1. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    I've got everything but plot

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Foxe, Apr 11, 2016.

    I'm struggling with plot and I'm afraid of going in blindly, or with little direction. Moreover, I'm nervous I can't put this together... because I call myself a writer, but I feel held back by this mental block.

    This is where I am at the moment, and how I got there:

    1. Wanted to write about ex-pats in Europe; though it is not a travel story.
    2. Had a theme, a social issue that developed simultaneously as the idea
    3. Archetypes formed around the theme, from which were born the characters
    - Each character has a personality and, moreover, portrays the characteristics that link to thematic points.
    4. I have scene ideas that develop and reveal character
    5. I'm now working on (struggling with) plot.

    I do wonder how to go about this, actually, since this is not necessarily a plot driven story but character development, characters' internal struggles and dynamic between individuals with conflicting desires.

    My concern is creating a compelling story, whose plot points are revealing of human condition, that are not so mundane that they bore, but still firmly grounded in reality - so not necessarily high-octane scenes, so to speak. The problem is, I am having trouble finding that.

    I need your help.

    Not to sound snobbish, but does anyone know some resources that pertain to 'literary fiction' plot/story development. I feel like a failure as a writer asking for help for something so fundamental as plot, but I'm attempting character driven writing for the first time as a large (novel) project.

    Any help, actually, would be much appreciated.

    Thanks!
     
  2. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    I'm no expert by any means and I struggle with plot as well.
    I can get a basic idea then everything falls apart.
    I do know that I have to write to discover the story. I'm a pantser.

    I don't know if this will help but Steven James says don't ask what happens next, but ask what goes wrong? Write that and see what happens. Write several 'what-goes-wrong' scenarios and see where that might take you.
     
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  3. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    I found that plots and subplots are easier to get started when I use the theme to assign characters concrete goals tied to their theme goals. For example, the theme is Forgiveness, Joe wants Revenge (mirror image of Forgiveness) and to achieve it, he must kill his father's murderer. Now I have to give my protagonist a plan, and figure out ways for the antagonist to try to stop him. Give your secondary characters goals and you have spines for subplots.
     
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  4. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    That's very good advice, @KevinMcCormack ! I will take this into account.
    What happens when the antagonist is not necessarily a person, but some less tangible, like a decision, a way of thinking, a way of being?
    Perhaps it's a matter of tying a character to that antagonistic theme or element even if they aren't exactly the traditional 'villain'?
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like that. Don't ask what happens next, ask what goes wrong. That's a great story motivator.
     
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  6. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Sounds like a drama with some thriller involved. But as both @jannert and @aguywhotypes have already stated: Don't ask what happens next, but ask what goes wrong.

    Or in my own words: Take your mundane plot, and then figure out a way for shit to hit the proverbial fan. :superlaugh:

    Either way you word it, it all ends up in the same general direction. Well good luck and have fun. :p
     
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  7. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    I'll start constructing the fan immediately.
    Thanks all!
     
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  8. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    For me, I had a character and a theme and I had some kind of basic character development. The plot took a lot longer to figure out, and it changed quite dramatically over a year. This was a year of carrying note books around with me. I had an idea and scribbled it down, and as much info I could about that idea, so it wouldn't be forgotten. Most of these ideas were throw away, or didn't fit my project. But with each idea I had, I would combine with another idea, until something clicked and I could say 'that's original'. From that idea, I developed a worst case scenario and built my plot around that.
     
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  9. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    That sounds like you're describing a Character Flaw rather than an Antagonist... I personally think every character should have an identified flaw, regardless of whether there's an antagonist and regardless of whether you want to 'develop' the character or not... But if you're asking if they can fulfill the same role? Sure, why not?

    Another possibility is natural phenomena producing barriers. I'm thinking of the Natural Disaster genre, where the Protagonist is just trying to reunite with her family and has to dodge challenges that originate from a non-sentient universe. However, some people would regard that as Milieu, within which characters interact as Protagonists and Antagonists. For example, in Night Of The Walking Dead, the Antagonist is another refugee hiding in the cabin whose actions jeopardize our Protagonist's goal of surviving. The Zombies aren't Antagonists even though they're the reason he may not survive the night.

    Another creator of barriers is 'just plain bad luck'. However, I find this dissatisfying as a reader. But it's a valid plot mechanism and I've seen it used well occasionally. That can also be an Antagonist, I suppose... if you anthropomorphise the Fates.

    I like that when I see it... we tend to forget that the Antagonist is not necessarily the Villain. eg: in Walking Dead, I suspect the Villains are the seasonal bad guys. The Antagonists are more typically human opponents within the hero's clan that threaten the group's survival as they traverse this Milieu.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2016
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  10. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    This is different from the way I write. I usually come up with the characters and plot first, then I figure out the scenes and everything else from there. Any time I have attempted to write something based off of a scene I thought about, it never goes well.

    I suggest you just start writing and see what comes of it.
     
  11. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    I've had success (*) both ways, and that's why I appreciate there's more than one way to get a story going. I would say that I often have a climax scene in my mind as a startingpoint, which has characters I can sketch out, but now I need to figure out how they got here, and where they're going afterward. That forces me to undertake the theme/goal/barriers -> plot exercise before I can write any more actual scenes most of the time.

    It seems to be a back and forth function for me, with the initial plotting a sort of stream around which scenes laid out, but when I find a good barrier, the plot can take a new path like a stream around a boulder, and I'll follow that. I've scrapped scenes after the fact when they no longer fit a plot revision.


    (*) At this point in my embryonic wannabe writer career, I consider any story I actually complete - and upon re-reading... I don't want to shred and launch the fragments it into the sun - to qualify as a 'success'.
     
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  12. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    I'm quoting myself here, as part of penance for missing the obvious... I should have laid out the comparable conflict types instead of barfing up all those weird examples.

    Man Vs Man <- this is where you find an Antagonist in the classic sense
    Man Vs Nature <- nature as antagonist? why not
    Man Vs Self <- very puzzling question about self as antagonist, see below
    Man Vs Society <- society as antagonist? ask Margaret Thatcher

    Wikipedia's reference isn't bad: [Conflict]

    Open question I was noodling recently: dissocative identity disorder (*) as a plot device... is that man vs man or man vs self? (probably just academic, but it's all I could think about last night while exercising)


    (*) First rule of DID Club: Nobody tells their alternative personalities about DID Club.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2016
  13. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    One of your characters wants to alter a prevalent social norm or belief found in many ex-pat communities in europe because of a horrible tragedy in his (recent?) past caused by said social norm. He and a few close friends develop a plan and, as is the way of plans, it falls apart as soon as they put it into effect. They are driven from their initial expat community and forced into a sort of running propaganda battle in which they try to spread their ideas while staying ahead of their detractors. After a dozen or so incidents, some funny, some brutally sad, most somewhere in between, they are eventually cornered and the MC must make his stand.

    That is the first thing that comes to mind based on our post. Honestly, once you boil plot down to its simplest elements most great stories become incredibly simple. Try to develop the simplest, most fundamental and straightforward idea that accomplishes your vision for the story and start from there. The most profound moments in literature I have experienced come from characterization and language, not plot. I rarely find myself thinking of a particularly interesting plot element years after finishing a book. I often find myself repeating a favorite character's words or recalling his actions. To a lesser degree I will recall a particularly artful turn of phrase.

    But truly, characters, characters, characters. They contain universes within them. They will illuminate the human condition you seek to convey more than the plot.

    Even a trip to the grocery store can be riveting if you are with the right people.
     
  14. Indefatigable Id
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    Indefatigable Id Member

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    If you have a theme, as you say, then you know what you want to talk about. Try to make up scenarios where your characters have to face issues and make tough choices. Where they have to learn something to go on. Always put people in no-win situations or spots where the way forward is obscured by dark clouds or some shit. Whatever they're not prepared for (characters) make them face it. If it scares you a little bit to think about something, or if it makes you uneasy, that's probably a good place to start. So if your character is a fundamentalist Christian, maybe they have to be there for a sister who has to deal with the decision to keep or abort her baby... If the one thing a character fears is hospitals and needles, maybe they end up being bit by a snake and have to be airlifted to a hospital to receive treatment. Who the hell knows? Surprise us.

    Plot is a sequence of things that happen, truly. Can't you think of even two or three things you definitely want to have happen in your story and in what order they might happen?
     
  15. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    Think of this analogy,

    You come across a house in winter and see footprints running all over it. That's plot.

    All you've got to do is have a good inciting incident (someone wakes up to discover their house is on fire). If your characters are well-written, they'll take care of the plot.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 14, 2016
  16. JD Anders
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    @Foxe it sounds like you are in the same place I am. I too am trying to write more in the vein of literary fiction than anything else, and I too have characters and a theme (or three) I'd like to address.

    It's easy to simply say "the characters create the plot." While that is true to some extent, it can almost be a cop out to true advice. Again, not that it's wrong or unhelpful, but because it cuts you short of mulling ideas and truly searching for the best plot. Yeah, the characters will many times take your story to a place you didn't expect at the beginning of your writing, but they still need a hand to guide them along. In stories, you as the author are the god. Putting the characters in a place to succeed in telling the story is your job.

    As such, when you struggle doing that just as I do, it's usually beneficial to talk through it and bounce ideas off of others who are knowledgable of your characters or what you hope to accomplish. Having different perspectives can expose an idea that previously had been hiding from you. Whether you ultimately use the suggestions another person helps you to or not, it is a useful exercise in plot creation. I'd be more than willing to be a sounding board for you if you'd like.
     
  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't feel like a failure - why do you think there's even a subforum called "Plot Development" in the first place? Because many of us struggle with this area. If every time you struggled with an aspect of writing you called yourself a failure - then well, we'd all be perpetual failures!

    And yeah... I also struggle with plot. I've finally realised now why after 5 years my WIP is still not done.

    Anyway, through my many years of agonising over my unfinished WIP, I think I've figured out what plot is. The story would be something like: How Tom becomes a man. While the plot would be a series of events that lead to him becoming a man, for example: Tom messes up. Tom runs away. Tom finally goes back to face the consequences. Hey it looks like I'm talking about Lion King... Anyway - plot is a series of events, so you just gotta think: what happens? Think of the scenes you already have in your head - how did the character get there? Join the dots up to each milestone.

    Btw I'm an expat in Europe! :D
     
  18. BruceA
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    BruceA Senior Member Supporter

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    Me too!

    Back to the OP:
    It has taken me many years to realise that for me I need to let the characters tell the story. I have tried to write out a detailed plot but get stuck. I now start with a character (or more) in a place and then let things develop from there. This works for me (I write short stories) but I know other people hate this way of working. I often have a rough idea of where things are going to end up, but have fun letting the characters appear from the page. Often it is in the editing that the story takes shape (I am one of those weird people that enjoys the editing process). Just try writing a few scenes and see what happens.
     
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  19. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    The approach I took to plotting was to read books on screenplay writing. They seem to be the only ones that actually broach the subject of plot as structure instead of something nebulous a writer pulls out of his/her ass as they go along.

    I still consider myself a beginner even though I've been writing off and on for over 50 years. And because of that, each time I come up with an idea for a story, I do a plot-point outline based on the ideas put forth in Save the Cat! and Techniques of the Selling Writer (Snyder and Swain, respectively).

    I know it's running a risk that everything I write will be the same as every movie slapped up on the silver screen over the last 40 years, but I do my best to treat this list of plot points more as a safety net than a hard-n-fast set of rules. I sometimes think of it as a road map and if I wander out into a field, that's cool because I know how to get back to the road. And the fields are sometimes where the most interesting stuff lies.

    A story has to have hills and valleys (according to Swain) and this is the fastest way I know to make sure they're in there. Considering I'm currently working on a novel I started writing over a year ago (based on a drawing I did in 1985 and a first chapter I wrote almost 20 years ago) and it looks like I've got months and months more work to do... well... speed is of the essence.

    So, if you want my two cents, read everything you can about how to construct a plot, jot one down, then pants your way from plot point to plot point. And when you're done with that draft, go back and make sure you have little hills and valleys—the stumbling blocks, potholes, and trees lying across the road—the obstacles your character should find in each and every scene.

    Then send it off to a beta reader to find out what you did right and wrong.

    And never assume that because you think it's your final draft—and everything is perfect—that it actually is perfect. It won't be. And that assumption can lead to devastation.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2016
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  20. Callista Reina
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    Callista Reina Member

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    While I agree that there is more to plot than your characters, I think the idea of "plot growing from characters" means that you have to know your characters well enough to know what types of situations will cause the most conflict for them, as well as knowing how they would respond. Knowing your characters well enough to know how they would struggle with the situation you put them in, as well as how they would solve it, is how your characters steer plot. Basically, the plot should grow organically out of your characters, but, as @JD Sanders says, you are the one who has to put them in those situations in order to see how they react. But you still have to know them well enough to know what kind of situation or conflict to put them in in order to develop plot.
     
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  21. Sack-a-Doo!
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    I do it the other way around, start with a plot and find characters who make the plot work. I find it's less work that way. Some will say that's ass-backwards, but it does work.

    And, for my money, it's more like life. When a challenge comes along, society seeks out the right person to deal with it... or the right person comes along and says, "This looks like it needs my skill set." Either way, the plot demands a certain character.

    Where it gets interesting, in both fiction and life, is when the character sent out to deal with the plot event is ill-equipped. One of the many books I read about writing stated that, at the beginning of a story, you should put the MC as far from the goal as possible. How better to do that than to have an ill-equipped MC? Then you can watch the bugger struggle and sweat until he finally learns something that will help him solve the problem.
     
  22. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    This also contributes to relatability of the character, as a fully prepared person seems improbable. There's also risk of Mary Sue if the character is set up to win.

    However, this depends on what type of story you're writing, and brings me back to Character versus Plot driven stories... an appealing character can carry an otherwise dull plot. Waiting for Godot, for example. I have to admit that the first time I saw that, I was hoping that when Godot finally showed up, he would turn out to be a violent abusive asshole and inject some conflict and give me an action scene.
     
  23. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    I'm glad everyone contributed to this thread; it's helped me out quite a bit, actually!
    What stood out was the idea of asking 'what goes wrong?' and I think that has led to some good questions being asked.
    In fact, for this project especially being a character-driven story, I will spend a lot more time developing the characters to essentially let them dictate the direction.
    Thanks everyone!

    If anyone wants to talk plot one on one, send me a PM! Gonna be saving this thread.
     
  24. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    The idea of an idea being the antagonist is a powerful one. Brings back themes of V for Vendetta to me (specifically the movie, never read the comic).
     
  25. Sidetrack
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    If you know your character well, then ask what is the best thing that could ever happen to them? Give it to them. Now take it away. Your plot will be trying to get it back. Develop at least three major struggles that progressively get more difficult and raise the stakes. Make the last struggle the one that seems impossible to solve. In fact, you should think of something that immediately you think is impossible. It should take you awhile to figure out how they will get out of this situation. Now, the audience will be surprised, because you have done your homework on that hardest one!

    You can also think of it this way: What is the worst possible thing that could happen? Now, put them in that situation. Three major attempts again. All progressive, more interesting than the others. Only on the third one will they finally achieve their goal. Or maybe not? What story are you writing. Maybe it's an ironic ending. They loose something, but gain something.

    Subplots work the same way.
     

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