1. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    "Story" or "sequence of events"

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by terobi, Jun 9, 2015.

    This seems to be something I've become stuck on recently - my brain just won't give me a solid definition of what counts as a "story".

    Sure, I can think of cool characters, cool environments and cool things for the characters to do and cool ways for them to interact together - I can even give it a meaningful theme.

    ...but my brain just keeps telling me that all I've written is a sequence of connected events that have happened one after another, rather than a story.

    Am I just being needlessly philosophical, or am I just missing something that I can't quite put my finger on?
     
  2. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    An animal's brain is evolved to learn from experience. By recognizing cause and effect, you can learn how to cause desirable experiences to happen again and how to prevent undesirable experiences from happening again.

    Your brain simplifies the process of learning from cause and effect by creating a simplified abstraction of all of your memories. That abstraction is a streamlined story of your life. You are the protagonist in your life, you have goals, you face obstacles, you grow emotionally and intellectually, etc. Above all, you perceive a reason for everything that happens, whether that reason is something within you or something outside you.

    The human brain has the miraculous ability to learn from other humans' experiences. Instead of witnessing a cause and its effects for yourself, someone else can tell you a story about a cause and an effect and it is almost as if you experience it for yourself and assimilate it into your own life's story. The storyteller does more than just tell you "this happened and then that happened". The storyteller tells you, or at least hints at, the reasons why things happen and why they are important to an imaginary person.

    That, pretty much, is the basis of stories. What sets a story apart from a sequence of events is that we are evolved to be curious not just about the events that other people witness, but about how they experience those events. And in their experience, everything has a cause-and-effect relationship, and the ultimate effect of everything is that it changes them emotionally.
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do your connected events lead to a climactic event and then a satisfying conclusion?

    If not, possibly what you're writing is kind of episodic. Which isn't automatically bad, but it may not be a satisfying story in the traditional sense.
     
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  4. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    I think so - that is to say, the major "problem" that the characters face (fighting a "something", solving the mystery, escaping the doomed planet, whatever) is wrapped up, the characters generally have learned something, had their outlook changed or developed in some way, etc.

    And yet, somehow it still just feels like I'm just writing some events that happen to some people. Maybe I'm overthinking it. You know when you say a word over and over again and it loses all meaning? Perhaps it's like that.
     
  5. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, a plot is both a decision tree and a path taken through that tree. The path is significant because of how it differs from all the other paths that could have been taken.

    This is a sequence of events without a story or a plot: "A happens. B happens. C happens."

    This is a story without a plot: "A happens, which matters because _____. This causes B to happen, which matters because _____. This causes C to happen, which matters because _____."

    This is a story with a plot:

    "Character can choose 1, 2, or 3. If he chooses 1, then A will happen, which matters because _____, and after that, he can choose 4 or 5. If he chooses 2, then B will happen, which matters because _____, and after that, he can choose 5, 6, or 7. If he chooses 3, then C will happen, which matters because _____, and after that, he can choose 8 or 9.

    He chooses 2. This causes B to happen.

    Now, if he chooses 5, then D will happen..."

    Of course, the author need not explicitly lay out every option and every potential consequence. It can also be said that a story has a plot if the reader can at least recognize some different options the character has and can speculate about what would be the consequences of those options. The trick, more or less, is to give the reader a reliable pattern to work with. If characters make random decisions and random things happen to them, then the reader finds it futile to think ahead. But if the characters have recognizable motives and personalities and act consistently, and if the world follows some kind of set of cause-and-effect rules, then the reader can speculate by continuing the pattern into the future. This is how the reader assigns significance to a character's options.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2015
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  6. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Semantic satiation.

    :)
     
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe you're not missing something at the plot level, but at the emotional engagement level? (I'm totally guessing on all of this, obviously). Like, do you feel your readers will have reason to care what happens to the characters? Maybe you need to spend less time worrying about plot, and more working on characterization? (Maybe...)
     
  8. J_Downloading
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    J_Downloading Member

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    You should read a book about the theory of storytelling and what makes a good story. Often screenwriter's books are good for this. It really has become quite a science, which is probably why you think your story feels lacking compared to others.
     
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  9. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    I actually already have several books on the theory of storytelling - I'm currently partway through John Gardner's The Art of Fiction.

    There's a chance I might just be overthinking the whole thing after reading a lot of deep theoretical stuff. It wouldn't be the first time.
     
  10. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    Sounds to me you need to be reading more stories/novels. It won't hurt.

    I found the ebook GMC very good as well.

    The good news is that you are writing, you haven't quit. Don't.

    I might agree with a previous poster. It sounds like you don't care what happens to your characters. You may have to discipline yourself and show up for 'work.'

    Best to you.
     

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