Jaladhi in terms of river traffic. And its smoothly rolling hills allows for easy well maintained roads leading to all other cities in the valley.
One hundred and thirty three years ago, the king and ruling council were deposed when they tried to impose stiff taxes on the traders, who they feared had become too powerful. This fear proved correct. After a brutal, and short civil war, the Merchants hired army prevailed.
They now operate as the main market for all the valley. If one city needs something from its enemy they almost always use Lucaret as a middle man. For a handsome fee.
Even the city of Green Leaf is allowed access to the city. Although they have to pay higher entry fees.
Recently they allied with the city of Crolestere. Rumours and reports had arrived saying that several cities were thinking of attacking Lucaret. It was feared that they would not be able to increase their army in time, and its militia is hopelessly under trained. Thus in return for very favourable rates, Crolestere allied with the city providing its large army in support of its ally.
Thus Lucaret remains safe, for now.
City Name: Green Leaf
Ruler: Rock Tooth Chief Lord
Power Structure: Dictatorship amongst a society of warlords. Each Warlord controls a portion of the city or land, and sends gifts to the Chief Lord every five months.
Population: 150,000 in the city, 50,000 in the surrounding area.
Population breakdown: 60% Goblin, 30% Orc, 10% Human.
Army: Approximately 50,000 basic soldiers. If they can all show up on the same day, in the proper area, and on the same side is a different story.
Focus of knowledge: Some magic, some technology
Important Resources: Lumber, rare and popular spices and swamp plants, exotic hides, bones, and meats. And a flourishing black market.
Short Bio of the city: When the Orc army was decimated by the Tristen alliance centuries ago, Goblins took over the Orcs former home. They fought amongst each other for several centuries, before a Goblin called Big Feet, was able to form an alliance with several other tribes, and decimated his rivals, then he back stabbed most of his rivals and declared himself Chief Lord of the ruins of Green Leaf.
The city has been 'repaired' and expanded along the islands and dry areas of the swamp in the last two centuries of 'peace'. Now it is a sprawling dirty ramshackle city, where Warlords control certain districts and streets with the Chief Lords permission.
Despite its appearance, and smell, the city is any freedom lovers dream come true. There are virtually no laws, and if you can get enough money or followers anyone can become a War Lord.
It is very difficult for the city to act coherently. But when they do it is very scary. A century ago the nearby city of Lucaret got tired of the cities banditry and attacked Green Leaf. It was a disaster. Virtually the entire city of Green Leaf was burned to the ground.
This wouldn't have been so bad, except the Lucaret army was in the city at the time. As they retreated the Green Leaf army raided, ambushed and sniped them the entire time they were in the swamp. Over a quarter of the army was lost, another quarter was wounded, and most of their weapons and supplies had to be abandoned.
Green Leaf has been at peace since then.
Separate names with a comma.