3 November 2020, Writing - part xx397 Writing a Novel, the Plot of Ben Hur
Announcement: Delay, my new novels can be seen on the internet, but my primary publisher has gone out of business—they couldn’t succeed in the past business and publishing environment. I’ll keep you informed, but I need a new publisher. More information can be found at www.ancientlight.com. Check out my novels—I think you’ll really enjoy them.
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.
Today’s Blog: To see the steps in the publication process, visit my writing websites http://www.sisteroflight.com/.
The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:
1. Don’t confuse your readers.
2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don’t show (or tell) everything.
4a. Show what can be seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted on the stage of the novel.
5. Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
These are the steps I use to write a novel including the five discrete parts of a novel:
1. Design the initial scene
2. Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)
a. Research as required
b. Develop the initial setting
c. Develop the characters
d. Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)
3. Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)
4. Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)
5. Write the climax scene
6. Write the falling action scene(s)
7. Write the dénouement scene
I finished writing my 29th novel, working title, Detective, potential title Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective. The theme statement is: Lady Azure Rose Wishart, the Chancellor of the Fae, supernatural detective, and all around dangerous girl, finds love, solves cases, breaks heads, and plays golf.
Here is the cover proposal for Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective.
The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I am continuing to write on my 30th novel, working title Red Sonja. I finished my 29th novel, working title Detective. I’m planning to start on number 31, working title Shifter.
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 30: 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 31: Deirdre and Sorcha are redirected to French finishing school where they discover difficult mysteries, people, and events.
Here is the scene development outline:
1. Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)
2. Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)
3. Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.
4. Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.
5. Write the release
6. Write the kicker
Today: Why don’t we go back to the basics and just writing a novel? I can tell you what I do, and show you how I go about putting a novel together. We can start with developing an idea then move into the details of the writing.
To start a novel, I picture an initial scene. I may start from a protagonist or just launch into mental development of an initial scene. I get the idea for an initial scene from all kinds of sources. To help get the creative juices flowing, let’s look at the initial scene.
1. Meeting between the protagonist and the antagonist or the protagonist’s helper
2. Action point in the plot
3. Buildup to an exciting scene
4. Indirect introduction of the protagonist
Ideas. We need ideas. Ideas allow us to figure out the protagonist and the telic flaw. Ideas don’t come fully armed from the mind of Zeus. We need to cultivate ideas.
1. Read novels.
2. Fill your mind with good stuff—basically the stuff you want to write about.
3. Figure out what will build ideas in your mind and what will kill ideas in your mind.
6. Make the catharsis.
The development of ideas is based on study and research, but it is also based on creativity. Creativity is the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form. It is a reflection of something new created with ties to the history, science, and logic (the intellect). Creativity requires consuming, thinking, and producing.
If we have filled our mind with all kinds of information and ideas, we are ready to become creative. Creativity means the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form. Literally, we are seeing the world in a new way, or actually, we are seeing some part of the world in a new way.
I’ve worked through creativity and the protagonist. The ultimate point is that if you properly develop your protagonist, you have created your novel. This moves us on to plots and initial scenes. As I noted, if you have a protagonist, you have a novel. The reason is that a protagonist comes with a telic flaw, and a telic flaw provides a plot and theme. If you have a protagonist, that gives you a telic flaw, a plot, and a theme. I will also argue this gives you an initial scene as well.
So, we worked extensively on the protagonist. I gave you many examples great, bad, and average. Most of these were from classics, but I also used my own novels and protagonists as examples. Here’s my plan.
1. The protagonist comes with a telic flaw – the telic flaw isn’t necessarily a flaw in the protagonist, but rather a flaw in the world of the protagonist that only the Romantic protagonist can resolve.
2. The telic flaw determines the plot.
3. The telic flaw determines the theme.
4. The telic flaw and the protagonist determines the initial scene.
5. The protagonist and the telic flaw determines the initial setting.
6. Plot examples from great classic plots.
7. Plot examples from mediocre classic plots.
8. Plot examples from my novels.
9. Creativity and the telic flaw and plots.
10. Writer’s block as a problem of continuing the plot.
Every great or good protagonist comes with their own telic flaw. I showed how this worked with my own writing and novels. Let’s go over it in terms of the plot.
This is all about the telic flaw. Every protagonist and every novel must come with a telic flaw. They are the same telic flaw. That telic flaw can be external, internal or both.
We found that a self-discovery telic flaw or a personal success telic flaw can potentially take a generic plot. We should be able to get an idea for the plot purely from the protagonist, telic flaw and setting. All of these are interlaced and bring us our plot.
For a great plot, the resolution of the telic flaw has to be a surprise to the protagonist and to the reader. This is both the measure and the goal. As I noted before, for a great plot, the author needs to make the telic flaw resolution appear to be impossible, but then it happens. There is much more to this. Here’s the list of plots I’ve looked at already:
2. Detective or mystery
4. End of the World
7. Revenge or vengeance
9. Zero to hero
Here is the list of classics that everyone should read. What I want to do is evaluate this list for the plots.
This is the plan. Let’s look at each novel and try to pull out the plot types, the telic flaw, and the theme of the novel. The ultimate point is we can glean plot ideas and types to add to our list. Part of this evaluation, we can try to identify the zero and the hero of the protagonist. All this might help us define plots and perhaps help us to develop plots for our own novels. This is kind of like looking at art as an artist and figuring out what makes a picture successful.
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury – Best modern novel in English.
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible – Most important book to understand Western culture.
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 We The Living – Ayn Rand
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Dune – Frank Herbert
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare – better to see as plays
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 The Cadwal Chronicles – Jack Vance
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Green Pearl Novels – Jack Vance
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchel
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 Starship Troopers – Robert Heinlein
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
37 The Tale of Genji - Murasaki Shikibu
38 The House of Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne
39 The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 Dracula – Bram Stoker
43 Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis
44 Le Morte D'Arthur - Thomas Malory
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 Ivanhoe – Sir Walter Scott
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
51 What Katy Did - Sarah Chauncey Woolsey under her pen name Susan Coolidge
52 A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett
53 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling
56 Kim - Rudyard Kipling
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 Beowulf – Unknown
60 The Odyssey – Homer
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
64 The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett
65 The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Robinson Caruso – Daniel Defoe
69 The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Don Quixote - Miguel De Cervantes
73 Heidi – Johanna Spyri
74 Hans Brinker - Mary Mapes Dodge
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 The Big Sky – Arlo Guthrie
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 The Black Arrow - Robert Louis Stevenson
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
83 The Gulag Archipelago - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
84 The Miser – George Eliot
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemmingway
87 Tarzan – Edger Rice Burroughs
88 The Death of Socrates – Plato
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 I, Robot - Isaac Asimov
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 Huckleberry Fin – Mark Twain
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 Gulliver’s Travels - Jonathan Swift
96 Matilda – Roald Dahl
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
101 The Once and Future King – T.H. White
102 The Deerslayer – James Fenimore Cooper
103 The Black Book of Communism – Various
104 Ben Hur – Lew Wallace
105 The Robe – Lloyd C. Douglas
106 The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
107 The Histories – Herodotus
108 Lives – Plutarch
109 The Call of the Wild – Jack London
110 Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner
111 The Shockwave Rider – John Brunner
112 The Aeneid – Virgil
Ben Hur by Lew Wallace is a great Victorian Era novel with an entirely Romantic protagonist in a Romantic plot but with a false historical conclusion. It is a very interesting novel, and one of the first historical novels to touch on the subject of Jesus Christ. I wrote my novel Centurion partly as a better historically based fiction than Ben Hur.
Ben Hur is a product of a new era of understanding about history, but the end is entirely unhistorical. Wallace produced a wonderful Romantic protagonist. Judah ben Hur doesn’t come from the common, but Wallace takes him properly to zero before building him back up to hero. This doesn’t immediately disqualify Judah as a Romantic protagonist, but shows the evidence of blood will out that is otherwise not in the novel in a heavy degree. It is an American novel and not a European one, so we should expect less deference to rank and more accommodation for skills and training. This is exactly what we get—Judah ben Hur brought to the level of a slave and by his special skills and training to become a Roman warrior and aristocrat.
What other plots do we see in the novel? I mentioned the zero to hero. I haven’t added hero to zero, but I’m not sure I need to. We have a prison plot preceded by an accident mistaken for a crime. I’m not going to add another plot, but note that this is a crime plot and a mistaken identity, the mistake isn’t the person but the action. What is great about this plot is that it is a mixture of two plots in our list. We need to keep this in mind when applying the list to our own ideas.
Should I note a mystery plot about who the new Judah ben Hur is? I suspect so. There is a messiah plot, but it isn’t the protagonist. Jesus Christ is a plot theme and a character in the novel, but he isn’t a true messiah in Wallace’s novel. I’ll explain later.
Perhaps the defining plot in the novel is a vengeance plot. The novel is a revelation of the life of Judah ben Hur, but not so much a revelation plot. Definitely we have an achievement plot mostly about vengeance and the steps to vengeance. Various articles drive the plotline for article plots. I should note, the plotline is all about vengeance. This plotline is both achieved and not achieved.
We have a travel plot with Judah’s trip to Rome and back to the Levant. We see a betrayal plot, actually more than one. The overall premise of Judah ben Hur is unfortunately blood will out. Wallace couldn’t break from that Victorian splinter. We also see illness with Judah’s family, and ultimately self-discovery for Judah.
Let’s mark the board.
Here’s the list of plots. I’m going to amend the list as we noted.
1. Redemption – 13i, 7e, 21ei, 8, 1i
2. Detective or mystery – 51, 1e, 1
3. Messiah – 8, 1
4. End of the World – 3
5. War – 18, 1
6. Anti-war –2
7. Revenge or vengeance –3ie, 2e, 41, 1e
8. Revelation –1e, 61
9. Zero to hero – 25, 1
10. Romance –1ie, 38
11. Achievement – 13e, 19ei, 4i, 40, 1
12. Article – 1e, 43, 1
13. Travel –1e, 55, 1
14. Coming of age –1ei, 25
15. Progress of technology – 4
16. Discovery – 3ie, 51
17. Rejected love (rejection) – 1ei, 20
18. Miscommunication – 7
19. Love triangle – 13
20. Betrayal – 1i, 1ie, 41, 1
21. Totalitarian – 1e, 6
22. Blood will out or fate –1i, 1e, 24, 1
23. Psychological –1i, 41
24. Horror – 14
25. Magic – 7
26. Mistaken identity – 15, 1
27. Money – 2e, 26
28. Spoiled child – 7
29. Children – 23
30. Historical – 16, 1
31. Legal – 5
32. Adultery – 18
33. Illness – 1e, 15, 1
34. School – 11
35. Self-discovery – 2i, 9, 1i
36. Guilt or Crime – 29, 1
37. Anti-hero – 6
38. Immorality – 3i, 7
39. Proselytizing – 4
40. Satire – 9
41. Reason – 10, 1ie
42. Escape – 1ie, 19, 1
43. Knowledge or Skill – 22, 1
44. Camaraderie – 17
45. Parallel – 4
46. Allegory – 9
47. Curse – 4
48. Insanity – 8
49. Fantasy world – 5
50. Mentor – 11
51. Prison – 1, 1
52. Secrets – 20
Judah be Hur is the protagonist of Ben Hur. His telic flaw is vengeance. This is an external telic flaw, and he also has an internal telic flaw. You might think his internal telic flaw would be redemption, but this isn’t so. Judah ben Hur’s internal telic flaw is self-discovery. He doesn’t change for the purpose of redemption but because of self-awareness from the example of Jesus Christ. This might be difficult for many in the modern era to understand, but I’ll attempt to explain it.
Wallace was a real radical in his own period. He was a Turbingen School believer in an Enlightenment world. Wallace did not accept as 99 percent of all Christendom that Jesus rose from the dead. In spite of all the eyewitness and historical accounts to the contrary, Wallace took up the new idea that Jesus was just a god man who happened to die unjustly on a cross. This is ultimately a pitiful view and heretical. His novel was popular and also heretical. It has become the popular view in the modern world. Wallace’s protagonist didn’t need redemption, but rather self-discovery. Jesus provided Judah ben Hur this self-awareness, and the novel ends. Judah really does achieve his vengeance, gets back his family, and gains worldly power and riches (again). He also has an internal change based on knowledge not so much an internal change brining his peace or contentment.
I like Ben Hur. I don’t agree with its history although the general history in the novel is very good—it just gets the Jesus Christ part entirely wrong. How a good scholar of the Greek and Latin could make such an error is beyond the kin or most historians and scholars. So treat Ben Hur as a great example of a well written Romantic classic, but realize the history at the end is significantly screwed. Wallace was a heretic and missed the entire point of the beautiful novel he was writing.
In the end, we can figure out what makes a work have a great plot, and apply this to our writing.
Let’s start with the idea of an internal and external telic flaw. Then let’s provide it a wrapper. The wrapper is the plot.
The beginning of creativity is study and effort. We can use this to extrapolate to creativity. In addition, we need to look at recording ideas and working with ideas.
For more information, you can visit my author site http://www.ldalford.com/, and my individual novel websites:
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