1. GrimStories
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    GrimStories Member

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    One way of keeping plot tight and solid...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by GrimStories, Sep 5, 2010.

    One thing which helps me greatly is I don't use the notion of 'plot'. Taking something from a play writing class for my fiction, I adopted the 'major dramatic question'-what question does my story answer? (I do this with fiction and nonfiction and it helps me greatly.)

    This helps with personal clarity, makes the 'plot' concise and keeps it in mind for the flow. It also helps market it for the proposal/query, the back jacket of the book, and for selling the notion to the publisher. It helps greatly with the 'elevator blurb', the short explaination of what what the book is about, told in seconds.

    For example, if I were to explain the plot of Romeo and Juliet, it might get involved, however, if I simply ask the question of myself "What would happen to lovers belonging to feuding families?" or the classical words to the effect of 'What would happen to star crossed lovers.', it'd be quicker. (Yes, the very successful Bard used this technique.)
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    What you are calling plot is really storyline. Your major dramatic question is really one way of looking at a central plot, but it won;t work well with ALL central plots.

    A plot consists of an actor, a goal or objective, a motivation, and an opposition. The motivation and opposition are opposing forces which aid and resist, respectively, the actor's progress toward the goal/objective. Most stories have more than one plot driving the flow of the story, but often there is a principal, or central, plot.

    Please read What is Plot Creation and Development? for more detail.
     
  3. GrimStories
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    GrimStories Member

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    A major damatic question would work for the vast majority of stories and it's a helpful technique for many writers in marketing their books.

    I'd slightly disagree that I'm using 'plot' for storyline because the story line develops from the plot or the major dramatic question, they are tied closely together.
     
  4. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    That's... uh... wow, you wrote a post! Good job.
     
  5. GrimStories
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    GrimStories Member

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    Odd...

    I was sharing a great technique for staying focused, marketing the book, writing the back cover, etc., all rolled up in one.
     
  6. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Yes, he shared a good tip. Which means, by inductive reasoning, that he wrote a post...:cool:
     
  7. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    But you can have the same plot with a different storyline and also the same general series of events (storyline) with a different plot.
     
  8. GrimStories
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    GrimStories Member

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    Oh definitely. I don't agree with the belief that every store has been written and there's only X number of different stories, but there are many stories which share the same core major dramatic question, many, many of them.
     
  9. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, either way I guess it's good to think of how you can summarise your storyline in the most basic terms.

    Also really useful to think what each scene is saying, in the most simplistic terms, in, like, less than a sentence.
     
  10. GrimStories
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    GrimStories Member

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    Yes, the elevator blurb! (One is supposed to imagine that you're in an elevator going up a few floors with the publisher of your dreams in there and he or she asks what you're working on.)
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree if I had given more thought to my plot and story outlines wouldn't now be struggling over the the few hundred words that stand between me and sending my book to an agent. IE the synopsis.
     
  12. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, even when it's not publishers but just friends asking, I do need to come up with a good way to summarise my stories that won't have them thinking I'm a total spaz, because I usually just remember the latest thing I wrote rather than the whole plot, so I'm like, "lol, ur, it's this guy on a train..." and then I backtrack in a rambling and confusing way down to the point of the story...

    I suck at conversation generally. :D
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Writers often do. That's why we write instead of talk.
     
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  14. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    This strikes me as very similar to what some published writers have said: that if you are an inexperienced writer, it is easy to spend your time focusing on individual words and phrases rather than making sure every scene, every chapter, drives the plot and the story forward.

    If you write two 80,000 word novels each year, and spend just two seconds thinking about each word before you put it down, over the year you will lose more than 85 hours to your hesitation. If you have a high typing speed, that means you've lost several short stories or a couple novellas every year -- assuming that you write those stories in the mindset of "I have this great idea, let's just pound this story out and not get stuck revising until it's entirely finished."

    Not that most of us hesitate over each word, but many of us do the equivalent. We write a couple paragraphs and then spend five minutes agonizing over whether it sets the scene quickly enough. Then we write another two paragraphs, rinse and repeat. Or we write down a word, hesitate, delete it, and choose another -- then go back to the first one.

    Doing this stuff occasionally is fine. But there are many new writers who do this all the time. I know because their final drafts are riddled with spelling and grammar errors -- which means they don't have a sense of how to artfully use vocabulary yet, and are probably dashing off to the thesaurus or dictionary every other minute.

    If you can trick yourself into focusing on the overall story rather than on each individual sentence, you will save yourself a lot of time. This doesn't mean that you no longer care about the sentences; it just means that you make sure each scene fits with the overall story you want to tell, which avoids those horrible moments during your first re-read when you come across a whole section that is fine but contributes nothing to the story.

    And that seems to be what Grim is advocating here. Don't agonize over each word; after a while, after several million words both read and written, you can trust that the sentences you pick will be at least adequate. But make sure the story is told well -- with decently portrayed characters, a focused plot instead of meandering subplots growing like kudzu, reasonable pacing.

    More stories have been accepted with okay prose and a great story than with excellent line-by-line prose and a dull or terrible story.

    If you want to learn this firsthand, buy some self-published books and read them. I recommend Angry Ghosts for a great example of prose that is good, and a storyline that at times is quite decent -- but which spends so much time on subplots that the main plot is never resolved. Alternately, if you hate yourself, purchase The Shadow Mouse of Everjade. The description is fine; it just doesn't contribute to the story in any way. And it will add the phrase "cheese flavored with bacon" permanently to your poor abused psyche.

    Or, if you have kids who are in the right age bracket, you might get Explorer X-Alpha. Again, the prose is fine, barring homophone errors. (Can't expect everything from vanity presses ...) And honestly, the action is neat and the characterization is really good, considering there are about ten different kids that the plot revolves around. But the plot meanders, and the author hasn't learned yet that it's better to skip over the science than get it wrong, and again, the main plot isn't solved by the end of the book. (It's still a fun read, which is why I'm recommending it; the book reminded me of K.A. Applegate's "Remnants" series.)

    Then look at One Second After, the book I love to hate. The writer got a lot of things wrong. Much of the writing was clumsy, the worldbuilding was non-subtly misogynistic, and the guy wouldn't know proper use of placement if it kissed him. But the story is there -- and the book focuses on the overall tragedy very, very well, which is why it's a bestseller despite having prose worse than what I was writing at age 16.

    Story matters. Story story story. Not individual sentences. A good story will prop up crappy writing. A poor story is at best difficult to save no matter how awesome your writing is; see Moby Dick, a classic whose readers skip about a third of the book because we don't give a crap about harpoon making, we want to get back to chasing that friggin whale. Good prose. Poor story -- which becomes far better when you chop out the irrelevant scenes.
     
  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This post is just wrong in many ways.

    First, it’s not an either/or situation. It’s important to focus on both the story and the “words and phrases” used to tell it. As Mark Twain said: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

    I recoiled when I read this. Does anybody really think like this? Does anybody really make this kind of calculation? Are we all just hacks trying to pound out as much crap as we possibly can before we die?

    Of course we should think about the words and phrases and sentences we’re using to tell our stories. We should devote serious effort towards making them as good as possible. Hemingway said that he rewrote the last page of A Farewell To Arms thirty-nine times just to get the words right. Granted, he may have been exaggerating (he was known for being quite a blowhard, after all), but I’m willing to believe he sweated over that page. Most good writers, and nearly all great writers, take great care with their prose because they’re concerned with getting it right.

    And if typing speed matters, you’re a typist, not a writer.

    I don’t know whose drafts you’ve been reading, but it seems to me that this is entirely backwards. Someone whose final drafts are riddled with spelling and grammar errors is someone who did not think carefully about their prose. Careful, responsible writers make sure it’s right.

    “Adequate” is a miserable target to aim for. Good writers try to write as well as they possibly can. Of course the story has to be good, but it also has to be told well, and that means it has to be written well. That means the right words, the right sentences, in the right order.

    (Forehead hits desk HARD) Once again, this is implying that these are mutually exclusive. They are not. If you’ve got a great story, you have an artist’s obligation to tell it with “excellent line-by-line prose”, or as near to it as you can possibly manage.

    I think you’d be surprised how many people actually read and enjoy Moby Dick. All of it, I mean. For a novel with a “poor story”, it’s doing pretty well – still in print 150 years after its first publication.
     
  16. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I get what you mean, HeinleinFan. I make that mistake all the time, and am slowly learning to get the main story down before making every scene perfect. Great post.
     
  17. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    I get it too, Heinlein, and I agree. I actually was telling myself this very same thing the other day. I need to stop being tripped up by the non-stop editing of the same few paragraphs before I move on and just write the story, then go back and fine-tooth it (again and again of course.) Otherwise, I will be forever in this hiccup mode of writing which is extremely uninspiring and unmotivating (for me.)
     
  18. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    @Minstrel: I think you missed the key word in the first paragraph: inexperienced.

    What drafts have I been reading? Self-published stories. Stories from writing classes at a local college. Stories from the Review Room here. Seriously, take a look yourself. As I write this, one of the newest WritingForum threads is "Does this first line work?" Not even kidding, there is someone who is so focused on line-by-line writing rather than story that he/she has submitted the first line for review, without telling us anything about the story overall.

    You're right, of course, that an experienced writer such as, well, all the ones you quoted, will have learned how to pay attention to both the line-by-line prose and the overall story. But what about the newbies? Many writers start out with a poor understanding of how to write. (Heck, neither one of us is published yet, and both of us write regularly.)

    Many new writers do not yet have any confidence in their abilities, either. So they do endless research, they write up word translations for their fantasy world, they do endless rewriting of scenes that don't even move the plot along, and the result is predictable. You end up, all too often, with writing that is okay (though some new writers still haven't learned proper grammar and spelling either) but doesn't move the reader through an interesting story, because the writer has focused so much on each sentence that they've lost track of the need for rising tension and foreshadowing and scenes that build on one another.

    The one point on which we seem to truly disagree is on output. You apparently aren't interested in being a professional writer -- which I define as a person who makes a significant portion of their annual income from the stories they have written.

    You've no doubt heard of NaNoWriMo, when thousands of people write 50,000 words in a single month, so I think it's clear that many people can write a decently sized novel over two months. For a pro writer, it's entirely reasonable to write 80,000 words over two months, revise it over the next two, send that novel off, and then repeat the process, with an additional 4 months reserved for research, dealing with rewrites and book signing tours, or writing short fiction -- which can add up, by the way, when you write under several names or in several genres and only send to magazines that pay pro rates.
     
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    We agree on that. I did see that person's post, and you'll notice that I commented on it.

    Well, I'd love to be a professional writer, but I don't think it's a very realistic ambition for me. I like writing for the sake of the art, and I'd rather write one book that's still read and considered a classic a hundred years from now than write fifty books that will all be out of print the day after I'm dead.

    I've heard of NaNoWriMo, but have not participated. I did participate in the screenplay version, called ScriptFrenzy, and nearly completed my project on time, which is kind of amazing for me. I decided, though, that I really don't like writing screenplays and I now want to rewrite my screenplay as a novel.

    I've read Stephen King's On Writing and marveled at his productivity. I have my doubts that there are many writers out there who have the ability to do what King does. Even King can't do it to a consistently high quality standard, judging from the relatively small amount of his stuff that I've read. But no matter - he's a phenomenally successful writer and I can't argue with that.

    Sorry about my negative reaction to your previous post. It's just that you kinda said that excellent prose doesn't matter, and that's guaranteed to set me off. I'm a fan of excellent prose. Downplaying the importance of excellent prose to me is like yelling "Red Sox suck!" in Fenway Park.

    :)
     

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