1. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    Having trouble trying to plan the plot before I start writing.

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by RLJ, May 2, 2012.

    I started two different drafts. And they were duds. I think it may be because I didnt plan the story out before. I started writing. I've always found this hard to do, because I like a little spontinaety. I've settled on the structure and chracters I want to use, but I'm afraid to start writing, because I feel like it will, once again, lead to no where. And with a setting like this, I can't let that happen.

    Suggestions? ANYTHING IS APPRECIATED.
    Here's the overview of what I'm writing about:

    Carol Hatley, queen of Philadelphian Society, enjoys a lavish lifestyle married to her Rich Banker husband Patrick, but when her daughter,Susan, drenches the family in a nasty scandal, they flee back to her hometown New York. On her Arrival, she encounters her old nemesis, Lady Geneva Palmer, a scheming young englishwoman, daughter of a Duke, and currently married to Carol's cousin. Vivian Hughes is a middle-aged woman stuck in an unhappy marriage with a philandering husband, and unruly children, she is also Carol's sister. Rebecca James a lady's maid in the Hughes residence is entrenched in a scandalous affair with her mistress's husband, Ted Hughes, she trys in vain to hide it, in order to keep her job. William Sutherland, American Oil King quickly becomes infatuated with his old beau Carol when she returns to town, could it be the start of a scandalous affair, or a presence to re open old wounds. Woven throughout the backsdrop of 1880s and 90s Manhattan during one of America's most prosperous periods, this story will captivate the reader, and keep them yearning for more.

    The italiczed names are the main characters.
     
  2. Mark_Archibald
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    Mark_Archibald Active Member

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    Building a story is mental architecture.

    You have to follow a main thought. You have to maintain a creative arc.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do they have something in common, except for that most of them seem to know each other? like a common goal, something they strive towards, common problems or Something that connects them on a deeper level, like them depending on each other in some way? I couldn't distringuish any pronounced conflicts here, besides for the little ones you mentioned, which I think aren't enough to build an entire novel on. I think this story could benefit from being told from multiple perspectives. Think about what each of their goals are, what they want and what's keeping them from having it. try to think about the story theme, and what you want to say with this novel, it might give you some ideas to build on.
     
  4. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    What you've written there is cover blurb, NOT a plot outline. There's no plot, just a lot of characters and vague hints as to what's going on in their lives - from the look of it, everyone is having some form of scandalous affair, but I have no idea of how these various characters' lives intersect or what consequences their actions have for them.

    A detailed plot outline needs events, scenes, chronology, cause and effect. That might be where you're going wrong - you need to figure out what all these characters you've dropped into this setting actually DO.

    Carol Hatley seems to be your main character - what is her goal? What does she want? How does she go about getting it and what stands in her way? Start there.
     
  5. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    You should probably write, and keep writing. Don't just give up on a draft. I usually don't plan. I just have a couple ideas of where I want the story to go. The rest is all improv, trial and error.
     
  6. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    Writing with no end in sight is kinda pointless. Write one page of A4 covering the main events. Then do a character breakdown and work out (1) What their inner motivation is, (2) What actions they take to reflect that motivation, (3) How they change over the course of the story and (4) Where they are at the end of the story. I would say that's the bare minimum to have down before starting your draft.

    It's during these initial planning stages that you'll have the majority of your plot ideas, so it pays to be flexible. Especially when you're finding out how one character's actions will have an impact on another.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Identify what each character's (actor's) goal is, what motivates them toward that goal, and what opposes them from attaining that goal. Those four elements (actor, goal, motivation, opposition) define a plot. Plots drive the events that comprise a story.

    Plots can and do interact. For example, one person's goal might be to blow up a building, and another person's goal may be to prevent the building from being destroyed. Each of these plots has the other the opposition element.

    Many stories have one principal plot that summarize the story. In that case, that plot is the central plot, and all the other plots are considered subplots.

    A storyline is the chronology of events of a story. They answer the question "What happened." Plots drive the events, and answer the questions "Why did it happen?" of "How did it happen."

    Read What is Plot Creation and Development? for more information.
     
  8. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    Hmm, you guys' suggestions helped a lot. I do plan on telling it from multiple points of view.
    I think you discovered the problem that has been plagueing me for so long. I don't have an overall plot, and I don't have specific goals for my characters. Which is something I'll have to think about. I'll have to cut down on chracters to achieve this because I dont know how I can successfully weave all of them into the story..
    I have a LOT of thinking to do.
     
  9. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    I think it might be good to focus on one character at a time. Carol Hatley will obviously be struggling with the scandal that her daughter brought on the family. How is she dealing with that? Why do they flee back to New York? I'm going to imagine that Lady Geneva Palmer is going to be standing in Carol's way at every turn (if she is her nemesis). Perhaps she's spreading nasty rumours? Maybe she was the reason for the scandal that her daughter got involved in?

    I think you are going to have to pick a character or a family to focus on (it seems like it could be the Hatley's because the story appears to be about them returning to New York). And then maybe figure out how the other characters work into the story from there.
     
  10. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    Well, originally I planned on focusing on just the Hatley family, but I really wanted to linger on Carol and her struggles, so I could make her the main character, but I want to tell it from multiple points of view, although I do plan on having the events centered, essentially, around her.
     
  11. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Multiple POVs is fine - multiple MCs is a recipe for disaster. You should have a main character that your readers can root for, with a goal we want to see her achieve. All other characters are either allies or obstacles in her quest to achieve that goal. And ideally you want one main antagonist - not necessarily a villain, but any other character whose goal directly conflicts with the MC's goal is an antagonist. Sometimes you can have an antagonist disguised as an ally - perhaps this oil tycoon who tries to seduce her. He could present an attractive proposition to her, offering her a life of wealth and happiness, but there should be a catch, i.e. accepting it would put her original goal (acceptance in New York's high society?) out of her reach forever. But then you also need a complication, something to raise the stakes... maybe rejecting him would pose an even GREATER threat to her, something much, much worse than social scandal... like utter financial and social ruination, perhaps even prison (this is where the 'dark secret from the lady's past' plot device comes in handy).

    And you can still have all your other characters and sub plots going on around this, intersecting with it, influencing or complicating the main plot, but make sure the main plot is strong enough to hang all the subplots from.

    Good luck :)
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nakhti I just had to ask you one thing (sorry for hijacking the thread by the way) If I have a story with several point of view characters which all reacts to something another character does, (but who hasn't his or her own point of view), would you consider the character that caused their reactions the main character or the other ones? Because basically the issue-causing character is never more than a side character in the actual stories, the story is about the other ones and how the decision of the first one affected them. Who would you consider the mc?
     
  13. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    That sounds... tricky.

    If I understand correctly, you have multiple POV characters who are all prompted into action by a side character, whose POV we never get to see. I'd say if each character has a goal that we want them to achieve, and this non POV character's goal is working against them, then that character is an antagonist rather than an MC.

    I would be a little concerned about having so many MCs though, because then you're really talking about an ensemble piece, and those are notoriously difficult to balance. If you're not careful you end up with a lot of characters that we hardly know and care little about, with so many storylines we can't easily keep track, as opposed to one or two MCs that we get to know well in the main plot, surrounded by a bunch of other characters and sub plots that we are mildly interested in, but mostly because of how they intersect with and affect the main plot.
     
  14. Maiseyday
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    Maiseyday New Member

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    :)What an interesting dilema you have RLJ, and everything in these posts rings true. With 4 highly charged main characters you certainly have the makings of a fiesty novel. You probably are trying to include too many of these main characters too soon within your drafts, but don't forget those are just drafts. I think a reader would first want to feel comfortable knowing the main, main characters which, I would say are CH and VH - realise their place in society, the good and bad things relative to their daily lives, their innermost thoughts (especially CH); then move on to the daughter and work on the seed of her scandal which grows into the nasty scaldal which drenches the family. I'm sure when you get to this point you will have no problem expanding your draft to include the other characters. I would add, though, that I am a firm believer in full characterisation at the outset of anything longer than a short story, so imagine who your main characters remind you of (film stars and even family/friends if they fit the bill) and set up a characterisation sheet identifying colour of hair, eyes, height, build, impression given, traits, weaknesses and strengths and, if you find an actor/actress who you feel could play the part well, take a look on the internet and check them out - then use their look (and a photograph to help you see the person) for that particular character. It's amazing how much fun this can be. I set up a character for a play based upon Patricia Routledge's 'Mrs Bucket' of 'Keeping Up Appearances' fame, and my character named 'Gladys L'Atrine' was hilarious! I'm sure you will be scribbling away at another draft which you'll be happier with.
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    ... double post
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Tricky, huh? :p It's not my current story, but a future project. They aren't THAt many, say five or six pov characters altogether. At least they all have this one thing in common, but it's not like their working against the side character, they just end up in personal crisis because of some news (that was supposed to be good) that the side character brings, and which happen to get the opposite effect on these people. And now each one of them has to deal with this the best they can. they all have different reasons but they all react negatively.
     
  17. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Then that even more suggests that the 'side character' is not the MC - she sounds more like a plot device, or the messenger that introduces the inciting incident to your plot ;)
     
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    How did you know it was a 'she'? :D
    (In italian the word catastrofe is a 'female' word, I guess there's a reason for that ;) )
    Yes, I guess she's not the mc after all. I guess the messenger that introduces the inciting incident would be a correct lable. Does it mean I have to choose only one of these characters to be the mc? Maybe I have to reduce the number even more. to, say, 4?
     
  19. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    Hmm, interesting. I'd say that Carol is looking to start a new life, Geneva wants Carol out of her own. Vivian wants a healty, solid marriage. Susan wants her mother's forgiveness. It would go something like that. etc. etc.
    Am I getting the gist?
     
  20. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Here's the rub:don't plan.

    Yes, I know what JK Rowling said. And I also know she is one of a kind, and I also know there are many bestselling authors that do not plan.

    Personally I go with something like "zombies appear because of a failed experiment to bring back the dead and attack their creator. The story is set in New York and the main character is Albert, a brave and over-optimistic person who is also very resourceful. He is trying to cure the zombies of their disease." and work out the rest as I go along.
     
  21. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Yes, that may work for you, and that's great. But I believe the OP has tried to write wihtout a plan several times and not found it a successful approach, hence the request for advice. Simply saying 'don't plan because it works for me and lots of other writers' is not helpful when the OP specifically states 'I think I am having trouble because I didn't plan.'

    The point of responding to a thread should be to help meet the OP's needs, and for that you actually have to pay attention to what they say. ;)
     
  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you're the sort who doesn't mind scraping 80k words just because you changed a small detail and it doesn't discourage you - by all means, don't plan.

    But if like me, doing such a thing would end up making you feel like you've failed, wasted time and generally deflated, then please plan!

    Why don't you read Elizabeth Noble's books? Sounds like you're writing similar things. She often have a cast of about 4 or 5 characters - all of them MCs, since all of them have their own story - and they're all friends so they come together once in a while. All of them are about relationships - these are romance related but it's not your usual brainless chick lit.

    For example, one character longs for a baby and is feeling neglected by her husband in a new town, another has a really happy marriage but she finds out her husband's having an affair, another has a spoilt child and the mother doesn't communicate, because she couldn't conceive until she finally succeeded after a series of IVFs and her elevation of this child and over-protectiveness is destroying their family. As you can see - several stories in one book. Noble manages it well - I really enjoyed her books.

    There was another book about others - a woman who cannot conceive and thus her marriage ended, another about a teenage girl who decides to keep her baby and how that affected her mother's own romance, and then another whose marriage is beautiful but somehow the wife doesn't appreciate her husband despite him being lovely towards her, and still another about a wife whose husband cheats on her constantly but she just can't bring herself to divorce him.
     
  23. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    Is bumping allowed on this forum? Because that's what I suppose I'm doing right now...
    I need more help!
     
  24. C.B Harrington
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    C.B Harrington Member

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    What do you need more help with? You have a lot of good comments on this thread.

    What have you done thus far to define your plot?
     
  25. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    Well, I'm trying to tie all my storyline together to form one big outline without having to change them too much. Which is sort of vague.
    I suppose I will have to change it around somewhat. What I want to do is to, essentially, center it around Carol--change name later-- but I cant seem to create a definite personality for her.
    It was easy to do with the other characters:
    Lady Rothgar (Geneva): Is evil and malicious, she despises those around her because she feels they are below her station, being the wife of an Earl.
    ETC.
     

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