1. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    Finding the Story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Spacer, Jan 28, 2011.

    I've read thousands of books, and countless short stories. Yet I have trouble crafting a plot/storyline, to the point that I am completely unable to think of anything.

    I'm wondering if it would be a good idea to read some short fiction and write down the storyline, to help me see it.

    It bothers me that I would need to, since I've read so many already.

    What else might I try, to get the hang of this?
     
  2. R-e-n-n-a-t
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    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

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    I'll see if I can help. What general setting or theme were you thinking of?
     
  3. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Alternately, you could try creating your characters first. Let their attitudes and outlook guide your brainstorming.
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Steps:

    1. Come up with a main character, an end goal, and a motivation. Do not get stuck on MC development or working out details. This should be as broad as "A hobbit named Frodo needs to bring the evil ring of power to the only volcano that can destroy it. If he does not, his entire world will be enslaved." Two sentences or less.

    2. Who is the bad guy, and what is his/her motivation? The bad guy could be a person, a group, whatever, but keep it simple -- you're in the early stage and can deal with details later.

    3. What makes your MC tick? What scares him, enrages him, makes him indignant, embarrasses him, motivates him, drives him, gets him up and going?

    4. Use the answers to these questions to further develop the MC's motivations and obstacles.

    5. Break the goal up into smaller goals, or objectives. For example, in LOTR, Frodo's ultimate goal is to put the ring in Mount Doom. But first, he has to leave the Shire, then escape the ringwraiths, then fight orcs, then get safely out of the Mines of Moria...you get the idea. Each scene should have its own goal and obstacle, even if it's not huge or drastic.

    6. Who (or what) will be the antagonist for each of these smaller goals?

    7. Who assists your MC, holds him/her back or affects the course of the story?
    Start simple, then develop further -- these are your other characters.

    This should get you going, I hope I helped!
     
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  5. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    I like the way Mallory has laid it out. That's seriously good advice.

    But I think you might be talking about inspiration, that thing that songwriters get and when they have it they know they've got a hit. And there is no advice for that. You go through your life and you write stories, like Mallory suggested, and you think about "What if's" and one day your driving down the road and something hits you from out of the blue--and you know you've got it, a hit.

    It will happen if you are truly dedicated to being a fiction writer. It will happen several times, in fact. And one of those times will take you to the stars, if that's what you want, but only if along the way you've been honing your skills and living your life to the fullest you are capable of.

    Good luck.
     
  6. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    A possible strategy you could use is to place your character in a room. The room can be whatever you want it to be, but do not allow the character to leave that room. Write four pages on the character exploring the room and the character; try not to think about a story/plot for the character ahead of time, just build it as you go.

    I usually always plan my stories out before attempting to write them, but there is the occasional time when it just doesn't seem to stick or doesn't feel, for lack of a better word, real. I sometimes find that it's helpful to just write something. A lot of the times it will get the gears in your mind rolling and you can work yourself up to developing and writing the story/plot that you wanted. So you don't need to use the room strategy, you can place your character anywhere you choose; I just find that the limitations of the room force the imagination into a little more cooperativeness.

    Good luck!
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    have you tried a plot or character generator ?
     
  8. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    You mentioned writing out the plots of things you have read. How about you write out what you remember of something you read fairly recently, to see how well you understand it? Then you'll know how complicated a plot you'll need to hold in your head to write the type of story you usually like to read.
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Is there some kind of free online tool that does this, and if so, where might I find it?
     
  10. mcostas
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    mcostas New Member

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    I have been coming up for inspiration here and there, I got one from work the other day, I was looking at a gram stain and the organism looked funny so I called some cowokers over to look at it.

    I concocted a scene in my mind where a group of microbiologists looks at a wierd organism and that is the beginning of what is to turn into an epidemic where antibiotoics become useless.

    When one of them remembers a trend of a certain resistance pattern and corelates it to the GS, they report it to the supervisor, who blows it off.




    Anyhoo, you can kind of see where this goes. Anything you see can really be a scene in a story.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Seventh Sanctum has a collection of them - its kind of fun it is how I got Gus and Iris and Reverend Allsopp

    For OP Try a spider diagram/thought map idea - writer the name of the character in the centre and what they are. Then decide what you want them to do - how do they get there. Then why did that happen etc.
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    there are several, just search for plot generators on google. its quite fun actually, i knew a good one but now i cant find the link...
     
  13. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    FYI: I read somewhere that this is called the Premise, in case you want to google it.

    Yes, and I find most of them useless. I would have just as much luck of finding a story if I chose a random article from Wikipedia.
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    That is indeed all they are a place to start - personally I have had what will be one novel (possibly a series come from one) and a series of diary entries from a mad reverend from another - only tried it twice lol daren't go near another one might get another idea.

    Once you have worked out how to in effect 'solve' the puzzle of the plot generator - you then usually have some characters and an idea for a story. You can also get a place to start. My favourite gives a character, a place to start and a theme.
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Online plot/character generators? I mean, I knew they existed... I always just thought they were a joke.

    To the original question, yes, looking at short fiction is a good idea. The advantage is you have a manageable sample size to study.

    Look at not only the structure of the plot, but the purpose. You'll start to notice trends and be able to identify what the stories are doing successfully to not only advance a plot, but build a story. Then, it's much easier to construct your own as you have samples you've been reverse engineering.

    If you start noticing how writers handle all the big words we throw around. Resolution and rising action, etc, are all just words, but when you put some study behind them and identify what all the terms actually look like, and the purpose they serve, you'll be a better writer for it.

    And it's easier said than done. I've seen plenty who I considered quality writers struggle when asked to analyze and break down a story. Some people seem to have a knack for building plots/stories, others don't, but that doesn't mean it can't be learned. And even those that have a talent for it usually just seem that way, and one way or another they've studied and thought on these things.

    Short fiction is a great tool for studying the craft of writing. And don't be afraid to read the same story over and over until it's been stripped down to the bones. Sure, it's not very 'fun' as a reader, but is invaluable as a writer.
     
  16. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or, maybe narrative just isn't your thing. There's plenty of writing out there waiting to be created which doesn't involve telling a story. If that's the case, all those storybooks you've read weren't a waste of time; they gave you a feel for how your language works, how it moves. Something to consider.
     
  17. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    Characterization is not my problem. OK, I know the guy's personality and motives. If I put (for example) The Professor in a room, he will spend all day reading his papers.

    So far, I have these non-story starts written:

    • The old man who emigrates to virtual reality and wakes up in a very strange situation.
    • The professor who is asked to investigate an anomaly.
    • The delusional paranoid scientist who seeks revenge on his life-long friend.
    • The alien explorer who needs human help to get back to his group.
    • The inept explorer/solder who gets himself into a jam.

    Knowing how the character would react doesn't do anything useful without outside events and context. I need waypoints for the story line, and events to progress.


    That's the step I seem to have problems with. In the first story I listed above, I need a plot that takes place in that environment, or it's just a diary.

    In fact, none of the things I listed have bad guys. Some are more clearly character explorations, others could have a human antagonist behind the troubles, but I started with an idea of a character and a situation.

    I looked at Seventh Sanctum. Example, "The story is about a singer who seems insane. It starts on a desert planet in an interplanetary imperium. The question of when a machine becomes human is a major part of the story." That's not a story line.
     
  18. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    I've been successful with non-fiction. So yes, I can write well in the sense of presenting the ideas I want to convey, and I can organize material into an informative essay.

    I could probably tell a story if I had an outline already. It's inventing the story itself that I need to learn. So I might be in the opposite situation as a lot of people who want to write: they have stories they want to tell but not the technical skills. Gee, I should be a ghost writer!
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally I don't find fiction/non fiction that much different - when I write non fiction I am telling the story of the evidence and bringing it to life.

    The story is the proposal or question, then you need to bring into being the evidence, and the analysis. Which is why I think you may find the plot generator useful if you look at it as the question, then you need to make up the method, characters are your apparatus etc.


    There is more than one my favourite is the genreless one.

    It is just a place to start you now know your main character is a mad singer - and your setting is a desert planet.

    So ok this is how I would flesh out that idea.

    What is the character like?(if you can't decide use a different generator to give you an idea)
    I'll choose an old man name Mr. Miako Hapockogee. He was in a battle and is now home suffering from PTSD, he is a man of military baring. Blue eyes . Everyone calls him Hap. He has a beautiful deep baritone voice and he sings to himself. Lets everyone think he is mad because then they leave him alone. His job in the military was working with AIs. Maybe he has a nephew or grandson Tamoko (young Tam), that pops in to check on him everyday.

    What about the planet? Maybe we call it Aikee. He lives there in a small house like you kind of imagine in ancient Israel. I like the idea of cactus and tumbleweed. Will have Hap living out in the harsh heat whereas everyone else lives in the Burb - a climate controlled dome oasis.

    Now we need the Robot?
    Mr.Hapockogee, is lonely he is tired. He spends his days searching through rubbish tips, singing to himself. He spends evenings smoking a pipe outside his house, playing chess with Tam. Then nights he his plagued with nightmares so raises has a glass of Firewater or two and heads to his workshop. Where he puts together Rhoko. Rhoko is a robot. We have potential of Pinochcio type story - he does something truly amazing probably saving Tam's life - I'm envisaging the Burb being invaded and people killed whilst Hap is away foraging. Only Tam, Hap and Rho are are left. Together they journey to find another oasis, finding a wizard on the way who 'rewards' Rho with humanity.

    OK its not great but there is your story from a plot generator. Questions to ask based on it - are

    Who>?
    What characters do I need to tell this story? Give them a name, form, a personality. (from the generator a mad singer, and a machine)

    Where?
    What does the setting look like (desert planet)

    What happens?
    We know the machine becomes human - so how do we make that happen, what is the machine etc - they start askng yourself what ifs? What if such and such happened/
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Project Gutenberg? :D
     
  21. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    So, a guy builds a robot that becomes sentient. How is that a story? It needs conflict etc.

    Of course, I know the story of Adam Link, and both Outer Limits adaptations.
     
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Spacer, you say you have no problem with characterization, so why don't you just use that? Take one of your characters and put him in a situation that makes him uncomfortable - a situation that requires him to do something other than snore. What does he do? I'm not saying that this will be your story, but it is a way of learning perhaps more about your character than you think you know already, and it might lead you towards thinking of a story for him to star in.

    I am bent towards writing novellas and other longer forms than the short story. I had to read some Hemingway and Chekov and Joyce stories until I realized that my problem was that I was trying to cram too much stuff into the story. I now think of a short story as a story in which almost nothing happens. You see this even in Poe - most of his stories involve events that happen AFTER the main action of the story. In other words, he's writing denouements rather than the full drama. I'm saying this because I think you might be trying to cram too much into your story.

    Take one of your characters and write something about him - anything. Write about him having dinner, or changing a flat tire, or something like that. See if you can't find the seed of SOMETHING interesting to tell about him. That's what I do. I invent characters and settings and write scenes involving them, and sooner or later they DO something that gives me a story.

    Maybe you should stop trying to invent your story and start trying to discover it. That approach works for a lot of us.
     
  23. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is where you build the story - in mine there is the harsh desert climate, are two battles, a machine that wants to become human, and man with PTSD (so probably room for a bar fight). Plenty of conflict.

    How would your machine come into existence? Who would build it ? Why was it built? What does your desert planet look like ? Why does the machine become human? How does it happen?

    In answering those questions you find the story.
     

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