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Moving from Concept to Plot

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Black Dragon, Feb 6, 2019.

  1. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

    Let's say that you have come up with a great concept for a novel. It's exciting, mysterious, and somewhat original.

    How do you take this concept and turn it into a coherent plot? What steps do you personally take?

    It would be great to learn more about everyone's writing process, so please share.
  2. T B Carter

    T B Carter Dreamer

    Umm... I just started writing. 18 months later I had a book.

    No plot or anything in writing except a list of names and places which, now I'm writing the sequel I can't find.

    This is probably not how it should be done
    ScorpionWoman and Black Dragon like this.
  3. There is no "should" or "would" or "could". Just do what works best for you.
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Give the principle character an immediate, personal goal. Example I'll use here is Baruch, from 'Disharmonious Spheres.' Baruch is a second rate shopkeeper sorcerer, not a hero - but immediately embarking on a dangerous magical quest is the only way to save his daughter, kidnapped by another mage. Doing this also added a second key element: conflict: previously, Baruch had merely dismissed this other wizard, but now he's an enemy. Baruch isn't merely undertaking a tour of mystical realms, he's pursuing the man who murdered his wife.kidnapped and will eventually kill his daughter.

    Pretty much the same thing with 'Labyrinth: Journal' - left to his own devices, Titus Maximus would never have entered the Great Maze of Gawana - but a botched bit of intrigue followed by thunderous calls for his blood made lying low outside the empire a good idea - so he accepts a mission to retrieve family heirlooms lost in that place most of a century earlier. His goals are to avoid capture (and subsequent trial that will humiliate his powerful family) and recover those artefacts. Those goals, though, change.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    So far, my approach has been rather different with each project--sometimes just dive in, sometimes plan and plot. I do think I've noticed one key element: I need a hook. Not for the reader, but for me. I think about a story, about the idea, the characters, the setting, and that can go on for quite a long while. At some point, I get a notion that hooks me. For The Garden of Hugo Vuerloz, it was the image of human beings being grown up out of the ground like plants. That was creepy enough to weave around it.

    For Goblins at the Gates, I had written a great deal of the novel on the impulse of origin story. This is where magic and monsters enter the world; it was a story I felt needed to get written before I developed much more of Altearth. The story had an arc, but it wasn't until I realized what had to happen with the main character that I got personally involved, as it were. I started really caring, and it helped give focus to the whole project.

    Similarly with the next one. I'm going to re-tell the story of how Frederick of Hohenstaufen became emperor. I have lots of notes about cool things that will happen along the way. He has an antagonist--Otto of Brunswick--and from early on I figured to have him be the victim of evil counsellors, as the medieval phrase has it. Fine and fine. But one day I had the notion that Otto could be a tragic figure. That he could be the inverse of Frederick. And that both could be tragic figures, in different ways, it's just that one had to win and one had to lose. That gave me the hook I need. Now the novel is more than just the next Altearth tale, it's the story I want to write.

    The hook does more than keep me motivated. It also helps provide structure. With Goblins it helped me decide where Julian needed to be physically and psychologically at various points in the story. With The Falconer, I'm pretty sure I'll be alternating the narrative between Frederick and Otto. With Hugo Vuerloz it made it easy to decide that not only did that nonsense have to be stopped, the hero and the villain used to be friends. Or, I dunno, maybe that was the hook.

    There's lots more to answering this draconic question, but I'll stop there for now.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    For me, I first make sure I have a character with an interesting goal/problem that can carry a story. I try to figure out what the external journey they're going to take, and then, I figure out what the internal journey is. Once I have these, I build out from there, adding to what I already brainstormed.

    For example, let's say you have a farmer in a fantasy setting who's seed stock has all gone bad. He needs to get new seed stock. For the external journey, let's say he has to travel to the nearest city a great distance away because it's the only place that has any sees stock left because there's some kind of blight going around destroying seeds. And he has to leave his family behind.

    Now we need the internal journey. For me, this is always the hardest thing to figure out. Maybe he learns that he's not happy as a farmer and he's better at doing something else. Maybe he's tempted along the way, and learns that the simple life of a farmer is best for him. Maybe he realizes his family are a bunch of jerks that only tolerate him because he'll do what ever they say, like travel hundreds of miles for some seed.

    Which ever internal journey is chosen will now help shape what happens in the external journey, and how the world shapes up. Because the character has lessons to learn, and the only way for them to learn them is to have encounters that will teach them things.

    In terms of the external journey, maybe the farmer learns the secret of the blight. Or they meet some friends that show him there's more to life than the farm he came from. Etc.
  7. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    Hi, well my process is slightly different for each book depending on it's complexity.
    After the concept (lets say that's a plot not a character) I begin drawing up my characters and (if I don't all ready know) I start thinking which one should take the lead. I give them an external and internal goal, a motivation, and conflicts. If I feel good about the character I'll start drawing up their arc. If not I'll start adding more. Think of back-story, wants, needs, character lie, important experiences in their life (I have a worksheet I use) until I feel confident.
    Then I start planning their "ordinary world" which does need some level of conflict. I use this time to get across characters personality, core values and morals, daily life and skills, weaknesses and strengths. Then I have an impact event that triggers the story. I just keep building from that. I often blend the three act structure and the Hero's journey together in my first outline, just to make sure I'm covering all the beats.
    Then I go back and start fleshing out characters.
    All the time I'm writing down a possible list of themes the naturally come to the story. Ill then pick a few and really explore them. I enjoy this. I try to present all sides of the theme. So say power was my theme. I'd like at a character in power and the pros and cons of that, maybe a character with no power, a character who had no power then gained power, this helps me decide who the characters around my main character will be and gives me ideas for them.
    I go back and forward between plot, character and theme. Adding in conflict as often as possible and trying to blend themes if possible.
    Lastly I work on the setting.
  8. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    Our current WIP and third book started with a song.

    With the song came the realization that we needed to delve more into a main character's backstory, and pretty soon we were telling each other funny stories about this very serious faerie knight and dwarves. Oh, so many dwarves. Then I decided that I wanted this book to be more ambitious than our last two, with three intertwined plotlines eventually merging into one, and dumped the entire concept into my wife's lap for the actual plotting, since she's our plotting specialist. And boy, did she deliver.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  9. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    That reminds me. I'll have to get to volume 2 of your epic in the near future.

    Might have more commentary, maybe a quasi scene or two.
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  10. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    That would be so awesome! We'd love to hear what you think. :D
  11. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Hmm, I find the ending, figure out a few key, dramatic scenes required to make the plot roll, and I write until I get there.

    Waypoint writing chaos.
  12. MrBrightsider

    MrBrightsider Scribe

    That's a great and more complicated question than it seems at first. A 'great concept' for a novel, could be anything: a history, a people or tribe, a character that seems interesting, a power that might be a struggle to deal with, or a plot that seems exciting to follow. The way you'd turn each of those into a coherent plot is different, and there won't be a catch-all way for every one of them.

    I personally take the interesting characters route. A story is nothing without good characters, and good characters necessitate a good setting for them to exist in, so starting from there demands a) well built characters and b) a well built world for them to fulfill their story in. I write down the characters: who they are, and what they want. Then I insert them into an environment where getting what they want is as hard as it can possibly be. Then I see if they want that thing enough to be willing to struggle and overcome those obstacles. Then I log their development.

    If they end up being bad enough dudes to overcome all obstacles despite struggle and sacrifice, you give them a good ending. If they run away, or cower, or betray, you give them the ending that they deserve.
  13. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Flesh out the journey, the character changes and relationships and get to the theme and premise. A story is more than just a concept.
  14. GrailNorthwest

    GrailNorthwest New Member

    I'm a plotter, not a pantser, and thought I knew a lot about story structure, until I took a class with John Truby. (His book, ANATOMY OF STORY, is a classic on the subject.)

    Right now I'm working my book through his process, and finding it incredibly helpful, making once vague ideas pop into concrete story elements. And it all begins with the hero's Desire--the specific thing he/she wants, and wants badly, intensely, that an opponent/opponents want to prevent (badly, intensely).

    It all starts with Frodo wanting to take the Ring and destroy it in the fires of Mt. Doom. A half dozen characters wanting to sit on the Iron Throne. That sort of thing. Not something vague, like "a happy life", but something specific, so that by the end of the book the reader (and hero) will know if he/she got it or not.

    Me, I tend to wool-gather and spend a lot of time on Story World before I even have the plot down in my head, so working this process has been a helpful discipline.
  15. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Turn it into a journey, where characters change, with an underlying premise and theme.
    Black Dragon likes this.
  16. Seira

    Seira Minstrel

    This is what I am currently struggling with. I don't know if my idea is that great or original but I can't say I'm that concerned with that - I like it so...
    I have lots of ideas in my head, the trouble is stringing them together. I think my character has an interesting external and internal goal but I'm not too sure since I'm new to writing novels that actually need effort and thinking through. Before I wrote fanfic (I was slightly obsessed with Narnia as a kid) and then short-stories. I have no idea where to go next or how to string everything together. It's taken me months to get this far.

    Lol I'll keep you posted.
  17. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    I just think about it for a really long time. How long depends on whether I have other ideas I'm excited about but the deeper the plot the longer I marinate. Could be months before I finally write and then I just pants all the way to the end (using plot points of course).
  18. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

    I make a list of cool junk I want. The stuff that excites and motivates me to work on an idea. Then, draw a line between the junk. How do I get from one cool thing to the next without adding things that aren't on the list.
    For me, I get wrapped up in Setting - I often have trouble finding the people I want to follow. Interesting locations, societies, or high-concept worlds.

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