1. Toomanypens
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    Toomanypens Member

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    Simple blueprint for planning a story

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Toomanypens, Dec 22, 2015.

    Hey there,
    Please be nice, I'm new here (but not new to writing)
    I'm just trying to get past this sticking point I have regarding plot (for very simple stories),
    In order to get past the tendency I'm having to overcomplicate things I'm making sure to stick to a blueprint,
    Below is what I have got so far and I'd appreciate some additions if any are apparent to you,

    The genre is sci-fi or drama (just general stuff you see around)

    6 element structure
    Who - establishing the character's style and approach to things
    Collision course - a coming tragedy/conflict/meeting
    First reactions - chemistry between characters and setting the goal
    Opposition - who or what is really stopping them, and why they deserve to be the victor
    Clash - everything has to come out at some point if they are to overcome
    Message and take away - why were juxtapositions made, why did characters have certain outcomes and their feelings about it

    Show don't tell
    Convoluted structures and repetition in my writing seem to be coming from the show don't tell principle and straying away from it. As a response to it getting murky I get more aggressive and try to make the story hold more meaning and BLAM the book gets too complicated. In order to avoid this I'm trying to define HOW I want to be achieving the above goals in a show don't tell way.

    Satisfying the "who"
    - One STRIKING establishing scene (introducing comedy, a twist from expectation, and a reason to stay hooked)
    - One outside of "their element" scene (showing how the world sees them)
    - One flaw or shortcoming that introduces a meaning to the upcoming story (if they are vain they will grow as a person, if they are shy they will grow in confidence, if they are a killer they will try to stop)

    The "collision course"
    - You should define who or what CAN affect them (government changes, introduction to a group/belief, an inspiration, a deadline)
    - How BIG is this thing coming for them, how unlikely are they to survive or solve it, and how can the audience relate? What emotion does this cause, and what stake does it set? (think "Taken" where they estalish that in 3 days the girl will never be found again, and the intense anxiety that drives a father with his skills to take on an entire organisation)

    The "first reaction"
    - What resources do they have, what positions can they take, what philosophy is going to be followed? And why are they confident upon this direction being taken?
    - When it hits them, what emotions does it stir up in them they were not expecting? And what image do they portray under pressure?
    - How weak is this initial strategy according to the audience and what problems will they predict the character will have? (potentially have others in the story reflect those concerns)

    The "opposition"
    - What directly opposes their progression?
    - What makes it interesting?
    - Why is it BETTER that they go THROUGH the opposition rather than around it?

    The "clash"
    - Is it instant? Is it quiet? What is the atmosphere like compared to expectation, and how is the protagonist coping?
    - How complicated is the struggle? How different than the audience expects? What are its components?
    - Creshendo
    - Payoff

    The "moral"
    Show that you had confidence in your vision, and stand by the results and implications that have come out the other side. Give the audience a "settling" or soothing way to process what they have just seen, show them who profits, who comes up short, and help them feel the consequences of the outcome as if it had happened to themselves.
    Add a finishing style, and show who the character is now.
     
  2. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    I don't understand what your question is here. There are many ways to break down story mechanics & development. Are you asking for suggestions of different methods?
     
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  3. Toomanypens
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    Toomanypens Member

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    Mostly I'm trying to work through my own method and make it better.
    Emphasize good parts, question others.
    I'm having trouble finishing stories because they get too complex, so I'm interested in tips on how people kept it simple all the way through, and any suggestions on how I might make my own approach more realistic.
     
  4. Jaiden
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    Jaiden Member

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    My first thought was that it would be crescendo, not creshendo... :p.

    But seriously, I think that maybe you would find it easier to tell the story better once you actually know what the story is. I often find that whilst I can write massive sections of stories, it doesn't really feel connected until there is a beginning, middle, and end phases, and that I know how I intend to transition from one to the next. This usually happens once I've actually written the thing to some what of an end. Then, looking back at the sprawling mess I've undoubtedly created, I begin to hack and slash and start to make sense of it.

    I think that having regimented rules on your approach actually stifles writing, but that's just me. Making notes about your intentions, character thoughts, and why you're doing what you're doing are all good ideas though, but I would concentrate more on writing the story how you want it to be, and then maybe tailor it to some conventions after you've got it down.
     
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  5. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    If I may?

    Complex stories are not so bad. Allowing the reader to watch the characters evolve in different ways, either for the better or worse. There are no guidelines on how a story is written, but there are plenty of prefabricated models if you need them. Let the story tell itself, let it unfold as it will based on the decisions of the characters. Treat the fiction as if it were real, and it all comes together. You get what you put into it.
    -micro soapbox over. :p
     
  6. Toomanypens
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    Toomanypens Member

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    I agree of course, complex stories can be wonderful, I don't have anything against them.
    I just find them hard to complete, and while working as an article writer I found that I can complete the simpler pieces in ways that animate the audience (while complex pieces get mixed receptions).
    So I try to train myself to produce simple quality books on demand, with the goal of developing lots of sci fi and interesting concepts for people to pick up and take away.

    If I invest too much in a book often I sacrifice the real aim of getting the idea out there because I get obsessive.
    I'm not good enough yet to obsess on the content. I've been writing for maybe six years, and what I've come to learn is how little I know. So for me when things get complex I just get overwhelmed by how much I can't do, then I choke :p.

    I do aim to write complex stories when it is right to do so, but, I figure I need to earn my stripes a bit by just giving people some good old fun first. Shed my insecurities, be professional about my duty to readers, and keep it within the realms of my modest ability :).

    The rules aren't so much meant to be regimented, it is more about discipline and focusing on what can be done.
    I don't want to start sprawling all over the place otherwise when I cut the mess together I get a very unclear result that has to be rewritten. I have several books that I wrote that way, and they were impossible to market, so I ended up trashing them and starting again.

    I think of it like sculpting clay, I first figure out what I simply CANNOT do, then I figure out what I can do, then I try not to get carried away or off track as I complete it. Then once that solid draft is written, I can add flourishes and details that liven it up.

    I was writing this epic novel with six heroes, and all of them were real. Each day that I followed them it was this packed adventure and it was super fun to follow and to read. However, as I watched them develop I started to take longer and longer writing their stories. Eventually it was confusing to understand their world just like it is tough to understand the one we live in. I feel like if you make characters too real, their problems become too paralysing to wade through.

    Part of why I desire simplicity is not to erase that (I can't erase that) but to make sure that the themes expressed are simple enough to digest in one or two sittings. I don't know why but sometimes my writing gets so intense that I'll read a few pages and then be stuck thinking "I don't know how you could solve that... darn, poor you".

    If my writing gets too complex I end up doing too much "field research" where I go out looking for the answers characters need, and that slows the book down to a snails pace.


    I guess I've just come to accept the truth that I can't do it all. So instead of trying to fight up a cliff, I try to make it a hill, or I try to find a path around.
    For me right now, I don't think that middle of the road pop movies and novels are "bad", I just think they sometimes lack cool ideas to keep people excited. I want to get some great ideas out to be enjoyed and am trying to be more like a director of a film than a fussy actor. I aim to overlook the story, figure out the shots, get the best out of the characters within the context of their place in the plot, and create a "selling" angle through that plot that can please the publishing end of things.

    If it gets complex, I start losing my ability to control the context, the shots, the sales angles, and the characters change the vision too much for the original idea to be executed (which is the whole aim).

    Ha, so yeah, I'm just like every other frustrated writer :p
    And right now my enemy is being too much of an artist ;)

    So I have to kill my darlings
    Keep it simple. Keep it structured. Stay composed, and get the ideas into books, and the books into greedy little hands that want the ideas and are flexible on how its executed.
    Its easy for readers to forgive simplicity of the format, hard for them to forgive waiting on your ideas to come out.

    Or at least, thats how I've been feeling lately.
    I could be way off :p


    My list is something I created for my latest book
    I'm only past the first stage of the six, and I'm FIGHTING to get it over those hurdles
    I'm just not sure if they will do or not?


    Oh and thanks for your thoughtful responses, food for thought!
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2015
  7. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @Toomanypens Your welcome.

    Final thought for you. Be the writer you want to be. Not the writer that others want you to be. :)
     
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  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Maybe you're getting too wrapped up in the process of keeping it simple. Just a guess, but from what you've written, you've given yourself a lot of details to track in pursuit of this quest. While you may ultimately take the complexity out of the story, you've shifted the complications into your process.

    Maybe you need complexity in your life... or maybe not, so...

    While flailing around looking for a process, I found that I can bang out a draft as long as I know:
    • the climactic scene,
    • a character to follow (I don't even need to be sure it's the protagonist to start with), and
    • a place to start.
    Once I have a first draft, I:
    • go back and rip it apart,
    • do all those analyses you mentioned,
    • find the good stuff,
    • do an outline, and
    • begin again.
    Waiting until this point to see if the story fits into accepted patterns means I'm not staring at a blank page while doing so.

    And that means that for the second draft:
    • I know there's enough material to make a full-length novel (even if I have to replace half the events I have in the first draft), and
    • doing the analysis gives me the confidence that the story has structure.
    You may be trying to write the final, polished draft as a first draft and although it may not be impossible, it's a tall order and it's a lot to expect of yourself if you're new to writing.
     
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  9. WriterMMS
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    WriterMMS Member

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    Show don't tell isn't an absolute rule. Sometimes it's just better, easier and more engaging to straight up tell.
    Expostion isn't always your enemy, especially if it holds interesting information to the reader.

    What I like to do is to reveal general parts of the plot through talking, then later on people can see how things actually went down, though my novel isn't barred by the confines of time (multiple pov's set in multiple times).
     
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  10. Toomanypens
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    Toomanypens Member

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    I really like the idea you put forth that I might be shifting my complications to another aspect rather than solving the problem. Maybe I do crave complication, and I wonder why that might be? A way of justifying my efforts perhaps? Another creative way to keep closed off as a writer?

    The last couple years I've been writing a lot of story ideas down and get about 10k words deep until I see what I'm dealing with, then I hit a huge resistance when it comes to the other 90k. I've been trying from all kinds of angles to sort it out, but I lose heart because honestly I'm afraid of writing a dud. I've written a few duds and haha, they grate on me (like they should I guess). I can't seem to stand having a whole book in my hands and see how mediocre the work was compared to how hard I tried. I feel fortunate though that I SEE my errors and can learn from them, but it is such a high price to pay to go all the way and crash. That gets to me a bit for sure... and its why I hesitate to continue.

    Maybe I really am coping poorly to that stress by attempting to go too simple, its possible.

    I appreciate you sharing your method, it helps as an example of an uninhibited and balanced process.

    Hmm, if I really am coping poorly or shifting my stresses to another area, maybe I'm subtlely disrespecting the craft? Avoiding what I need to do to grow even? If that is true, maybe my disgust isn't at my dud books, but at my own unexamined mental approach. Maybe the complication is about seeking an excuse to avoid facing my real problems as a writer. Maybe what I'm really struggling with is my prose...

    Hmm, it could be anything.

    Writing ain't easy ;)
     
  11. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Nice lucid explanation. Thanks for sharing. :) I love the way you think, and organize. I also love the way you have a routine yet it's still loose/flexible enough to allow your creativity room to breathe.

    Coming from the screenwriting world I 'think' in screenplay terms. I have to begin with a valid idea, or else it's not time to start even making notes yet. If my idea is a sliver and not really solid yet, I percolate on it for a period of time until it becomes more clear to me. At this stage it may just be an impression of a character in a situation, or a certain sensation I want to explore. It may or may not develop because sometimes the flash of an idea may not really be an idea yet, even though it seems cool at the moment of conception. (The term 'half baked' comes to mind.) IOW I have a lot of 'mis-fires' ...ideas which are too tiny and never really go anywhere, can't be developed into a full plot idea.

    So once there really is a full story idea, then I try to start by writing the logline. (summarizing the whole story in 25 words or less) This can take time. Staring at the screen can help, but I prefer to work my ideas out on walks. (Long. Walks. lol) The logline is a finely tuned tool to use as a compass/guide, as an overall summarized impression of the story one is trying to tell. (yes I'm aware some people like to discover it as they type; I'm just describing my method here) Also, it's not so easy to boil that logline down in a hurry. At this stage I carry my steno book around everywhere, and make notes on napkins or whatever.

    (also, if the story changes later like I decide to switch to a different MC or something, that logline will need to be redone accordingly)

    Once I have the logline I try to type out a single page synopsis, maybe two paragraphs or maybe five or six, doesn't matter, just a single page describing the over-arching rise and fall in the larger plot, sans any details from individual scenes. This is made difficult if I haven't yet figured out the major plot turning points in the story. In a movie there are two or three plot points generally, then other minor plot targets like the page ten moment, etc. For purposes of discussing novel writing I usually scrap the screenwriting lingo and just use the general principles involved, since the craft is basically the same, just shooting for a different end-product. This single page synopsis stage is the real meat of the process, where I 'dream up' what the turning points will be, what order things will happen in, etc. This is where the time more spent thinking comes in. (more long walks, staring at the screen).

    Then I label different scenes on white index cards and spread them across a table. (sticky notes work great; and now they have index card features in software but I like real paper ones best) These cards are kinda like a 'movable chart' and I like to shuffle the order around to see how it changes the effect. I can keep adding new minor cards in between the major scenes, and I may even start color coding them for whatever reason. (major turning points in pink, regular minor scenes all in yellow, or whatever) Point is, without knowing the plot development here, you can't write that single page synopsis up there. ^^ (and before anyone says it, my hat's off to those who can do all this in their head. bravo!)

    After this, I just open a blank file in the word processor and start typing out the scenes.

    The challenge for me currently is... mapping chapters in a novel seems to be a looser process with fewer restraints and guidelines, so I'm in a learning curve right now. I think a novel requires a lot more meandering and musing over moody details and settings, or delving more into a character's head/POV. It's almost like I have too much structural freedom, lol. All of my stories are intact, completely thought out, I just have to adjust the delivery method for a different reader; one who reads novels not screenplays. Novels have elements screenplays don't have, such as thought and introspection. (and other senses)

    I'm always up for these threads on the psychology of writing, bolstering oneself, since I think it's such a key part of the whole process.

    :supersmile:
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2015
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  12. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Forgive me, but I heard Katt Williams' voice in my mind as I read that line. ;)
     
  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    I come from that world, too.

    But after doing post-grad studies in screenwriting (learning all that logline, synopsis, etc. stuff) I was so afraid I'd find out all my ideas sucked, I couldn't write anything for ten years. It was a dark and dismal time.

    I still do all that planning, but only after I've played around banging out a first draft.

    Anyway, it's nice to know I'm helping in some small way. Thanks for the nice compliments. :)
     
  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nothing to worry about, that's just Writer's Dilemma (note the title case). Everybody goes through it to one extent or another. If you weren't going through it, then you'd have cause for concern.

    We're all afraid of being stuck with duds (okay, maybe a few aren't, but they're rare and usually have other things to worry about).

    And first drafts are, with very few exceptions, duds. It's what you do with them afterwards that separates a commercial writer from a hobbyist.

    My suggest is:
    • Write with the knowledge that it's a first draft.
    • Write with the idea that it really doesn't matter what ends up on paper (while pretending to keep the story more or less cohesive).
    • Go read Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! series and
    • Dwight V. Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer.
    • Using what you learn from those books, take the material from your first draft and find the structure, write a logline, a synopsis and an outline.
    • Then use those to write a second draft.
    A first draft is like a sandbox. Play. Have fun.
     
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  15. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    @Sack-a-Doo! I feel it was great training in structure and the elements of fiction in general. But style wise, man I'm struggling lol. My learning curve is straight up in this conversion. Mainly it feels foreign to slow down so much and dwell over things that in a screenplay could be done with three words, then moving on. Also, I'm realizing my structure and story beats are completely different, things can be way out of order and some stuff from the script isn't even necessary at all so I'm cutting whole scenes. So suffice to say, I'm moving everything around into new order and expanding some thing, deleting others. It's gonna take a while. The up side is I know my story backwards and forwards, so I just gotta hammer out the nuts and bolts of the new structure, and the delivery (the actual writing).

    But it's fun. I am starting to see the novel is like the difference between a long lazy afternoon on my back patio enjoying slow deep conversation with intimate friends, absorbing all the details of weather, lighting, breeze, smells, etc (maybe aromas from a neighbor's grill next door) and last but not least the lovely smell of my beer with lime, experiencing total (S.L.O.W.) relaxation, ...and a quick drive through town pointing here and there giving the condensed high points of something that happened.

    novel / screenplay


    (Don't mistake my comment here for a lack of respect for screenwriting. After years in it I know how much goes into making a good one. I'm just saying it's a different animal than the novel. And, the quick drive I referred to mostly as a joke, was referring to the read, not the writing of it. For the record, I am still and always will be a screenwriter.) :)
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2015
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  16. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Tea@3 LOL! Sounds about right.

    Style is something that you just find one day after writing for a while. Don't worry about it. Actually, to be more accurate, it'll find you. ;)
     
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  17. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    I think you've given me my answer here.
     
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  18. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great advice but at times it seems the cat just pooped in my sandbox... guess I will work around it for now.
     
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  19. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Yup, just keep the pooper scooper handy and carry on. ;)
     
  20. Lifeline
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    I now want to put my 5 cents in. Being a storyteller myself who like(d) to get sidetracked and never got past the 5,000 words level, and that was on a good day! I certainly understand your dilemma.

    So that is what I do now (character-based writing) and I think it works for me, but disclaimer, it doesn't need to work for you!

    - Imagine a character you care about. Someone you are curious about. You needn't have sympathy for him/her either.
    - Find out about the main conflict. What is happening here, where is the problem that needs to get solved? It can be a villain, or anything else.
    - Start with the first sentence. Let the MC evolve, let others intrude. Find out whose voice speaks in the process, follow through the first three chapters (or longer, my chapters routinely have about 7,000 words). Get comfortable with your MC(s), let them find out what they want.
    - Through this process engage your backbrain ie. inspiration. How can you imagine your MC getting involved with the main conflict?
    - Who are the other players here? What are their stakes? Give them voice in the next chapters.
    - Imagine the worst thing you could do to your MC(s) at this point. Use the next chapters building up to that. Plunge them into disaster, and enjoy it :) That needn't be the main conflict.
    - Find out what the MC(s) have to do to save something from the ashes. If it points toward solving the main conflict, so much the better!
    - Let them fight teeth and nails to salvage the main conflict!

    That's it. More or less. And imagine at each and every scene that it has to build toward the main conflict, or show your characters more deeply. Simple, really, or at least the above written does not look complicated.

    Cheers!
     
  21. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Oops, wrong thread.

    Got too many tabs open, lol.
     

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