1. stronglydisagree
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    stronglydisagree New Member

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    Help I am so stuck (extremely long post)

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by stronglydisagree, Aug 15, 2013.

    Today marks the third successive year that I have failed to make any written progress in my novel.

    I really like the general idea of the story but I have yet to form any coherent plot besides several major events. I have been uninspired as far as transitional scenes go, as well as the opening events. As embarrassing as this is, the primary focus of the past year that I've had involving this novel has been the first sentence, which I feel like I have finally written decently for the time being! (That being: In the city, to become truly powerful meant to disappear.)

    Anyway, the plot I have planned so far is that of rivalry between my protagonist, who may possibly be an officer of the security department of a city that rose out of a relatively large safe-zone after a massive man-made apocalypse, and the antagonist, who is the protagonist's childhood friend as well as the new advisor to the city's leader (who really serves as a figurehead while the inner council does most of the work, namely the chief advisor). The story will also be a coming of age story in a way although the main character is already a technical adult. What I have written is the opening scene, the funeral of the main character's father who was the former chief advisor to the leader (however this scene is very tentative, I'm not completely sold on the idea of starting my book like this...).

    Somehow I have to transition to the main character being offered a job by the new chief advisor to find the leader of an army of rebels who have recently risen up again after being all but destroyed in a war that happened nearly three decades before the beginning of the story. I was suggested to have the person who was formerly commissioned to search for the leader of the army of rebels being killed, as many of the higher ranking officials are being killed off secretly by the new chief advisor (the antagonist) to the leader, however I have sort of dug my own grave as far as that whole situation goes, as I have no idea why the protagonist would not already have an equally high ranking job as the chief spy if he was the son of the former chief advisor. Not only that, I don't know how someone of his renown would be able to function as a spy, which is essentially the job that I have been fixing to give him.

    I can't default to place him in a high ranking position because if he were in a high ranking position it would only make sense (unless he is really stupid) if he already knew that the leader of the rebels is a facade maintained by the Council in order to scare the citizens of the city into obeying the government and exerting a high level of patriotism, brought together by the shared hatred of the rebels. This is why the city allows for pseudo-searches to occur, even though the rebel leader died in the first war, and why they allow the rebels to continue to operate. If he were a high ranking official, I believe it would take the drive and mystery away from the story, because I want the story to be about finding out about all the lies that surround what he has known his own life. Besides, the chief advisor will eventually start commissioning mercenaries posing as members of the rebel army to kill off those who he knows and doesn't completely trust. I don't know whether or not I want the climax of the story to be the main character being nearly killed by the chief advisor himself after figuring out all about what is going on after visiting the farming community that the city has taken over for the sake of industry and power plants, causing the rebellion.

    Not only that, but I also really want his childhood friend to snatch the high level position that he was supposed to inherit from his father, in order to create the rivalry that I want to portray. So I'm stuck there.

    Basically, I have no idea where to go after the opening scene or how to introduce the background for the story in a way that isn't awkward and forced. I'm afraid that I will rely too much on the deaths of the high ranking officials for plot movement but I don't know how else to go about things because I want to establish a real drive for the main character to search for this rebel leader.

    I was thinking about completely revising the plot and changing the time period to when the first rebellion happened because that would open a lot of opportunities for plot events as I have that war more planned out than this one. However that would take away from the theme of corruption. Alternatively, I was planning to have the story split between view points of the main protagonist and a second, less major protagonist who is truly part of the rebellion (rather than just being a highly trained and amply paid soldier from the city).

    This protagonist's father owned a farm in the community that was taken over by the city. The community was nestled in a valley that was mostly safe from radiation due to geography-- they could see the city but the city could not see them, and they once revered the city as that of the Gods, as the original founders, who knew that the city was merely a well prepared safe zone, died off. They were initially very humble and welcoming to the first scouts from the city, who came looking for resources in order to replenish the depleted ones that power the city as well as the water and air purification plant just outside of the city. However, as currency and propaganda was introduced, the community's government sold out to the city's, and most of the citizens of the community moved into the city. Those who stayed were forced to pay for their land at steeped prices-- many had to go to work at the new power-plants and mines. Money was so tight that they could not afford the food and the government rations weren't enough whatsoever. Prices for a small apartment in the city rose so much that it was impossible to move there after several years, so many families were trapped working in the mines to pay for meager land that would not even earn them much money if they sold it to the government.

    This protagonist's father did not sell his land and instead opted to work in the mines and eventually a nuclear power plant. He eventually grows so weak from radiation and the lung cancer caused by working in the mines that he turns to the rebels, who are working in part with the underground drug lords who smuggle bio-enhancing drugs meant for the city's soldiers, and offers them 'secrets' (laid out intentionally by the city's government in order to out rebels) to infiltrate and bring down the nuclear power plant (which will essentially destroy the city if it melts down). His daughter, the minor protagonist, is the one to try to infiltrate the plant, but is caught. I have no idea where to go from there though so that is where her plot hits a hiatus in my story.

    Anyway, if you guys could please critique what basis I have so far and offer some suggestions as to what to do with my story that would be great-- anything will help. If I have made this way too garbled (and LONG) to be able to comment on I apologize, I wanted to lay everything out. I feel like I have a lot of interesting ideas but the entire story is so foggy-- I think all I really have developed are the characters. The entire plot seems really foggy and CLICHE so if there are any suggestions on to how to divert this story from becoming the standard 1984/nuclear apocalypse story, that would also be very helpful. I'm not really sure what I'm asking for other than help.

    Thanks ahead of time for your comments and more importantly thanks for reading all this nonsense.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think you should write and see what direction the story takes without so much worrying.

    When I started my story, I did spend some time contemplating the next scene, or how to show something about my MC, and how should the story end. When I came to a place that I didn't know what to do with, I just skipped it and came back to it later. It annoys my critique group a little since they all tend to bring in the next chapters of their work in order and I bounce around a lot. But, for me it's great, not just because it has worked very well, but also because I enjoy immersing myself in different parts of the story and when it gets a little old, I go somewhere else. By the time I come back to the part I skipped, I see it with fresh eyes.
     
  3. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    I agree with GingerCoffee: write. My advice is to write the story and don't look back at what you have written (because it is a first draft and you won't be happy with it) until you have a couple of chapters at least (and even then...). If you try to get everything perfect first time you will never write the story.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I've just read what you've given us, and three things struck me immediately:

    One - the idea of a protagonist and antagonist having been childhood friends is excellent. Develop this. What are their personalities like? What kinds of things did they do together as children? Were they friends by default (only neighbours available) or by choice? Are they still friends when the story opens? Or ...when did they cease being 'friends' and why? This relationship is the personal element which should form the basis of your story. It will give emotional content, to what sounds like a huge political history at the moment. (Think Ben Hur and Masala...)

    Two - if they are to be antagonists, and this is a coming-of-age story, neither of them should be in a position of ruling the roost—at least not at the start of your story. Both of them should be underlings, and probably at the same level, or near to it. You are quite right to point out that if one has risen high in the ranks, the other probably should have done as well. You COULD work with an unequal rise, of course, but it wouldn't make sense if they are both still young enough for this to be a coming-of-age story. There will be better conflict if they are both still clawing their way up the ranks, so to speak.

    Three - what is the moral position of both sides of this political conflict? What does the establishment want? What is the establishment's political philosophy? What do the 'rebels' want? What is their political philosophy? Are there good guys and bad guys? Or do both sides have a sense of morality, of worthy purpose? And how do these different philosophies impact on our two main characters? Are they taking sides based on philosophy or inheritance, or both? Is there any conflict there? (One of them might be supporting a side he truly doesn't believe in, just because it's expected of him because of who his father was?)

    Maybe you have already decided these issues, but it's not completely clear in what you've given us here.

    All in all, I think you have the makings of an excellent story. However,if you stick to the personalities and build the story around them, rather than the other way around, you might find it easier to write.

    As far as tinkering with the opening line? I wouldn't worry too much about getting that perfect at this stage. You won't know till you've finished the whole novel whether it works or not anyway. Best to craft that during the editing process. It would be different if the line had sprung into being to start the story, but it sounds like that's not the case, that you're still tinkering with it, trying to get it perfect. I'd leave it just now. Keep the notion of getting ahead by remaining low-profile in your head, but don't overwork the wording just yet.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Three years, and no progress? A whole year, and only one sentence to show for it? Wow.

    A lot of new writers expect that a novel will emerge in well-structured, perfectly written form. It doesn't. My favorite author once said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent re-writer." [MENTION=53222]jannert[/MENTION] is correct when she says that you won't know until the novel is finished whether the first sentence works or not. But that's true about the whole thing. You have to see how events flow, how characters develop, how different pieces fit together before you really know what you have. As you write about your characters, they will grow in ways you don't currently imagine. You will conceive of new and emerging events that will change them and possibly change the course of the story you originally planned. You need to be open to these changes, because they change your novel from two dimensions to three. They give it depth. They give it authenticity.

    Stop worrying and write. Accept that your first draft will be less than you expect, but understand that in some ways it may be more. Sometimes when you begin a writing session, you feel you have to read your way to the point where you will begin writing, and you may well see things that need to be edited. Given the problems you are having, resist. Just go write. Whatever decisions you have to make about the plot will occur in the writing process.

    I think the truly amazing thing is that you still have a passion for this project even after three years of not making progress. I think you have a much better handle on this than you realize.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    A very encouraging statement for some of us, indeed.
     
  7. stronglydisagree
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    stronglydisagree New Member

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    Thanks for all your comments, I really appreciate it. Haha, I know I am worrying wayyyy too much about the story and that if I ever expect for it to even have a chance to live up to my expectations, I have to actually write it. I do feel like I need some type of loose outline of a plot before that happens though.

    - GingerCoffee, I have several notebooks full of dialogue and thoughts that I want to insert into the story at some point. I suppose I could work on fleshing out the actions that accompany them and base various scenes off of them and see where that takes me as far as building up chapters, so I won't just be stuck on the first chapter.

    - EdFromNY, I'm really proud of what little progress I have made although I am more so embarrassed by my lack of progress. I've made steps to finish the first chapter these past few days. What you said about my characters growing and changing on their own really was helpful-- I realize that I have been trying so hard to force them into a mold that I have let what I want the characters to be inhibit me from developing my plot, while I should be letting the plot develop the characters.

    - And Jannert, wow, thank you for all the questions that you have posed. I'm not sure if they're just food-for-thought questions or not but I guess it wouldn't hurt to answer a few as to possibly get more help!

    I have spent a lot of time developing the dynamic between the protagonist and the antagonist. The protagonist, Gabe, is a meek and fearful individual due to his father, who expects much more out of him than the protagonist feels he can offer. He is undetermined outside of his struggle to make his father and his childhood friend proud by finding the rebel leader, as he has failed to live up to the standards required to take over the position of chief advisor that his father previously toted due to being so weak-minded and unwilling to rule.

    The antagonist, Aiden, on the other hand, is much like the protagonist's father. Aiden's father was a fearful, abusive man and a traitor to the city, working directly with the rebels and the independent underground drug lords by trafficking the bio-enhancing drugs that he had access to due to being the chief military scientist. Aiden in turn grew up silently seeking for power that he felt that he would never have if he associated with his father-- he felt powerless as he was automatically looked down upon by being the son of a traitor, as well as because he was being abused by his father while he really never did anything wrong. He is very strong-willed and determined to achieve domination, although he doesn't let onto how truly obsessed he has become with power. Gabe's father notices this in Aiden's early political endeavors, having kept an eye on him due to Gabe and Aiden being friends while they attended a high honors school, and takes him under his wing, guiding him into the advisory position that Gabe was meant to inherit, if not for him being so meek. Aiden is egotistical while Gabe is incredibly self-depricating.

    Due to Aiden getting the job that Gabe was meant to have, Gabe looks up to as well as secretly slightly resents Aiden, while Aiden secretly resents Gabe for being born into a life where he did not have to really work as hard for power. As children, both Aiden and Gabe were bullied-- Gabe for being a failure to his father, and Aiden for being assumed to be a traitor due to his father. Because of this, they naturally drifted towards each other and became fast friends, especially as Aiden would stand up for Gabe (seeing him as an opportunity to redeem himself, even at a young age), although they both took very different paths. Gabe looked up to Aiden much like he did his father, Aiden saw Gabe as competition due to his birthright (keep your friends close, but your enemies closer) although he didn't truly think Gabe would ever attempt to rise to power. Together, they often explored the city that their fathers essentially founded and pretended to be soldiers. They are still friends when the story opens, Gabe still looks up to Aiden. Aiden is more than likely going to be the one that gives Gabe the task to search for the rebel leader, knowing that Gabe will do whatever he says in order to prove himself.

    The second point that you bring up is interesting! I never really thought about starting them out on more equal levels, mostly because I felt like Aiden would be the only one to give Gabe an opportunity to prove himself by searching for the rebel leader.

    There are three positions in the political conflict,

    Rebels- Looking to take back their land, they feel like they have been cheated out of land and money that they deserve, and expect that they are being systematically exterminated by the city's government through forced famine and radiation poisoning in order to reign complete control over the land. They really are represented by the farming community as well as the sympathizers in the city who feel like the city's government has unjustly destroyed the community of survivors merely for resources and power. However, the initial uprising failed horribly due to the farming community being crippled by starvation and poisoning, while already being underpopulated and unarmed besides the guns they stole from the city (which I really need to decide on a name for). The rebel leader that is the first focus of Gabe's attention was in fact killed in this first uprising by Gabe's father as well as Aiden, who now poses as the rebel leader during attacks (as well as pays multiple other people to pose as). The search is used as a facade to further convince the citizens that the rebellion is actually happening. The new rebels are primarily made up by a special secret sector of the city's army who is trained specifically to attack the city in 'safe' ways in order to instill fear in the citizens and cause them to band together in hatred of the rebels rather than question the government, who is 'doing everything they can to save the citizens'. (Think 911 conspiracy theories.) Not only that, but these 'rebels' are being used by Aiden in order to kill off his competitors in politics as well as potential whistleblowers. There are true rebels, however, who stand for the initial reasons of uprising, unaware that the rebel warfare that is occurring over the course of the story's timeline is facilitated completely on both sides entirely by the government. They are allowed to live in order to further the idea that the rebellion is 'actually happening'.

    There are the independent drug lords who traffic illegal bio-enhancing drugs to both sides, who don't answer to anyone, even Aiden who has attempted to control them. These drug traffickers were initially led by the original rebel leader, who used the funds gained by selling the drugs in order to fund an army. They operate outside of the control of either the rebels or Aiden, and are a strong variable. Their attacks on the city are actual points of interest and fear as they are not carefully decided by the city's government. They primarily attack those who get in the way of their drug business, such as politicians who want to legalize the bio-enhancing drugs, as well as those who refuse to pay. They have their own mercenaries. I don't know exactly what they stand for, if they stand for anything at all.

    The government merely wants complete control, and have gained this by creating this false rebellion. Both sides are almost completely in their hands; they control commerce and essentially the known world after the (undecided) apocalypse. They believe that if their people stand up in hatred against a common enemy, they will not rise up against the government. They are doing all the communist things they do to 'save the people from themselves'. I'm not sure what they stand for either, they just really want control, haha. They are led by a figurehead named Mark who directly contrasts Aiden and becomes an important point of interest later in the story. Mark truly wants the best for his people, but is kept in the dark as to what is actually happening to his people by the Council of advisors and cabinet members he has, as they want him to remain 'pure' in order to continue the facade. If the leader believes there is a rebellion going on, then he will be more likely to try to destroy the remainder of the community and build industry there, as well as continue to unintentionally brainwash the citizens of the city. I want to make him important but I don't know how to really ease him into the story.

    That's a good idea! I may add a character in my story like that, but the protagonist (at first) and the antagonist truly support the city's government. Later the protagonist wises up after eventually figuring out what is going on, and aids the rebels in one way or another. I am not sure about that though, I always imagined him just silently leaving the city, but I guess that is no way to end the story! I am not sure where the plot will take me to as far as the last chapter goes, the resolution is definitely not in sight. I don't really know what I am working towards.

    Anyway! Thanks you guys. I hope I can get some more replies based off of what I just posted!
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you've certainly set up your scenario very well indeed. I do have one little niggle with what you've given us—although perhaps you've already got that angle covered:

    Somebody needs to be feeding this city, don't they? Who, if not the farming community. Starving and poisoning the farmers, in fact killing them off at all, is probably not a good strategy for the city fathers, is it? Somebody has to grow the food. That's usually the strength of a farmer's union. If they stop working (or die) we ALL starve.

    The solution, I suppose, would be to keep them oppressed in some way. (Serfdom, etc.) But if you kill them off, you've got a problem!

    I was shooting in the dark with some of my questions, which you've actually answered. The unequal promotion thing has been well-covered. You've managed to convince me (nearly) of the reasons for Gabe and Aiden's friendship, although it seems to have been based on dependency and hidden motive, rather than genuine affection. Have you written any scenes with them together, speaking to each other? If not, that might help crystallize the relationship a bit. See how they talk to each other. Don't just think how they should, see how they actually do. It might also be a good idea to put them both into scenes together with other people, and see how that pans out.

    While I think you've worked out your mileau very well (with the exception of how you feed the troops!) it's the characters themselves who will make this story come alive. I'd concentrate on them, if I were you.

    Show us (don't tell us) how they feel by constructing scenes with dialogue and action, get them stuck into the action, then I think you'll find this all comes together. Right now, you're presenting them to us like pieces on a game board. I don't know if your already-written manuscript reads like this, but I suspect it might, a bit. See if you can get down to Gabe and Aiden's level, get inside their heads, start walking around with them and begin to see their lives and their surroundings the way they do. I'd forget about the bigger picture when you do this. You've already determined it, and you won't go too far off course. But get down and personal with these people, and see what happens.

    And good luck! Again, this sounds very interesting and not cliched. Good start.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I can only relate my own experience. I've written scenes that may never end up in the book. But I just wrote them anyway. After I had a lot more of the structure down most of the scenes found a place, but a few of them didn't. Those, along with discarded paragraphs and sentences now reside in my "loose ends dump" file. It's emotionally easier to put them there than deleting them.

    When you are writing/imagining dialogue and thoughts, are these complete scenes? Simple paragraphs? Do they have purpose?

    My writer's critique group sometimes ask, what is the point of this scene? It differs from, is this scene interesting? I just got done rewriting a whole section (3 scenes) with, "what is the purpose", in mind. The same basic things happen in the scenes, but everything changed to answer, what does this add that the reader cares about? I expanded on the description of the city my MC is overwhelmed by. I developed the role some minor characters play revealing the nature of a culture. And I added emotional pain my MC experienced that had been there in my mind, but absent in the text.

    What's in those notebooks of yours that contribute to the story? And don't be afraid to trim off what's there but is told elsewhere in the story or isn't needed.
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's excellent advice, and it's something I do all the time. Grit my teeth and remove scenes or even chapters which were fun for me to write ...but didn't really contribute to moving the story forward. What is the purpose? Erm ...fun? Nope. Zippo. Gone. I've got a file of these tucked away. Someday they may find their way into another story!
     
  11. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Like others have said, just write. Sadly, you'll never get a novel perfect first time around and usually you won't get close.

    So, go ahead and write the first draft of your novel. Fill the gaps between these major events with... anything! Anything you think could possibly work. Once you've got the first draft done, you can go back through it, editing things you don't like, removing unnecessary things and filling plot-holes. This often requires a lot of re-writing, but it's what needs to be done.

    So yeah, write your novel. It'll probably be bad, but it'll be a start and after that you can only improve it.
     
  12. stronglydisagree
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    stronglydisagree New Member

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    That's a good point! I will keep that in mind. Developing plot points based off of purpose has been a major motive for me but I guess I can't really know what each plot point is working towards until I write enough to know where the story is going.
     
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    stronglydisagree New Member

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    Oh goodness I didn't even think of this hahah! Thanks for bringing that up. I was stuck on the idea of bringing in some Holomodor elements but I guess that won't really work with the city being in the resourceless position they are in.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    However, you could use this to your advantage. Controlling the farmers would be a great way to control power in the city, wouldn't it?
     
  15. stronglydisagree
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    stronglydisagree New Member

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    It would indeed be! I will have to find a happy medium, that's for sure. The malnutrition of children could force many families to give their children up to the state, who will eventually join the city soldiers in the efforts against the farming community. I could develop a character out of that!

    As an update, I've actually made some progress in my story; I'm still not sure where to go after the funeral though-- but there has been some character development and backstory introduction done.
     

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