1. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Short Story Plot Size (The Goldilocks Conundrum)

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by JJ_Maxx, Aug 16, 2013.

    This is the biggest issue I have with trying to think of a plot for my short story. Some plots are too large for a short story. Some are too small.

    For example, a man overthrows a government, too large. A woman finds her lost car keys, too small.

    I need to think of a plot that is interesting enough to entertain a reader, but not too complicated that I have to crowbar a ton of information or scenes in it.

    For instance, I was thining of entering the recent contest for 'The Discovery' but most of my initial ideas were too large and I couldnt think of a conflict to go with it. I'm trying to think more outside of the box so to speak.

    Anyone else have this problem?
     
  2. badgerjelly
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    badgerjelly Member

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    I wish I could help but I tend to steer clear of "plot" based narratives. I like to discover what is going to happen myself. Not all writers like this method but it certainly works for me.

    Another idea would be to just pick a theme and then open a book and pick out a few random words then try to wrap those words around the theme. Sometimes though I guess the imagination just doesn't want to know so you have to sleep on it.
     
  3. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    I don't really understand this method, though. I can't just sit down to write a short story and start with a random character going to the grocery store and see what happens.
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Really? The story doesn't always have to go somewhere; just go for it and see where it takes you. I find it really helps my writing. Then again, not everything works for everyone. :)
     
  5. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Ah, well I am one of those methodical structure-driven writers. I first imagine a medium-sized plot, then start building the acts. I like the six act structure myself.

    For instance, when I wrote my short story 'Blackout' about two kids who are surviving in a post-apocalyptic world without their parents, I first thought of the premise, then broke it down into it's corresponding parts.

    STAGE 1: The Setup - Peter and Jenna are trying to live, forcibly sequestered in their house by the government to protect them from excessive solar radiation.

    STAGE 2: The New Situation - The food rations supplied by the government are becoming too tainted by radiation to eat.

    STAGE 3: Progress - Jenna and Peter decide its healthier to skip some of the meals, rather than eat them all.

    STAGE 4: Complications and Higher Stakes - The radiation level continues to rise and not eating is no longer an option.

    STAGE 5: The Final Push & Climax - With final confirmation from the government that the poisonous food will not stop for many years, they search for anti-radiation medicine. Instead, they find their parents secretly stored years worth of clean food for them.

    STAGE 6: The Aftermath - Peter and Jenna survive the food shortage.

    I try to keep my stories as structured as I can and that's how I write. Of course, that's not for everybody, but it works for me. ;)
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm completely with you here, JJ. I had someone in a different thread say something to me to the tune of "what if you find out that the two are getting along just fine" with respect to two characters in conflict. These kinds of statements are as foreign and devoid of meaning to me as Quechua.

    As regards your original question, my answer is yes and no. No, in that when I get an idea for a story, I write it to the size that fits. Yes, in that I have tried to take a story that I felt particularly happy with and flesh it out into something larger and it just didn't pan out. A great deal of the perfection of the story was tied to its length.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know. I think you could make a good short story about either of these :)
     
  8. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Lost keys, maybe if you added other elements.

    I would like you to overthrow a government in 3k words and have the reader care. ;)
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree with jjmaxx... one is limited only by one's imagination... and a fiction writer's imagination should know no bounds... the trick is simply to focus on one small aspect of the 'large' issue and expand upon the 'small' one...

    examples:
    the leader of a successful insurrection learns that one of the vanquished government supporters he just had executed was his only grandson...

    a woman finds her lost car keys too late to make an important appointment on time, but by doing so, just missed having been caught in a major car pile-up in which many died...
     
    JJ_Maxx, jazzabel and BritInFrance like this.
  10. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    I don't plan my stories. I have many stories that have started off as Weekly Short Story Comp entries but then have evolved (so never entered them). I start with an idea: for example the idea for my first entry in the WSSC the theme was The Storm (which I won - my first and - so far - last!). I thought of what that could mean and came up with suppressed Anger. The character then wrote the story.

    I have tried your approach JJ but it doesn't work for me (but it really works for you).

    Maia - loved your examples (I only wish I could 'like' it more than once).
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thanks for the 'once' in any case, mon cher ami! [or is it 'ma chere amie'?]
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    All my stories are, even if extremely loosely, based on some real event I want to explore in some way. I can build a universe around a short story, or keep it as a short story. Just think, which small story out of the very big one that is possible, you want to tell this time? If you think of loads of add-ons and subplots, write them all down, they may be useful later for a new project.

    I also write in a structured way, music to my ears. I believe it results in much better writing, at least for someone who needs structure :D
     
  13. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although I don't completely agree with it, I once heard the following: A short story is about the most important event in a person's life, whereas a novel is about the most important time in a person's life.

    I think there are a lot of exceptions both ways here, but I have found it helpful sometimes in trying to come up with short stories -- focusing on one particular, specific event that could be part of a larger "time" or slower-moving change. (Or not -- it could just be about one particular, concrete event, and maybe that's all you have to say about these characters.)
     
  14. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Like your use of crowbar here!
    Gosh, I'd have a hard time writing if I had to plan everything. I used to work this way. I'd plan, chart organize but then the whole staredown with the blank piece of paper would always scare me off and I'd be back to planning again. During my first real draft of a story, I actually threw out the preplanned ending and came up with a dilly of a climax. I still plan a little but not everything.

    For me short stories don't need to be so wrapped up they just need to hint at an idea within a scene or two. They dance around the whole What if question...
    A woman loses her keys - what if it's a half hour before her big custody case battle with her husband who once again has grounds to call her flaky and irresponsible, what if it's during a zombiepocalpyse and her baby is left locked inside the car.
    How about a man overthrows a government - what if he blackmails the right person at lunch and brings about a change in legislature, what if he gets his hands on important data and must decide what to do with it.
    You don't even have to wrap the ideas up - maybe the man never does turn in the data he just imagines changing the government. Maybe the woman is so floored by not finding her keys that she goes straight to the liquor store and buys herself a bottle of scotch.

    Just think of an idea play the what if game - then try writing with no planning.
     

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