Plotting Technique and Working with the Opponent

As many of you know I’ve been working on “The Novel.”

I’ve gone back and forth with regards to what kind of story it’s going to turn out to be. There are elements of mystery…chick lit…adventure…pirate…faerie embedded within the story itself.

I have a protagonist, an antagonist, and a whole host of other characters. Some of them are friendly to the protagonist’s mission. Others? Not so much.

I have a John Doe who was killed early on in the novel. While my protagonist wants to know why, the antagonist really isn’t interested in explaining why he hired someone to kill the gentleman.


He had his reasons…and though they aren’t great…they are reasons.

But now that I’m trying to figure that out…and both of the characters seem to be having a kind of stand off over coffee/tea in one conversation…I’ve concluded that I need to throw more stuff into the beginning sections with regards to something John Truby (The Anatomy of Story) calls “The Iceberg Opponent”:

Making the opponent mysterious is extremely important, no matter what kind of story you are writing. Think of the opponent as an iceberg. Some of the iceberg is visible about the water. But most of it is hidden below the surface, and that is by far the more dangerous part. There are four techniques that can help you make this opposition in your story as dangerous as possible:

1. Create a hierarchy of opponents with a number of alliances;

2. Hide the hierarchy from the hero and the audience, and hide each opponent’s true agenda;

3. Reveal all this information in pieces and at an increasing pace over the course of the story;

4. Consider having your hero go up against an obvious opponent early in the story.

So now I’m wondering if the bad guy that I know about is the final bad guy…or if he’s just another minion for something…errr…someone much bigger and nastier.


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    • kredwyn on February 19, 2008 at 21:54

    “The mystery form is like gymnastic equipment: you can grasp hold of it and show off what you can do.”  – Mickey Friedman

  1. Or was John Doe really someone else who John Doe’s minions made to look like John Doe and then killed to cover the tracks of the real John Doe who really is the final bad guy.

  2. …so gauge its worth accordingly 😉

    The scariest horror films (or moments therein) are when they don’t show the monster. Even Jaws was built around glimpses of the shark but not the whole thing.

    So…maybe try removing the parts where the protagonist and antagonist talk and see what happens? I have no idea what that may do to your story…just a thought…

    • pfiore8 on February 19, 2008 at 22:54

    glad to see you here!!! and does this mean you’ll be posting your story here as you work it out?

    i do a thing on Thursdays at 10pm, writing in the raw. would love you to have you guest host one Thursday and talk about your process and more about your story.

    let me know…

  3. The greatest recent example of this is the Usual Suspects. The  police dude working the case thought he had a bottom feeder, who spun a wild tell based on objects in the room. This feat of writing is absurdly hard.

    I usually like the make my middle henchmen chaotic neutral. This allows not only of erractic behavior, but for some interesting plot twists as well.

    I just finished something along these lines recently, and the killing of John Doe was a total red herring. Mr Doe was missing his left hand, and the dick on the case thought that was the killer’s calling card.

    When confronted, the killer (who himself was a red herring) said he just wanted his watch.

    When asked him why he cut it off then, the killer said because that was the hand the son of bitch hit him with trying to defend himself.

    Later, the dick finds out the real killer had been cutting off the politicos’ hands because that’s where the firm had been planting their interfaces.

    It wasn’t a fetish as the dick thought, it was about concealing evidence.

    2 cents.

  4. character-driven.  Two characters, each trying to do the right thing according to their own worldview, but on a collision course because their worldviews are diametrically opposed.

    The best example of this I can think of immediately is Sherwood by Parke Godwin.

    What really made it for me was that although it’s a retelling of Robin Hood, the story begins one year after the Battle of Hastings, with Robin representing the Anglo and the Sheriff of Nottingham the Saxon.  Both are good men, according to their own cultures.  It’s the conflict of cultures that fascinated me as a reader.

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