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In Need of Plot

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Corwynn, Apr 27, 2019.

  1. Corwynn

    Corwynn Troubadour

    Hello, Everyone, it's been a long time, but I'm back.

    Lately I've been thinking, I am as ready to start writing stories as I'll ever be at this point. I have a reasonably well fleshed out world (and ideas for others), a roster of characters I can use, a collection of interesting gimmicks and story hooks, etc. However, I lack one crucial building block: plot. I can't seem to figure out how to put all of these elements into a coherent narrative. What is the point of all this? Where is this going? What do my characters want? What I am I, as an author, trying to say? I struggle to answer all of these questions.

    So, I was wondering if you could share any tips and tricks for coming up with plots and stories. Is there a particular system you use? Is there something about my world or characters that might be holding me back? Do I just need practice? Please let me know what you think.
    Rkcapps and Black Dragon like this.
  2. Caltan

    Caltan Acolyte

    Hi Corwynn!

    It definitely sounds like you have your world well planned out.

    Have you ever tried free-writing exercises? They can be really handy to help dust off the cobwebs and I've found they can lead into some interesting story ideas too.

    Basically you start with a word or a sentence. So for example, let's say one of your characters is called Dave, start with something as simple as:

    Dave's stomach rumbled...

    Then see where the line takes you. You might get a paragraph, you might get 2000 words!

  3. KnightOfLain

    KnightOfLain Acolyte

    I think one thing that could help is to take one of your characters that you would be most interested in writing about and then setting a timescale and basically imagining what the character would do during that time. Then look at the second order effects, how would the other characters react? How would the world change due to those characters actions? Next you look at how the character would respond to the world changing around them and adjust their actions. Repeat as many times as you find necessary. If you find that your character would just sit around you either need to relegate them to a side character and try again with a new one. If all of your characters would prefer to just sit around and mind their own business regardless of what gets thrown at them you probably need to go back to the drawing board and rethink their motivations. Hope this helps.
  4. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

    Start with the climax. What does the antagonist want? Then decide why the protagonist is opposed to this. Once you have the destination determined, decide where the protagonist is coming form. This should give you the idea of what the plot is.
    Rkcapps and FifthView like this.
  5. Firefly

    Firefly Troubadour

    The thing that I find most helpful to think about when trying to figure out plot stuff, whether in a macro or micro level, is that moving the plot is all about change.
    I used to have this problem where I would write one try-fail cycle and then get stuck, because I didn't know how to write scenes that were meaningful to plot. Maybe I didn't want the characters to solve the mystery yet, so they would go investigate something and just not find anything. It made for a lot of frustrating, bang-your-head against the wall filler that I as the writer didn't even find interesting.
    Every scene needs to have something in it that changes how things will play out going forward, or that gives your characters something new to do, in order to make the story feel like it's going somewhere.

    The other thing that I do when I'm trying to develop plots is look at conflicts. Conflict is the fuel in the narrative engine, the thing that makes them dynamic, and when I'm having trouble thinking of interesting events that twist and change things, lack of conflict is usually why.
    You say you have trouble answering the question of what the point of your story is--the point of almost every story is the struggle to resolve a conflict. The main conflict running through a story is what makes it cohesive--anything that affects the conflict, either positively or negatively, is pertinent to the plot. (Hack: this is how you sneak in your darlings. Just make it a problem and immediately it becomes relevant)
    Some writers find their conflict by choosing a character goal and then thinking of lots of obstacles that will make it more difficult to reach. You can also go backwards: Find a really big problem, something that really hurts that character, and their goal will just be whatever has to be done to solve it.

    This feels really rambling, so I hope I got across SOMETHING helpful. Plot can be the most frustrating thing in the world and sometimes it feels like all the advice out there is just about structure, which isn't really useful until you have something to fill it with.
    FifthView likes this.
  6. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    If I were you I would first pick a character I not only was interested in but one that I felt could carry a story.
    Then I would work on a premise for that character. By this point you should know your characters so well, it shouldn't be that hard for you to imagine a story for them (which is why it's a surprise to them that you are struggling)
    Then I would answer a few basic questions:
    What is their constriction? In the beginning of a story a character usually faces some kind of contrition, some kind of problem.
    What's their desire? This is something they want which is tangible; wealth, power, love interest, a glass of water
    Need: usually something they are unaware of needing. Example: character thinks he wants a girlfriend when really he just wants to feel loved by someone.
    Focus relationship(s)? who is important to them? Who do they talk to the most throughout the story. This person will be the drive for most of the drama
    Resistance - what opposes them? Weather, another person, a God, a killer or themselves.
    Change - how do they transform by the end. what lessons have been learned?

    Once you have these questioned answered (take some time a brain storm different answers, maybe even change characters and answer these questions) you'll start to have an idea. That you can then keep brain storming into a story. Remember a situation and a story aren't the same thing.

    Hope this helped
    Rkcapps likes this.
  7. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

    What do your characters want? What do they want badly? And what would they do if blocked?

    Then block them. Stop them getting what they want and see what happens. If any of them just give up, then they're not strong enough characters to write about, and there's no story. Create a strong character who's determined to get what he/she wants.
    Rkcapps likes this.
  8. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    Think of things that will change your world or characters. If they have peace- create war, if they have love- create loss or hate, if they've been in the same place so a long time create a journey. Give the characters something for which to hope and strive, whether it be good or evil.
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    This one's a killer. I'm affected by this all the time. I have the cool concepts (characters, worlds) but I begin to feel that I have them now, complete in my head, and so why bother writing any given story with these elements? It's "done."

    I don't have a great answer to the dilemma of this particular question. My best guess is simply this: Until it's written, you don't really have it. In other words, the process of writing is always also a process of discovery. CaltanCaltan's suggestion of discovery writing is good because discovery writing will free that part of your imagination that has already been locked into the characters and worlds you've already imagined. But even writing from an outline will still involve a lot of discovery as you flesh things out on paper/screen—if you let it be about discovery. (And I wouldn't be too afraid of seeing your characters and world change if the story begins to take them in unexpected directions.)

    For me personally, plots are a dime a dozen. Plots are simple and, at their roots, rather formulaic once you strip away the veneer of everything else. What's difficult is finding a story I care enough about to spend the time writing it and fretting over everything else.

    What are you trying to say? This question may point at theme and story rather than plot. One simple, unsatisfying answer—it may still be true—is that most fiction, and particularly genre fiction, doesn't need to have a single deep theme in the sense of "what am I trying to say." It's not like delivering an essay or a political speech; you are not trying to say anything but instead are trying to give a story about a set of characters and their particular milieu. It's more like creating a biopic like Bohemian Rhapsody than creating your own version of Also sprach Zarathustra. So perhaps don't dwell on the question so much. Engage in trying to bring to life your characters and their world.

    A different answer to the question is this: grand themes and even less grand themes will find their way into the story no matter what you do. This points at author voice. The choices you make while bringing your characters and their world to life will also give life to your author voice, and you most likely already have certain themes that interest you and that will show through in the writing. In which case, again, you don't need to worry about "what you are trying to say" at this stage of the game. Just write something and you'll most likely be saying it.

    There are others who focus greatly on theme early in the storytelling, some who save that focus for the revision stage. I don't want to knock it. But I do know I personally can become too bogged down if I worry too much about theme early in a project. I do seem to have some tonal ideas about a story, maybe a very general feeling of theme, early in the writing—but if I focus on that without writing a word (or during a short break), I fall into the pit of wondering that bothersome question, "What am I trying to say."

    As for finding a story you care enough about...well, I think this is a personal question, something others can't help you do. What do you care about? I think others have already given excellent pointers: think about the climax, think about conflict, think about what the characters want, and think about change. That last may be key. Stories are about change. I often find that I sometimes have "complete" ideas of a character and world but...those are static, like a snapshot. How can I change these things when I'm already picturing these things as complete, perfect things? This can be a massive stumbling block to coming up with a story, if you let it. It's hard to break those things because that changes them. But you need change if you want to have a story.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
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  10. Corwynn

    Corwynn Troubadour

    Thank you for your advice, you all have good suggestions.

    I think you may have something with my world and characters being too static (even though the latter is not supposed to be at all). I tend to envision them in a "finished" state, with not much room left to change or grow. Sometimes, the backstory of the characters seems more interesting than what might come later, so I might as well just tell their backstory as the story itself, since I already have a basic narrative right there.

    Another problem with my characters is that I have a few potential protagonists and supporting characters in mind, but no antagonists (be they persons or impersonal forces). Story requires conflict, and conflict requires a protagonist and an antagonist. I should be giving the latter more thought.

    Like FifthView says, theme and message is something I shouldn't worry about. I'm an entertainer, not a preacher. In telling my story, themes will emerge on their own.

    Characters that are interesting to me are certainly a must. I could never write a story whose characters bore me, and it would probably end up boring the reader too. That being said, I have a hard time telling if a character really is that interesting, or if they can "carry a story". None of them are passive (at least I don't think so), but I don't know how far I can get with them before the plot starts losing momentum. I suppose I need to spend more time fleshing out their personalities and motivations.
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  11. Seira

    Seira Minstrel

    Theme shouldn't be preachy that's not what theme is about. It's about exploring a subject and asking questions. There is no right or wrong to approaching theme. Some writers bother and some don't, but I find bothering adds an extra layer. But it should never come across as preachy, if it does the writer is doing it wrong. Just thought I'd throw that in.

    In your situation I would ask myself what things interest me? I'm really interested in the mother child instincts - Do they go deeper than those of a father and a child? Are women more connected to their children than men? I just always feel drawn to this subject "maternal instincts". The desire to protect a child can change a woman's nature. I'm not a mother so it fascinates me.
    I'm also into Greek mythology
    I also like things about Fate vs Free Will as it's a question I ask myself.

    So my first novel was about a young woman who suddenly became the target of the Greek Gods. They started sending their best warriors and armies to kill her because the Fates had said the birth of her first child would end their reign. I just wrote about what interested me.
    Rkcapps likes this.
  12. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

    Personally, I look for inspiration in timeless stories that resonate across generations. Mythology, history, classic literature, scriptures, etc., are all sources of potential plots. You can take the basic plot from one of those stories, and re-frame it as your own, with your own unique spin. That's what Shakespeare did with most of his plays, and that's part of the reason why they are timeless.
    Rkcapps and TheCrystallineEntity like this.
  13. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Sage

    yes, Black Dragon me too. Great ideas above.

    For characters (and I apologise if I've said this before), I normally picture where I want the character in the denouement and put them in the opposite position at the beginning. So, for example, if they're in love by the end, they start out unloved and not needing love. Perfect example (hopefully well-known) is How to Train a Dragon. Hiccup doesn't want a girlfriend at the beginning. By the end, he has a girlfriend (it wasn't as obvious in the book as in the movie).
  14. Corwynn

    Corwynn Troubadour

    Just thought I would give a little update.

    I'm taking a film-making course this Summer, and I have learned about something called a logline. A logline is a one sentence summary of the overall plot using generic terms. They say if you can't get a logline to work, then the story concept probably isn't sound.

    I think using loglines might be a good way of coming up with plots. Once I have the skeleton of a story in place, I can fill in the details starting from that one sentence.
  15. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Sage

    The best explanation of a logline I've seen is Blake Synder's Save the Cat, more for screenwriters.
  16. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    How are the characters going to change, what is their underlying belief, and how does that express the theme. These questions help you answer who your characters are.
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    That's a good idea if you already have a complete picture of a character and don't know how you can break that picture. Start earlier and build to it. The same would hold for the world you've already built in your mind.

    Alternatively, you might consider giving your character a flaw or handicap to overcome. The former is something internal/intrinsic to the the character; the latter is an external pressure or limit. (See: Writing Excuses Episode 6: Flaws vs Handicaps) I suppose you could do this for your world as well. Choose something you've not considered, tag it onto your character or world, and see what happens.

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