1. John the ninja
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    John the ninja New Member

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    a plot that reads like an encyclopedia?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by John the ninja, Dec 26, 2015.

    hello everyone. This is my first post on this forum

    i apologize if this is the wrong forum to post to this question.

    im in the process of writing a novel. I'm 110,000 words into it, and in starting to think that it might not even be enjoyable. The plot is written as if you were reading an encyclopedia article. I did this to write the entire history about the fictional community community without having to write 35 books (the history spans about 350 years)

    what are your thoughts? If you saw a book like that at your local book store, and if you read a page or 2, would you put it back on the shelf or would you give it a chance?

    thank you in advance.
     
  2. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    You mean the whole novel is written that way? I'm not sure I understand you correctly. I don't think I've ever seen a book written like that so I'm not sure what it would be like... Or why you say it needs to be that way.
     
  3. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    Welcome to the forum, not that I am the official welcoming committee, and happy holidays.

    For me it would go back on the shelf, why would I have an interest in the history of a fictional community? If you wrote a series of books about this community that were entertaining and followed up with an "encyclopedia" type summary book of its history it might draw some attention but doubtful to be a big seller. Even a historical record of a real community would be a hard sell, only useful for someone's research I would think. I would suggest writing the story about how the lives that created this history interacted and led to the history as you perceive it. Hopefully you can use what you have written and morph it into a great story without having to start from scratch since 110,000 words is a lot of writing. You might end up with that 35 books you fear, but it all starts with the first one you write, which doesn't have to be the beginning of the historical record.
     
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  4. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Well, could the possibility be, that maybe your story doesn't have a central theme to tackle? The difference between reading about a true story, compared to a fictional one, is that true stories have no theme. They just happen and the encyclopedia, or the news, etc., tells of what happened. So could this be the case, or do you have a theme, and that's not the problem?
     
  5. John the ninja
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    John the ninja New Member

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    I'll give a bit more info.

    Tesoro...yes, the entire book is written like that. To give an example, chapter one starts with an event, the people involved, how the events occurred and how the event was resolved.

    Then, a few years later, another event happens, and the book tells the reader about the people involved and how the event is resolved.

    A chapter later the timeline could be 10 years later, and the people from the first chapter may have died from war, old age, murder, and the events are resolved by different people.


    Tonguetied...to answer your question as to why would you read a story about the history of a fictional community, well, my hope is, you would find it interesting

    Ryan Elder...there is zero central theme. In reality, life doesn't have a theme, and if you look at the history of the USA, there is no central theme.

    The reason I wrote it the way I did is because there are literally zero cliches. There is no dark lord. No villains. No cliched heroes. No LOTR influence. I wanted to write a novel about people that could be real while avoiding all the fantasy cliches.
     
  6. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Well as a reader I don't know if you can make a story interesting without a central theme. I understand you want to avoid cliches, but you can still do that and have a theme, no? Plus without a theme, how is the reader suppose to know who to root for or what to feel when things go down?
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It sounds like all telling and for a few very skilled writers that works. I always think of fairy tales using that style.

    But for the most part I would think you might need to change it up from an encyclopedic rendering of events to simply writing one event after another. Then you have another problem, does this chronological rendering of the story make sense or does it sound like disconnected scenes?

    Welcome to the forum.
     
  8. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    @John the ninja Do you have a main character? A plot springs from a character in a situation working to resolve it to a satisfying conclusion. Usually historical accounts and other bits such as that are inserted to support a plot... a plot about a character solving problems. If it's just a chronicle of historical events I'm not sure many readers will remain interested.
     
  9. John the ninja
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    John the ninja New Member

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    Ryan Elder...you ask an interesting question "how is the reader supposed to know who to root for?"

    My hope is, my writing style won't promote people to pick a side. I want people to come to their own conclusions without being lead by me. This is not meant to play it safe :)

    It's meant to allow people to make up their own minds. For example, if you read the history of Napoleon, you can read the facts and make up your own mind. He is my favorite historical person, but other read the same facts as I do and think of him as a jerk :)

    This is my hope, but I have no idea if people will enjoy it.


    Tea@3...there is no main character. Reality doesn't have main characters. There are a few characters per chapter(s) but they will pass away, just like real life :)

    If you the history of Rome, you will read about a key person, but he / she will pass away and new key person will be the focus. Then a chapter or 2 later a new key person will be the focus. There is no main character who leads the society.
     
  10. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    This sound very interesting to me. But I enjoy the odd in life.
     
  11. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Sounds like it fits in the category of experimental fiction. In that case, it's gonna be hard for anyone here to offer you any advice or insight since you are 'carving your own path' so to speak. And there is probably a demand for it out there, though you need to be prepared that it may be a smaller demand than for other more commercial stories, which is what it seems more posters here are inclined towards.

    Another thing is, you cite reality several times here. But keep in mind that fiction/literature is not reality. Fiction and literature have 'conventions' which are followed so storytellers can operate within the boundaries of those conventions to communicate properly. Some people seem to think this lessens the 'purity' their idea. I happen to think it's a strength more than a hindrance.
     
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  12. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Reminds me a bit about Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. At least the first (and maybe second) book is following a similar structure. It's divided into parts between which there is always a time jump. The next part does not share the same characters since the old ones have already passed away (or for other reasons been 'replaced'). The writing itself, though, within each part reads like normal fiction (and not just a recounting of historical events as an encyclopedia might).
     
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  13. John the ninja
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    John the ninja New Member

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    Thank you everyone :)

    I'll take all this into consideration. If anyone wants to continue this conversation, feel free to keep posting and I will be happy to reply :)
     
  14. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    That's true, you don't need someone to root for in order to have a theme. Perhaps the theme of your story, is for the reader to juggle the morals of two sides, and deciding which was right and wrong. The movie The Battle of Algiers did a good job of that. There were no characters to root for directly per say, but in the end, you have to decide which side was right, and that was the theme.
     
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  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Asimov wrote The Foundation Series in this style, but it has an overall goal, the reunification of the galaxy into one political unit.

    If you come up with something like that and then make each 'episode' a step along the way (or a step in the other direction to increase tension) it should work.
     
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  16. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    It could definitely work.
    http://www.scp-wiki.net
     
  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't want to read it. I rarely want to read encyclopaedia entries about real civilizations, and at least I'd be learning something from reading them. Reading a history of a made-up civilization seems pointless to me.

    When I read history, I tend to read biographies, books that give me characters and vivid scenes and some emotional content. It's not so much about giving me someone to root for as it is giving me something to care about.

    I could read a history book about an ancient civilization being wiped off the map, hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed, and have no emotional reaction. But give me a fictionalized account of the life of one citizen of that civilization and I'll be intrigued and involved.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    So. The Foundation comparisons are interesting inasmuch as Asimov's Foundation series has a similar scope. But the individual vignettes that make up the story have defined protagonists who are very compelling characters (Salvor Hardin, Hober Mallow, Han Pritcher, Arkady Darrell, etc.). Those books tell the history of a civilization, but they take a worm's eye view at each point in history. We keep going partly because we're interested in how the overall plot fits together, but partly because we want to know what happens to Arkady or whatever.

    I haven't read any James Michener (although "Centennial" is in my things-to-read pile), but you might look at his work for examples as well. A lot of his novels are epics about locations and the people who inhabit them, and in multiple cases he starts in prehistory with the actual formation of the landmass he's dealing with and slowly works his way forward until the present. "Centennial" does this with Colorado, and "Alaska" and "Hawaii" do the same things with their respective states. He also did "Texas", "Chesapeake", "Caribbean", and "Poland" - which don't have quite the same scope but still start at some point centuries in the past and work forward.

    Without having seen your work, the question I have is what your hook is - what's the reason we're going to keep reading this novel. History is a science, Fiction is an art, and the reason people read fiction is to be transported, thrilled, to live vicariously, etc. Buying a book is like buying tickets on a theme-park ride - even with non-fiction - and the author does have to be a bit of a stage magician to keep people interested. You can't rely purely on people's intellectual curiosity to keep them going. If they want to feed that, they'll go buy a non-fiction history book, and honestly the best-selling popular histories are the ones with strong narratives.

    Now, that's not to say you can't write a book where the point you're trying to make is "there is no point!"...that's entirely possible and it's been done very, very well by none other than George R. R. Martin with the Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones series. If you listen to Martin talk about his work, a big part of what he's trying to say is that war is always bad, violence is usually pointless and random, and the good guys almost always lose because their morality makes them easy prey. He's set himself up in direct opposition to the Tolkeinian heroic narrative and is using Tolkein's own bag of tricks to subvert that narrative. Game of Thrones is basically about the pointlessness of life. However, Game of Thrones itself is NOT pointless - it's making a POINT about pointlessness - which is actually the exact opposite of being pointless from a structural point of view. A pointless story would just set up events at random, without bias, and show how at different times different things happen - because there really are no good guys and no reason. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, sets up well-drawn characters, gets you rooting for them, and then either brutally slaughters them at inappropriate times or plunges them into evil (it also does this in reverse by having some of the most hated people develop into better people - although some of those get brutally slaughtered as well.) So, the book should make a point, even if the point is that there is no point. Martin's world is pointless, but it's pointless so that he can repeatedly rub the pointlessness of life in our face.
     
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  19. Toomanypens
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    Toomanypens Member

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    I'd have a theme behind it, like if I called it "the rise and fall of atlantis" I'd start the stories near the start of their society and end the book on its downfall.
    The reason I'd do that would just be to add a feeling of progression and accomplishment from reading all the way through. And I'd track groups, like the poor, or certain royal houses, and technology.

    Or if I called it "circles of fate" I'd show reoccuring themes through the ages, and create juxtapositions that intruige the reader and help them learn how we repeat our history.

    As a reader I need a hook though so you have to communicate what your world is about and why I should care about what happened to it. If it described magic and its development through the centuries I'm sure people interested in magic might get intruiged and read it.

    Try not to get too nitty about famous best sellers. Best sellers having flaws is a good thing, it means we don't have to be perfect, we just have to follow in their example and do GOOD work :)

    But honestly I see nothing wrong with using historical events, its no different than a journal or following letters (like in the color purple) it just needs to have a point.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2015
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  20. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    No matter what, someone will read it with good cover art. Some will like it, some will hate it. Either way you will create a following for future work. I don't think I would read it from how you described it. But I always fall for the good cover art even if the book sucks.
     
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  21. John the ninja
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    John the ninja New Member

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    Thank you again for the replies.

    I want to say a few things:

    1) I don't think too many books...scratch that, almost no books are written in the style that mine is (though it's not finished yet). Being original doesn't always make you great, but I'm hoping it finds some success

    2) I'm writing it this way because it's the kind of book I would like to read. It has zero cliches, and takes no stance on anything. The reader is not meant identify with anyone, nor is the reader lead or to think or feel a certain about anything that happens. You make up your own mind.

    3) it's definitely a fantasy novel, but it's also supposed to seem like "this could have possibly happened".

    4) there are no main characters (though there are tons of characters). There are no villains (there are characters you will probably hate). There is no ultimate goal or problem to be solved (other than the survival of the community).

    5) I have literally zero idea what to name the book or what to have on the cover.

    6) each chapter has so much content that I could write a full length novel about each chapter (I'm up to 41 chapters and I have about 6 more planned). This is something I have no interest in doing.

    7) I have no idea how to end it. Unless the entire civilization gets wiped out, the novel could go on forever. If anyone has any suggestions for an ending, please share :)
     
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  22. Martin515
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    Martin515 Member

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    Hi John, I’m also new here... Hello everyone!

    I Stumbled upon this and thought I’d pipe in I have been trying to write something similar. My problem is I have an idea for the setting and the key (historical) events, but not much of a character-driven “story”.

    Most of what I have written so far is ‘world-building’, and my characters are narration-tools for conveying this world.

    The problem is, without a real intimate story with characters and events that are relatable, why would anyone care about the world I've created? I have the geography, theology, culture, politics and history – but it seems hollow.

    On your point #2: “The reader is not meant identify with anyone...” I think that is a recipe for failure, perhaps what you mean to say is that the readers are not pushed towards liking a certain character, but more free to choose who they identify with, and to what level.

    So you put all these characters out there that ARE ultimately relatable, but in different ways. The personality of the reader then influences where they stand and whom they will what to ‘win’ whatever conflict might occur. Then, just like real history, what the reader takes away from it will depend on them.

    I am the pot calling the kettle black here – my character development is my weakness. I’m hoping that this will help me as much as you!

    On point #7: Perhaps it could end it in a way that echoes the very beginning. (C. S. Lewis kind of does this in Naria.) You imply that the story has finished while suggesting that history continues or cycles. Convey the paradox that history is both transient and infinite.

    Talking of Naria, this is probably a good example of a ‘Chronicle’ spanning all time from the Creation to Armageddon, with vast time jumps between stories and new sets of characters each time. There is often little to tie one book to the next – which, I assume, is why they missed out half of them when making the films. The reason the saga works is because there is an overriding Theme to the whole thing – Theology. Without that it's a bunch of disjointed stories with a few occasionally recurring characters.
     
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