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From Theme to Plot

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Yora, Oct 5, 2019.

  1. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    For me, it happens simultaneously. I can't have a plot without a theme or theme without a plot. They are of equal importance to me, which is why I start writing only after I've figured them both out.
     
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I find things like this to be simultaneously empowering as heck and whatever is the opposite of empowering. Entrapment, I guess.

    They are empowering for two BIG, important reasons.

    First, I find I am extremely passionate about a project once I know, in my core, the theme that is driving me. It excites me. Almost, obsessively so.

    Second, understanding the theme and being able to state it like you did in your examples helps to narrow down the brainstorming and even inspires specifics I brainstorm. For instance, take one:

    "good intentions with unrestrained ambition are the source of great horrors"

    I could go with:

    • Boy who suddenly gains magical abilities decides to rid his village of the older bullies who have been terrorizing the younger kids in that village.
    • But some of those bullies happen to be the children of village elders who run the village.
    • And they are rather insulated due to the protection from these village elders, plus there are aspects of their culture which have allowed those bullies to run wild—most other people in the village also therefore turn a blind eye. [Note to self: come up with these cultural elements in more detail.]
    • And the bullies have been in training to be defenders of the village during times of war, so they have this social status as well protecting them.
    • So boy sets out to remove these various protections—getting help from a couple friends who aren't quite sure they should be doing these things.
    • His new powers give him a big ego. He's excited. This is like mana from heaven.
    • Boy is inept, still learning his powers, doesn't understand the full village dynamics and the bigger picture [Outside hostile forces?]
    • Mistakes happen. He fails as he's figuring things out. But presses on. Escalating.
    • Consequences. There are always consequences. To his friends, to the security of his village. Bad things happen. He kills a couple of the bullies, maybe one of the village elders who tried to protect his son. One of his own friends dies. Exterior outside force appears in force. Everyone's threatened, and boy has already upset status quo in the village.
    • Boy decides to take on that exterior force himself; he caused this, he can surely fix it. [Invasion? Rabid monsters? Figure this out.]
    • Boy plumbs depths, at wit's end. His magic increases but is horrifying. He has little option but to use it. Surely he can control it?
    • Village, family, friends, everything basically ends in tatters—mostly—although he defeats that exterior threat. The worst of the tatters is mostly his own doing. Survivors look at him like he was the monster, the worst of everything despite all that has happened.
    • There is a rift in the world; his magical efforts have set in motion a much worse state for the greater world. He has no friends; his family (of those members who still live) turn their back on him. He wanders out into the wild, leaving his village behind.
    • [Here endeth book one. Book two will take up with him out in the wild. Heh.]
    Ok, so I could go with something else. Maybe a lawyer who decides to take on the corrupt political system but becomes corrupt himself and does horrifying things?

    The thing is, I kinda went with something else I'm naturally interested in. Young protagonist, sudden new power, in a small village milieu, magic and maybe monsters. NOT a lawyer in modern America, heh. But there are many other ways I might go, depending on my initial brainstorms, just following where those lead. Having the main theme in mind inspires me to think of examples. What are good intentions? Maybe ridding a village of bullies. What are examples of ambition? Ridding the village of bullies has some major obstacles, an entrenched status quo; boy must be ambitious with his endeavors and in his mind. What kind of horrors might I produce in the story (the boy produce)? A devastated village, and even his own complete and utter ostracism by the end. Even a horrifyingly altered world beyond that village, after what he's done.

    My problem is the entrapment aspect of this process.

    On the one hand, once I come up with the examples, the details, I am kinda now entrapped by them, heh. I may come up with multiple sets of examples, multiple stories. But ultimately I have to choose one. This is not so bad; it's a part of the process.

    But then comes the realization that I've just plugged in holes in one of those adlib stories. The "examples" of thematic elements, when brainstormed like this, aren't incredibly fleshed out. This character of "the boy" was created in order to create a basic plot outline. In other words, the story didn't flow from the character so much as I created a stand-in to fill a need of plot. So when I go to the next step of trying to flesh out the character...ah, then what? I do think there are some very basic aspects of character popping through that outline. The problem is that the story may begin to wobble once I start coming up with more details for that character, the real person in that story. Same goes for the specifics of "exterior force" and "cultural elements of village" and...so forth. The devil's in the details, and I've already trapped myself with this plot outline. If I pull on strands, or snip some things, then sometimes the whole thing will start to fall apart or become warped and then, in worst cases, I eventually lose interest in the theme. Not completely; but I wonder, Gah, is it worth it?
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    It's only not worth it if you don't write it. Otherwise, it is. It might not turn out very well, but you wanted to tell a story and you did, so there.

    I don't think we're ever trapped. We might be bored, stumped, or distracted, but never trapped. We can always blow it up, tear it down, start all over again. Or any of a thousand points short of that. The one that nags at me is the fear that the tearing down and rebuilding will take so long that one of those other things (bored, stumped, distracted) will bring me to a dead stop. When I get to feeling that way, I remind myself I spend several years on Goblins at the Gates in every one of the conditions just mentioned, but I still finished it. That gives me renewed confidence.

    To say this more concisely, every method and approach works, if it gets you to done.
     
  4. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    It does sound more like a dislike for planned stories in general. If discovery writing works for you, go with that.
     
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Not sure whether I agree with the first part. I've spent long periods working on projects, completed them, and then discovered they were basically trash. Was the result worth all that effort? Nah. (This applies to many endeavors in my life. I think age now moderates my initial passion; or, if it can't do so "in the moment" when I begin a project, the moderation begins not too long after I begin. The TL;DR version is this: I've wasted large portions of my almost 5 decades on this Earth, heh.)

    Second part: "but you wanted to tell a story and you did" doesn't quite address the fact that I wanted to tell a good story, or a fitting story. Having that initial passion for a theme and project is great for beginning. But the passion is tied to the result(s). If what I'm ending up with doesn't fit the initial vision (however vague or hazy or solid or sharp), then the result is not a completion of that initial vision.

    I think maybe starting with theme is not enough to carry me through a project. Ultimately, many other aspects of story need to carry the day—and carry me through the day. This is sorta what I was getting at.

    The question in this thread was how to find story or plot when all you have is theme. I do think the approach I outlined is a great method, at least better than no method, for coming up with a plot/story when all you have is theme. Brainstorm the elements and types of story that a theme suggests. Break those elements of theme into parts; brainstorm examples of story elements that will fit those parts; and let yourself string your examples together, unify them.

    The trap, for me, is what happens after I've done this and settled upon one very general plot scheme that seems to work for a theme, like the example I gave above. It's a bit too mechanical. The general plot didn't spring from a deep understanding of and appreciation for character, world/milieu, ideas and other things that will be the actual story. These are the things I must like writing, heh, or it's Gah! for me.

    We can always blow it up, tear it down, start all over again.
    — Yes, but maybe this is merely a way for digging ourselves outside the trap of too strong a focus on theme? A story should probably have more than one theme? (This might make for a worthy topic in a thread all its own.) Maybe the initial idea of the main theme turns out to be less important as this process of tearing down and building up occurs, or at least something we are willing to sacrifice or demote as new elements of a story come into focus. The trap for me is being unable to think "outside the box" once I create that box through a process of coming up with a general story outline based solely on theme.
     
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  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I do have some problem whenever I try to plan things too strictly, so I avoid that. But I think this sort of thing happens still and would happen even if I fell on the extreme side of discovery writing. I'm not accomplished enough to know exactly where my ideal spot is on that continuum, heh. The general story idea I outlined above is similar to how I begin; then, I try to discover the specifics as I progress in the writing. Often, I'm thinking ahead for specifics because I need to have a general idea of where I'm going. I need that future vision to pull me along. If I can't quite decide on the specifics, this is the most frustrating state for me, and I can ground to a halt. I think if I went the route of "absolute discovery," I'd find myself drifting even more from any vision of main theme I might have had at the very outset. Maybe not. Maybe I'd find new elements for conveying that theme as I wrote. Dunno. The problem then might be I'd have a need for finding my passion for a story beyond the initial passion for a particular theme that started me writing it in the first place.

    But the question in the OP seemed to be framed around the idea of how to find story or plot when all you have is theme? I think this question is good for both, outliners and discovery writers, when there's an initial theme in mind, and the question then becomes how to find the story or plot whether outlining in advance or as you are discovery writing?
     
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  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I agree with FifthViewFifthView right down the line. Theme isn't enough. I think YoraYora was basically saying that, too. If that's the starting point, then character and setting have to come along. At least in my current project I'm finding that plot is really last. I mean, it all gets worked on together, but I seem to be investing more in character and setting right now, letting the plot take shape more slowly. I'm sure this varies by project and author, but all the elements need to be there.

    It's the getting there that's the challenge, and some good ideas have been offered here.
     
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  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I would proffer that, at least for the sake of conversation, the OP may be trying to shift from theme to plot and character and all too early in the thought process. Take more time to explore your themes and follow them wherever they lead you.

    For example, let's take a second to focus on one theme, "realizing your own limitations lets you reach your full potential," and see where that leads us.

    Limitations, denial of limits, full potential.... these, in my mind, point to someone in maybe their twenties, someone who's past the point of "learning" and "exploring" and facing that point in life where they have to narrow, to focus, to settle down in their thought process. They just got out of college, the sky's the limit, but they take on too much, can't quite accomplish anything. They overextend themselves.

    To ratchet up the theme, we want to make this the kind of lesson he has refused to learn at other key points in life. This is the kind of person who, when it would come time to pick a college major, does everything he could to finagle his way out of choosing and into taking as many different electives as possible. "I will not be limited like that."

    So we're looking at a character who has reason to believe they can do a lot, and is now rushing into the reality of "the workplace." Now we have to translate that into a fantasy story. Here I'm taking a few liberties - the OP will have their own ideas about what kind of fantasy they want to translate it into - but I'll go with the basic high fantasy sword and sorcery setting.

    To me, the obvious translation here is that the character is either a prince or a wizard, choices that represent two wildly different views of the theme. The prince, you see, is the reasonably normal person who's been blessed with opportunity, who's skirted the normal limits by leaning into his privileged lifestyle, but now has to come to grips with his normalcy. The wizard, on the other hand, is a skilled prodigy, a person with no limits because he's used to conquering those limits through skill and determination.

    To me, the wizard is the more interesting character, although using both would also work well if you want to open things up a lot. The two characters have very different stories, and that makes a good contrast.

    For the prince, you have to gradually tear down the resources he uses to skirt his limits. His family, his money, his reputation, his connections. So you want to build an antagonist that targets them and forces the character to realize that, well, maybe somebody else is the person to lead, and he can accomplish much more by enabling them with his resources instead of clinging to the role himself.

    For the wizard, you have to force him to sacrifice his other opportunities and narrow his focus. You have to give him a problem so large he has to give up his other dreams to overcome it, because ultimately his "big limit" is that he can only give his attention to one thing at a time, and he can accomplish more by choosing a problem to solve than by attempting to do everything.

    Right now prince and wizard could be swapped out with a wide array of things - merchant son and a self-made businessman, for example - but NOW we're at the place where decisions need to be made. Here is where we begin to branch out into making real decisions about character, plot and setting.
     
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  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    THIS is where I want to take this conversation, because I think this is the part that is so fascinating to me, and connects with what FifthView was saying, here:

    What I think is soooooo beautiful about premises and themes is that each individual author will read it and interpret it in a totally different way, sort of like the prompts in the writing challenges. Devor gives one example of how HE sees that theme logically represented. I would view it differently. FifthView would view it from the Fifth perspective (lol, Whatever that is). I sort of feel like there are themes that we, as individuals, care more about. Devor reads

    And he immediately sees young males, in their twenties, on the brink of venturing out of magic collage into the 'real' world... This would be a fascinating story!

    I see a female... a Queen, perhaps, in her early 40's who is smarter in regards to politics than her husband... or at least more savvy than he is... but she is limited by her position as wife, mother, and being only the "Queen". She has no seat at the round table. She fights with her husband constantly, trying to be heard. She tries to get out into the world to make change, but is constantly pulled back by her role as mother... she has to find another way. She has to work with her limitations instead of against them in order to have her voice heard and see the change she wants to see in the world. (Cercei Lannister).

    Because I care about motherhood, feminism, the limitations put on women, both by society and biology, these are themes I care deeply about, so that is how I would write the story....

    Fifthview would do it differently. This is why we need different authors with different perspectives. I love that.

    *Side note: This has really made me think about doing a "theme" challenge. Right now the challenge prompts are very physical. They are things or places... but themes almost always seem to be missing from the stories... it is something we might do well to practice, as well.
     
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  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I honestly did consider gender and chose to keep it to prince and wizard for the sake of maintaining that "placeholder" feel. That is, two character who could be swapped out for anything.
     
  11. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Can you elaborate on this a little more? What do you mean by "placeholder"?
     
  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I did a little, in edit. I only meant that prince and wizard feel super generic. "Prince or princess" feels like I'm asking you to choose between two different character ideas right from the get go.
     
  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Got it. Makes sense. All I'm saying is that different people will interpret themes differently, which is very cool. Which is why the Hero's Journey is so adaptable, and why good vs. evil never gets boring.
     
  14. Futhark

    Futhark Inkling

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    Of all the good movies and novels, the ones that have stuck with me the most, it appears that theme, plot, and character go hand in hand. So, I attempt to develop all three at once. It’s a lot of juggling and dropping balls. It’s also hard to describe, so I’ll just go through the process of my WIP.

    I have a character. I want him to defeat a villain by gaining knowledge. This new knowledge causes him to question established social structures and understanding.

    1st Basic Theme — knowledge can change you. Question — where is the conflict in this theme? There is none, it is just a statement.

    Plot — why would it be bad for him to question society? He has obligations, standards.

    Character — he now has honour at stake. He is bound to the State, to his friends and family.

    Refined Theme — Identity. Obligation vs. self. How important is it to discover your own identity, against the importance of being accepted and protected by society. When do you set your own rules and standards?
    (This is, IMHO, a much better theme. It still fits under the umbrella of knowledge can change you, but also provides external and internal conflict, as well as questions to explore.)

    Character — What kind of personality would he have? What backstory would motivate this behaviour?

    Plot —Who/what does he need to question? What does he find out, and how?

    So that’s the theme. But what about the message? Do I have one? Not really, I’m a Relativist. Depends on your point of view, ya know. But my MC has one, cause he’s the hero. This is not who you are. You don’t need to be who they tell you to be. You can change, is his message. Is it the TRUTH? For him it is, or will be, because that’s part of his character arc. For others it won’t be the truth, and, if I do it right, the readers will get to decide on their own how true the truth is.

    I’ve been doing this exercise for a while now to help find themes. Take a statement, like absolute power corrupts absolutely, or, with great power comes great responsibility. Turn it into a question, or flip it around, or refine it. Both these examples could suggest; controlling power requires restraint. So maybe it’s about morality vs. power. How does one regulate themselves when they have unlimited freedom/potential to do what they want? When do you know you’ve crossed the line?

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. K. M. Weiland has some articles about this that has helped me.

    How to Write Unique Themes - Helping Writers Become Authors
     
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  15. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Oh, oh oh!!! I just read something fascinating!!!

    The difference between story and plot (has to do HEAVILY with theme).

    EM Forster elaborates (from Aspects of the Novel): “We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. ‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: ‘The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.’ Consider the death of the queen. If it is a story we say ‘And then?’ If it is a plot we ask ‘Why?’ ”

    This gets back into how to structure a plot from a theme... If something happens and the reader asks "What happens next?" Then that is basic story. That is no theme there.

    But, (and this is SO fascinating) if something happens and the reader is forced to ask WHY?, than that is plot.. there is a theme there. Something to explore.

    The way I see this helping in planning is if you present the premise... (I'll use a failed one of mine as an example):

    A girl's dad is kidnapped and she is forced to go after him.... Then that is story. The reader asks "Then what?"

    This is why my stupid pirate story didn't work (this is literally only dawning on me right now!)

    But, if a reader is faced with a premise:

    "A perfectly average hispanic man who works a normal day job and pays his taxes is suddenly arrested without warning and thrown in High Security prison...." the reader is forced to ask "WHY?" And that is when you can get into themes of race, inequality in the justice system... etc, etc, etc...

    Oh man, this needs to go on my reminder board. PLOT = WHY?
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2019
  16. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    After re-reading a couple of times, I think I get what you meant. I kept everything somewhat abstract and generic because I wanted to ask about general processes or approaches, and not be someone who comes "Help write my story for me!" It also probably makes threads much more useful for other people researching similar obstacles in the future.

    But we've already got a lot of general talking about the subject, and maybe getting a bit more specific can help with making my actual obstacle more clear. I actually had been thinking about such question for some time and have a pretty good general idea of the character I want to work with, and a very clear picture of the setting.

    The general background for the setting is a world where the forces of nature are absolutely dominant, which limits the civilizations of mortals to pretty small sizes and relatively short durations. After a few centuries, environmental changes force the small city states to be abandoned and the people scattering into the wilderness or fleeing to younger cities, taking their knowledge and skills with them. This results in a world that has only few specks of civilization in a vast wilderness, but is also scattered with forgotten ruins from many ages. And some people think that magic is the answer to stop the spirits of nature from constantly tearing down the creations of mortals and preventing a future where hunger, disease, and disasters are things of the past. (It has long seemed strange to me that almost all fantasy seems to follow the modern illusion of "nature = good, industry = bad", which comes from the "nature" most of us see having long been cleared of all predators and being within an hour or two from the next grocery stores and hospitals. Yet at the same time, barely any fantasy challenges the idea that human determination and skill can overcome anything the world can throw at you. The setting came as a direct result to try something different.)

    I've come to the conclusion that the best way to have adventure stories in such a setting would be to have them revolve around characters who come from the specks of civilization but constantly move back and forth to the untamed wilderness. Their function in society is to check if newly discovered ruins are a threat to the growing city, to look out for useful magic left behind when they were abandoned, and to interact with the spirits and supernatural creatures that could come out of the woodworks as the city expands. I really wanted the characters to be more than treasure hunters looking for riches or goody-two-shoes who throw themselves into danger for the protection of innocents. Eventually I came up with this class of adventurers whose main purpose is to observe, understand, and report. Their motivation for risking such dangers can be very different, but they all exist in a social environment based around curiosity, inquisitiveness, and resourcefulness. And yes, this has Indiana Jones written all over it in huge red letters.

    Now the character that has gradually taken form in this wider context is a woman around 30 of only moderate knowledge and experience. Very capable and with a solid grip on all the basics of the trade, but really not in the top class in either fighting, magical or historical knowledge. She has a good understanding of the dangers of the trade and of the limits of her skills, but also a regular habit of just going a little bit farther and staying a little bit longer than would be wise, and acting on first ideas without fully considering all the consequences. I really like the idea of "the lie your character believes in", which I think was advice for creating good internal conflicts. For this character, I think that lie is she will be safe because she doesn't overestimate herself and knows when to quit. All the people who regularly die or disappear thought they were invincible heroes. But she doesn't, so she will be fine. (I have come to understand ADD not as a disability but the explorer gene, and applying my own thinking to the character should help with making her believable. And again Indiana Jones shows that constantly landing on your butt because you're too impulsive can be very entertaining and heroically sympathetic.)

    I feel this is a really solid and strong idea. But I feel the most comfortable with the adventure format and that is fundamentally based on external conflicts. They also need action. But I also feel that starting with an evil dude in an evil castle just isn't fitting.
     
  17. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Can I help?

    I have some questions first.... My first being:

    Why are the spirits doing this? Is there a reason? I think knowing this would help... If there was a specific reason WHY the spirits of nature are constantly tearing down the creations of mortals, then that would be very helpful to the plot.

    So when I read this, I was not thinking so much of Indiana Jones type characters as much as Rangers, or border patrol guards. The types of people who patrol the borders of the community, or go out into the wilderness as Rangers, keeping an eye on things to keep the people inside safe.

    The thing is that, to me so far this isn't an idea. It is a setting and a character, but there is no plot here (which I think is what you are asking for help with).

    So a PLOT needs to be some sort of premise that either leads to an action and a conclusion.... and hopefully will include the "theme" you are hoping to represent. I know everyone hates it when I keep coming back to loglines, but seriously, if you are struggling with plot they are the easiest way to start brainstorming.

    Try to make the premise PERSONAL and PUBLIC. It will give your MC a personal motive and high stakes.

    Examples:

    A new ranger discovers a previously undescovered temple in the forest, but when she tells her Commander he tries to convincer her she imagined it, and makes her swear to tell no one. Confused by his actions, she wonders if there is more to these temples than the Higher Ups are letting on, and sets off to find the truth for herself....

    When a new ranger loses her best friend to dangerous creatures in the woods, she sets off on a journey to find him and learns that the temples in the forest are not all that they seem...

    When a new Ranger chooses to help an injured forest creature instead of follow orders and kill it, she learns why the forests have been destroying her world, and must try to convince the mortals to change their ways soon, or be totally destroyed.

    These are jumping off points for plot. They are simple starters, to get you going. Sit down and brainstorm your own until you hit on something that piques your imagination. Eventually you have to work in middles and conclusions, but starting with a basic premise can get you started.

     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2019
  18. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    Loglines are fantastic. When you're looking for an answer, you first need to specify the question. What is the essence that is meant to be expressed?

    Interesting that you start with the beginning. My intuition is always to start with a conclusion and then looking backwards which circumstances would be needed to lead to it.

    The reason nature keeps getting in the way of civilization is that nature doesn't really take notice or has any real concerns about the plans of either mice or men. Nature operates in the big global picture and is indifferent to the needs and wishes of individuals. When the forces of nature change rivers or move mountains, they don't care what happens to farms and cities. Usually geological changes happen very slowly, but for dramatic reasons this setting sees them happen within a generation instead of centuries.
    In this world, people simply aren't the top of the food chain by a long shot. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair..."
     
  19. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    So, what is your obstacle, exactly?
     
  20. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    YoraYora:

    I know this may seem extremely abstract, but with respect to theme the author's task is like a game of charades. The author knows the theme, but can't speak it; instead, she's standing in front of a crowd making gestures and trying to get the point across that way. If theme is very important to you, then the story and plot are these gestures. Technically, the characters and world building, as they are expressed in the story and plot via creation of scenes, are the gestures.

    This way of looking at things came to me only recently, in the last month or so, when I was trying to work through a personal obstacle relating to POV, why I sometimes have problems when I try to see the story and plot through the eyes of a limited POV character. This is rather silly, actually. Such a character doesn't know anything about the story for most of the story, heh, even if he's experiencing the unfolding of that story. When I put myself "in the head" of a POV character, thinking this is how I should be writing because this is how everyone says to write the prose, I had problems. I realized, no, I'm actually outside that head. I'm the author, not the character. When I want a reader to experience the character, know the character, and understand the character....well, the only way I can do that is if I acknowledge I'm the author outside that character. I have to develop my prose with the express intent of playing this game of charades. The conversation is really—really!—between me and reader. I have to write the prose from this author's perspective, even if I'm also giving the illusion that the character is narrating things.

    Anyway...this works for theme as well. If you want to express a theme, you need to find ways to express your "examples" so the idea comes across to the reader without your having to explain it directly. It's a game of charades. But you don't have to express it bigly. (!) A single story, taken as a whole, in a way is "the example." It can be epic in scale or very local; either way, a whole is a whole.

    But there are parts to that whole, or elements. Right now your elements are fascinating to me—great ideas!—but to me they are a little like those gestures in charades that leave the observer stumped, heh, at least in the broad descriptions you've given here. How do they connect? If you just showed me this world and this character...what am I to take from that? I like the EM Forster quote HeliotropeHeliotrope supplied. [I had forgotten; link] A plot is basically a linking chain of causality. At that link, I called it the "Why-throughline." How does the successful pantomime in a game of charades succeed? By giving clues that link together in the observer's head. The first clue is rarely enough; but the next set of gestures gives another clue, and this new clue, when combined with the previous clue just might draw the total picture. Or maybe there will need to be other clues. Creating scenes out of the basic elements of a story is a lot like this process.

    As I said, the whole can be epic or local, small. I wonder whether you are looking at story and plot in the way you look at the theme? Too big? Too meaningful? Story and plot are more about structure, not meaning. Almost any structure will work—as long as those elements, when hung on that structure, come together in this meaningful, coherent causal chain. (How's that for an abstraction!) As author, you get to choose how you present your clues; but the reader only needs that presentation. So your story can be framed as a mystery, a thriller, an adventure, a romance, whatever, and still express the themes you want to express. Your story can ultimately be about the ramifications on the whole city and world—epic in scale—or only about your character's personal life, perhaps even about a single, important relationship in that character's life. You can show the theme in macrocosm or microcosm. This means you can have an archvillain trying to destroy everything or simply a personal antagonist to the main character; or, the main character can be her own antagonist. I guess my point would be this: If you are going to construct your pantomime in this game of charades, what strategy are you going to choose?

    How to answer that question? I suppose a deep consideration of how all your elements fit together will include a deep consideration of each of these elements. What are their essential properties? What are the inherent conflicts? Conflict is a major consideration. Which obstacles can never be overcome, and which obstacles might? (Some things simply are; they're unchanging.) Why does the MC bother with confronting obstacles in the first place? Can she tell the difference between those obstacles that are unconquerable and those that she can conquer? My little example story outline in an earlier comment was a stream-of-consciousness brainstorm written on-the-fly; but the first point addressed character motivation, the next three addressed conflict and obstacles, and the fourth point expressed the MC's decision to overcome those obstacles.

    What are the consequences of each element? Where does the story end? From the theme prompt I chose, I knew there'd have to be horror arising from good intentions, so I already had a vision for the ending of that theoretical story. But also throughout, I came up with some consequences. Causal chains. New obstacles or antagonists can arise as a consequence of MC actions. Everything reacts to everything else; it's all related. (Of course, my example still had gaping holes, and who knows if I could plug them if I ever began writing that story, heh.)
     
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