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Cast and setting but where is the plot?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Dutch, Dec 23, 2016.

  1. Dutch

    Dutch Dreamer

    I am just beginning to give this writing lark a go but I am the type of person who likes to have a plan and structure before I begin. I have decided on a set of characters I like, a fictional setting I would like to use and the genre that excites me.

    My problem is that the arc or direction of the story is just not coming to me! At the moment I have a myriad of scenes buzzing around my head but it feels just like a mash up of movie trailers. A story is just not presenting itself or linking the scenes together.

    Is this a common issue or am I doing something wrong? Is there any advice to help me discover the plot or am I missing something?

    Any help appreciated as I am keen to get going!
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    You have a set of characters. That's great! Do you have an idea of what sort of people each of them are at the beginning of the story? You don't need to know everything, but you should know strengths and weaknesses. You should know what motivates them. And you should know their goals -- what each of them wants to get. It could be an object, could be a person, could be a new state of existence, could be most anything, but it needs to be something. Ideally you will know this about your antagonist as well.

    Now, where is that thing? Inside them? On another world. Over in the next valley? Only to be found within the halls of the royal castle?

    Then it's time to start throwing obstacles in their path. The worst of the obstacles should come from the antagonist, but some can come from happenstance, and some can even come from the characters themselves.

    The plot is how the characters get from where they are to where they want to be, the obstacles they encounter, and how they overcome those obstacles.

    There are other ways to go about this (many others!), but there's one.
    cydare and Dutch like this.
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    What skip said.

    It all starts with someone wanting something and someone or something getting in the way.
    Dutch likes this.
  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Another direction... It could all start with what the antagonist wants, and discovering this is what sets the characters in motion. So with Star Wars, what I might need to know is that the Empire intends to destroy the rebellion with a planet killing Death Star. Knowing the bad guy's goal can give you the MC's motivation. It can tell you who and what they need to be, it can tell you a great many things. Naturally, you need to know something about your story universe to know this, but it can be very useful.

    So, we start with our story universe, the empire, the rebellion, droids and aliens, the Force, and the bad guy's goal... but Beyond that storywise... There are many important plot points, naturally, and which ones are most important is debatable, and terminology could depend on what particular structure to the story you like. Now me, I know structure but I don't obsess over it. But, here are the two things I like to know before getting too far along and they really help flesh out the greater story by forcing questions... The ending (or climax) and whatever event draws our main character into the story (this could be the inciting event or not). So if I were developing Star Wars, I'd want to know that the climax (the main character destroys the Death Star) and how the main character is drawn into the story (a droid delivers the Death Star's plans to the MC). What I have to do from here is to start answering that devious one worded question: How? Answer and keep asking and answering until you have a complete story!

    Simple, heh heh.
    cydare, Dutch and Heliotrope like this.
  5. Basically, you start with your characters. What is their goal or motivation? What do they most need, want or desire? What threatens their well-being?

    Once you know that, you have the foundation to your plot.
    Dutch likes this.
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    There are so many ways to skin that cat it's kind of crazy. For instance, I normally don't start with any characters in mind. So I start with plot and eventually find what characters fit that plot. Starting with a character is something I would only do in certain circumstances... such as my vampire screenplay, which started with a character concept. And even then, the character was invented at the same time as some comedic skits about the vampire... Other than that, starting with character is totally alien to my sense of story-telling.

    But then again, plots aren't an issue for my brain... it plots all the time, for good or ill.

    Dutch and FifthView like this.
  7. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Sage

    I would ask why these characters? Why this setting? In my experience the answer to the plot question is usually there.

    What about the setting you've chosen makes you want to use it? Is there something particularly fascinating about it? How could that aspect effect characters? For example in my WIP I have a that was built over top some ancient ruins. Its only logical that these ruins would effect the plot somehow. There are all sorts of questions I could ask. Do the ruins have any sort of special properties? What are they made out of? Who built them? Why? Why did they abandon their city? Already I can see all sorts of potential plots having to do with these ruins whether they themselves are valuable or there's something hidden in them or the people who built them are important to the story.

    You can also approach this for character, genre, ect. What makes you want to use this character? You get the idea.
    Michael K. Eidson and Dutch like this.
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I don't know how common this issue might be, but I know I've often experienced something similar. I don't know exactly what might be inhibiting your creation of a plot/story, but I'll take a stab at the topic using myself as an example.

    This may seem rather abstract, but I'll try to be as clear as possible.

    Whenever I've spent a long time contemplating a cast of characters I want to use and a setting for them, before considering plot, I've noticed that I become very attached to these creations. I won't say there is an emotional attachment—although sometimes there is—but the attachment is at least intellectual or conceptual. I've built up an image of cast and setting, and I like it.

    The problem is that story is fundamentally about change. It's not a snapshot in time (or a montage of scenes taken out of context.)

    In other words, whenever I've grown attached to an image of the cast members and the setting, what I've really done is imagine a host of static features. Images. In the same way a photo captures a moment in time, my brainstorming has created a collection of images, each locked to moments in time.

    I've grown so attached to these elements, I lose an ability to break them. To use another metaphor, I have all these nice clay models, perhaps even painted in intricate detail, and by gosh destroying one or another or many becomes difficult.

    But, story is about change. Story is about dynamics, not stasis. By the end of the story (and throughout the story), elements will have to have been in motion, changing, maybe even entirely destroyed.

    So my suggestion is for you to consider the elements in your cast members and/or the setting, pick some of those elements, and find ways to destroy those elements through alteration.

    These elements can be in either the cast members or the world or both.

    Different kinds of stories will require different types of destruction. Some stories will focus on character changes. Others will focus more on changes in the world. Many will involve changes in both cast members and world.

    A mental exercise showing what I mean:

    Take a favorite book or movie, and imagine an early scene rewritten so that the POV character is his older self, i.e., what he is at the end of the book. So for example, if you are familiar with Game of Thrones, picture Arya's early scenes written from her point of view in later seasons of the HBO show. (Maybe she would assassinate Joffrey before the party even makes it to King's Landing early in the first season!) You could do the same thing with a setting, for example if Game of Thrones opened in S1 E1 with Westeros already in deep winter, the white walkers and undead already occupying the land, and no undisputed king of Westeros exists, then how would the story for the remainder of the show's seasons be quite different than what it is?

    So pick an element that you like, or multiple elements, about a character or multiple characters or the setting, and choose to break those. Once you start writing, these elements might not be broken in the earliest scenes; but they soon will be. Once you've determined what will break (a character's innocence or heart or body, a static political or religious situation, etc.), then you can begin to consider how these things will break within the story and what the characters' reactions will be to that breakage—and what else might break as a result of those characters' activity. Rinse and repeat. Pretty soon, you'll have the plot you need.

    TL/DR; basically, the interaction between cast and setting is story and plot. If both cast and setting are in stasis, then cast and setting aren't interacting. So you need to destroy that stasis and see how those changes in cast members affect the setting and how changes in the setting affect the cast members. If no solid story or plot is presenting itself to you, the problem might be that you are too attached to the elements in cast and setting you've already brainstormed. So you need to break something. Or break lots of things. And allow these treasured elements to grow in a different direction.
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2016
  9. True, true. However, characters are what the OP has to work with, so let's roll w/that. ;)
  10. SergeiMeranov

    SergeiMeranov Scribe

    I'd also suggest that if you have characters and scenes buzzing around to just write those scenes down. Make them perfect and then figure out what connects them.

    Speaking as someone that appreciates rigid rules and planning when it comes to a lot of aspects of life. Sometimes it's easy to get too caught up in the details of the tree that you lose the forest. Speaking from experience in having spent hours designing the topography and geography of an area of a fictional world that wouldn't even appear in my story I know that at times you have to just let go of a plan and just write what you can even if it's terrible.

    I'd also suggest the method in the ebook First Draft in 30 days. In that method you start with general brainstorming, then move to character sketches, then to setting sketches, and then to basic plot structuring. So, to condense that and parrot what others here have already said, it may help to flesh out your characters and figure out what it is they want and what their struggle is going to be.
    Dutch likes this.
  11. Dutch

    Dutch Dreamer

    Oh my goodness! Thank you all so much for the above advice. It has been extremely helpful and as soon as I get this annoying thing called Christmas out of the way I will be delving into my notebook to action this.

    I also have to say Fifthview, that I think you have hit on the exact problem I think I am having. I have conjured up something I like but now have to introduce change in order to find the story. The brain is already ticking over...
  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Characters and setting as well as (potential) scenes. Any one or a combination can be the catalyst.

  13. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I don't know how common it is, but I have suffered from this "problem" for about 15 years, and only just realized how bad it is. :(

    One of my friends recognized how frustrated I was over not knowing what to do with my plotting deficiency, and she sent me to this blog: 12 Key Pillars Of Novel Construction | Live Write Thrive - Part 18 FYI you have to read backwards from the earliest written one (the last one on page 18) to the latest-written (first on page 1).

    Please read this. I'm only halfway through them, but they pretty much explain every important reason for plotting, and I just wish I was mentally capable of having understood this stuff years ago, because for me, everything starts with characters and then I just sort of sit back and watch them deal with situations...but unfortunately, the scenes I wrote for them don't necessarily all fit together, or even in the same story, and I end up with a messy story that takes a lot of detours and frustrates readers. Which could have been avoided with structure and planning.
    Dutch, skip.knox and Demesnedenoir like this.
  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I seem to recall reading some of that one a while back, a whole lot of rehash if you've studied the topic much, but I recall she did a good job of making her points. I forgot all about this one, si I'm glad to see it brought up again.

    Dutch likes this.
  15. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    To further illustrate the posts with the advice about what your character wants:

    Take Hamilton, the musical. Part of the musical format is to have the main character tell the audience what they want. Hamilton does this very early on deciding he doesn't want to waste his time ("My Shot"). Burr doesn't figure out what he wants until later on, deciding to bide his time behind the scenes ("Wait for It") & ends up changing his mind because he's tired of waiting to be acknowledged for his service when Hamilton is blazing past him ("The Room Where It Happens"). Eliza has her moment in "That Would Be Enough", where she decides to support Hamilton no matter the cost but changes her mind in "Burn" after his affair comes to light & then becomes the ever loving wife again by the epilogue.

    All that to say: explicitly write out what your character wants & what the antagonist wants & ways to complicate that. Never give your characters their big wants directly & without a lot of trials along the way. It's not a happy ending if your characters never had to work for anything, it's a slightly boring story about some spoiled Prince(ess) getting his/her way.
  16. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Plot is usually the easiest part of the story for me. I go chapter by chapter and create a chain of events that have cause and effect, which directly or indirectly influences future events. Knowing the beginning and end of the story/series helps quite a bit.

    The biggest issue I have is describing the mundane aspects of the story that lead up to the "good stuff". :)
  17. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    You have your characters, but what do you really know about them? Do you know what each of them WANT and NEED, and how what they WANT differs from what they NEED? (Yes, I've been reading K.M. Weiland.) When you know what a character WANTs and NEEDs, it is easier to come up with the arc that gets them from the one to the other. I highly recommend Weiland's book on creating character arcs, and the free book on story structure you can get from her site.
    Dutch likes this.

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