1. Eusebius
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    Eusebius New Member

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    Coming up with "WOW" plots

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Eusebius, Nov 15, 2012.

    I've been racking my head lately trying to figure out some kind of formula with which to create the kind of story that leaves you shaking your head and going "wow," for better or worse. Of course there is no set formula, this is a creative endeavour, but then again it is also fiction and there are certain tried and true guidelines. I want to come up with the kind of shocking, ironic ending like in the "Tales from the Crypt" episodes, or the movie "Se7en." Here's an example by horror writer J.A. Konrath.

    A man wants to break the world record for most pull-ups in an hour but no matter what he does he can only get within twenty repetitions of breaking it. He tries steroids but only gets sick. He goes to visit the record-holder, to check the guy out, and discovers he is missing one leg, giving him a fifteen pound advantage. The protagonist then visits a disgraced plastic surgeon. The surgeon lost his license because a patient came in for a nosejob and he gave him a sex change operation instead. He now does surgeries on the black market. The protagonist pays him to cut off both his legs. Once healed, he tries again but he still can't break the record. He goes back to the surgeon and tells him to remove anything and everything not necessary to living. A few yards of intestine, a kidney, etc. When he wakes up from the operation he looks around the makeshift operating room and sees jars filled with his organs. In one of them he sees ten fingers.

    Pretty gross, eh? But it's EFFECTIVE. I've been obsessed with recreating this kind of feeling, but I just cannot replicate it. Here are a few of my unsuccessful attempts. They go nowhere.

    1. A famous rock star is known for being the fastest guitarist in the world until a new guy shows up who is even faster. The rock star is vain and proud. He tries to practice as hard as he did back when he was at his peak, but can't play as fast as the new guy. He tries to lose weight to make his fingers a little slimmer, but fails again. Then he.... Then he WHAT? My mind stops...

    2. A guitarist in a local rock band finds himself down on his luck when he gets kicked out of his band by the jealous and domineering lead singer. Losing his only source of income, he has to pawn his guitar. Then he sees some other band is looking for a new guitarist. This band is about to get a major recording deal and make it big, auditions won't be held for long. Problem is he doesn't have a guitar. So he...

    a. Tries to steal the guitar back from the shop owner, but gets caught and.. uh.. then WHAT?
    b. Sells his blood to buy back the guitar, only to find out... WHAT?
    c. Kills the lead singer, chops him in the crude shape of a guitar, uses his vocal chords for strings, and goes to audition. When he breaks out his "instrument," everyone stares in horror... <-- This is the "best" one yet, it's going in the right direction, but there's just no "wow" there. There's no pinch of irony.

    Sigh.

    Has anyone seen that "Tales from the Crypt" episode with Joe Pesci? In it, he's a freeloadin' jigolo who is simultaneously dating twins. Once the twins find out his duplicity, however, they're not angry and they don't break up with him. They're sisters and they share everything. So they cut him in half.

    Haha!

    Anyway, these are the kind of things I want to come up with! The kind of story where we, the reader, are already cringing even as the protagonist embarks on his doomed path, 'cause we see something he doesn't, i.e. his vanity will backfire somehow, his duplicity will be punished in an unusual way.

    One more thing I want to get off my chest. I know this is about creativity, like I said above, sure. But I believe a good writer could create a story out of any idea, even if pedestrian, because he knows how to developt/I] it. How to twist it, how to take it to an unexpected place. I think this is a skill that can be learned. Talent is another thing, sure. For example, anyone can learn how to write a song, even though it's no guarantee it'll be as good as any by McCartney.

    Any ideas for how I can train my mind to come up with interesting plots?
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The O' Henry stories were full of ironic twists. And if you go to your local used book store and check out the
    horror anthologies they're full of ironic twists. The shock element usually works best
    in a short story not so much a novel as the story becomes all about punchline, not really character development.

    If you want to develop the perfect twist you've got to research irony - usually it's having
    something at the wrong time. Or not having something at the right time
    winning the lottery after twenty sixty years of trying and getting so excited it brings on a heart
    attack.
    having a guard dog that tears you apart when you climb into your window after accidently
    locking yourself out.
    Forgetful Jones decides to take up sky diving - he jumps out of a plane and can't remember
    what it is he forget until he pulls the string.

    P.s. remember a lot of good plots don't need ironic or surprise twists.
     
  3. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Roald Dahl wrote lots of really good short stories (for adults) with some surprising twists - check him out.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The way to train your mind is to exercise your imagination. Write, write, and write some more, and DON'T give up and ask other people for help.

    It will come to you, or it won't. Sadly, not everyone can develop a sufficiently twisted view of the works to come up with the nasty little surprises you're talking about. And maybe we should all be worried about the ones for which it comes too easily! :)
     
  5. Showpony
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    Showpony New Member

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    I do like the kind of surprise or twist ending that you're referring to. They're like adding something really spicy to a meal. You should also try some of the old "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Twilight Zone" TV shows - they used this device a lot.

    I think it's hard to set your mind to coming up with one, while working your way forward through a story. If you start a story, expecting that it will lead you to a twist ending, then it's not much of a twist, right? As your readers read, they'll be trying to figure out where the story's going, and if they imagine the twist ending before they get there, it won't be effective.

    The twist has to really come by surprise, so the story can't lead you to it. You've got to start with the twist in mind, and then write the story that leads up to it. Because as the story develops, all the elements that make the twist work have to be there, but you have to be disguising it all the way through. You can only do that if you know what the twist is going to be BEFORE you start writing.

    Also, I would start with a theme in mind, and see if something evolves from there. Usually these twists have a moral or ethical tone. The protagonist gets too greedy, for example, and starts doing something unsavoury to benefit themselves. In the end, their efforts backfire, and what they get is the opposite of what they intended. The reader is left thinking "That serves him right!". If the trick is done on someone innocent, undeserving, who did nothing to bring the trick ending about, it's less satisfying. To use the food metaphor, it's sour instead of spicy.

    So think of a theme you want to explore. You can even start with the seven deadly sins, since you're a fan of Se7en. Revenge, greed, laziness, etc. Have a character acting from those emotions, and have it backfire on him. Once you think of ways that your bad conduct can backfire on you, you can start writing the front end of the story that leads to the backfire.

    --- D
     
  6. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    He practices and practices, finally at the competition between the guy and him he finally beats him but then his fingers drop off. Then he finds out the guy was cheating all the time and had a robotic hand. lol (or an alien) lol sorry but nice to have some fun with a story some times hehe.
     
  7. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    Hmm...
     
  8. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    How about a 'pact with the devil scenario?' Though that's kinda cliched, I admit. Then again, the Koranth story you described is a similar premise. If you're looking for examples of seriously ultra twisted splatter fiction for inspiration, Edward Lee springs to mind. If you're not familiar with him already, seriously, approach with caution.

    How about: The guitar player, having finally lost his mind, kills someone during a row and sticks their head on the head of his guitar, then- for some reason you can choose- he can suddenly play faster than anyone, but needs the head to be present at all times. It could be a pun on double headed guitars.... Just brainstorming.
     
  9. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    lol :d
     
  10. Kaylin
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    Kaylin Member

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    I actually don't have a clue in constructing those reader reactions but I think the discomfort originates in something that should be familiar becoming strange. Like you could take an already disturbing premise with definite conflict and drive and incorporate other potentially jaw-dropping concepts; perhaps randomly, and try to weave them together with characters that personify the themes.

    One idea I've always liked was heart transplants. If someone close to another character died and had his/her functioning heart donated to someone who would've died without it. The character becomes intrinsically connected to the recipient of the heart and in some form or another, good or bad, tries to get it back. Something like that.
     
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  11. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    This exactly.

    A great short story to check out is Joe R. Landsdale's "Dog." It's about a guy out for a stroll when a large neighborhood dog starts to follow him...and follow him...with more and more intensity...until it turns from unnerving to sinister to something even more malevolent.

    Also, "Where are you going, where have you been" by Joyce Carol Oates.
     
  12. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    1. For the first one I would have him become so consumed with his obsession with the new guitarist he begins following him to possibly learn from him. Then make some stuff upppppppppppp
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It would seem like your problem is, you're so focused on trying to create the horror that you don't care how or why it comes about - you have no story, that is why you cannot come up with anything good. For example, your first idea involves a guitarist who can play the fastest, get bested by somebody, and then attempts to lose weight (I have no idea how losing weight could help you strum faster btw) - that's identical to the horror you described by JA Konrath! The only difference is the job of the MC is different.

    If you want to create horror so much, try watching some horror movies. There was one called Tricepede or Centipede or something - I honestly don't remember - the story was so horrific, I read somewhere that the director made his actors sign the contract BEFORE allowing them to read the script, for fear that they'd back out.

    Alternatively, the whole organs things reminded me of the horror stories I heard from China. There was a rumour that somebody was knocked unconscious, and then he woke up to find himself in a bath tub of ice cold water, his body split opened and all his organs gone. I don't even think that's scientifically possible, but it certainly makes for a good horror premise. There's lots of talk about organ stealing - people killing you for your kidneys, organ farms etc.

    But why on earth do you wanna dwell so much on such horrific things, I have no idea, but that fascination alone scares me.
     
  14. Soodanim
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    Soodanim Member

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    I think the problem is that you're trying to force it.

    Sometimes stories just don't work. You write it and despite your best efforts it simply isn't what you wanted or expected. So you put it aside and write something else. And then that isn't what you wanted or expected and so you put it aside and write something else.

    Sometimes you can come back to these stories and find new perspective and re-write it and get a satisfying result. Other times it's just a complete loss and you have to move on and learn from it.

    The key, I think, is to keep writing. Not everything you write will be a best-seller but if you keep practicing and learning, eventually you'll get something that you're happy with and want to publish. The important thing is not to try and force the result and instead let the story flow naturally and accept whatever you produce as being what it is, good or bad.
     
  15. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, but my natural reaction to your unfinished plots ... is this:

    He is visited by Simon Cowell, who makes cryptic comments about being able to give him the power to play guitar faster than anyone if the guitarist just signs this contract, in blood. Noticeable smell of brimstone in the air. Story ends on a cliff-hanger. Does he sign, or does he not?

    walks the streets at night, unable to sleep. He comes across an old scruffy man standing on the handrail of a bridge, preparing to jump. Forgetting the music, he talks the man down, and they return to the potential suicide's house. They get talking, and the potential suicide was a guitarist, but can't play any more because of arthritis. He produces a beautiful Gibson ES175, expressing love for the instrument, and heartbreak that he can't play it any more. Our hero explains his story. They make the audition the next day, then the scene jumps to a major concert with our hero playing the now 'signature' ES175, while our old man potential suicide now guitar technician watches approvingly from the wings.
     
  16. penandpaper
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    penandpaper New Member

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    I think that you can't really wow somebody if your story isn't relatable to real life. I'm not really one for horror, in honesty, but I think that a lot of gristle doesn't really shock people simply bbecause they can't imagine it properly.
    As an example Hitchcocks Rear Window was not grisly in the slightest but unnerving due to its relatability to the audience. Fashioning someone into a guitar doesn't faze me because it's a ridiculous concept.
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    The example you gave in my opinion is not a very good example of intelligent plotting because it is based on a factually wrong premise - the fastest guy is missing a leg? That'd make him automatically in a different competition category, ie. disabled athletes vs able-bodied. Ok, maybe the motivation for self-mutilation is sufficiently explained by some deep seated delusion or compulsion, but overall it reads as predictably gory and un-researched. A kind of plot I would not be impressed with. And I adore dark twists, crime novels and films and even occult, supernatural and paranormal themes are my favourite genres.
    In my case, the idea for the story starts with the nasty little twist and the rest develops from there. But to add the extra twists along the way, I have to write enough to get to that point in the story in order to come up with something unexpected and effective to push the story forward and give the reader satisfaction from the suspense and something new and different. Every writer's Holy Grail, we all struggle to attain it.
     
  18. johann77
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    johann77 Member

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    WoW. Sounds like you need a rest from writing.
     
  19. Griplan
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    I think the problem is thinking that you have to have a plot twist. I think that those ideas could work, just flesh it out as best you can and then let it sit and see what happens.
     
  20. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    How about just taking your plot and telling a story? Too many people are trying to reinvent the wheel here. It takes skill to pull something like that off. Plus not all twists have to make a person shake their head. You could be writing a science fiction story, and be having the characters constantly mentioning two races as causing a problem, and it ends up being a third that wasn't thought of. That's a plot twist, without having to pull the cliche one at the end.

    Too many people have watched 'The Sixth Sense' and items like it and think there needs to be a shocking twist. If anyone noticed, it was the cliche twist that has lead M. Night to lose a lot of his success. Just write your story and don't worry about the "wow" factor-just get it one the paper. Not every story, even the great ones in the Top 100 novels of all time, has a "wow" factor.
     

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