1. PNG_pyro
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    PNG_pyro New Member

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    Systematic plot creation

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by PNG_pyro, Feb 1, 2010.

    Hi! new guy here. I've been interested in writing as an amature for a while, mainly because I have some awesome ;) ideas, but I've never put much effort into it. recently, however, I did sit down and attempt to write something out. I sent it to one of my friends for a review, and got back some pretty harsh (although well deserved) criticism, mostly revolving around the idea that I spent too much time doing nothing in my story.

    It seems to me that my story really lacks planning. I would often wander off on tangents, or put in completely unrelated things because they were cool, while not actually advancing my plot. Then I would get lost, and become unable to advance my plot, and get frustrated. I think a modicum of planning before-hand could help me avoid a lot of this. However, when I tried to write an outline, I couldn't wrestle it into a logical, useable form...So, I did the next obvious thing-search Google! I came up with this site.

    So I was wondering; do any of you have a specific way of writing plot outlines that especially helps you?

    I tend to take a very systematic view of most things I do, which may not be the norm here, but if you have a system you use for laying out plot points, I would like to hear it! Especially if it lets you work out places that might be problematic later.

    Thanks for your help.
     
  2. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    *cracks knuckles, huge grin spreading from ear to ear*

    I've used several systems for plotting.

    Notecard plotting is useful for short stories, screenplays or books. Books and long screenplays require about two major plots and one or two half-plots. Short screenplays require one major plot and one or two half-plots, plus minor incidents if you have a multi-episode arc. Short stories require one major plot, and maybe one or two minor incidents that detail the world.

    So, let's say you're writing a plot for a short story. You have a bunch of unconnected ideas concerning this story. To plot, you write them down - one per card.
    * You have a medieval society menaced by a dragon, who is eating cattle and occasional people, and burning buildings. #2
    * A prophecy says that a girl with an oak-leaf mark on her forehead will one day defeat it. #3
    * The kingdom searches for such a girl; finds one, as part of a set of twins. #4
    * She and her twin are adopted. #5
    * The oak-leaf twin dies a week before she would have gone to kill the dragon(in an accident? Suicide? Maybe we don't have to explicitly say) #7
    * The oak-leaf twin is given lots and lots of training about how to fight, how to ride horses, how to wear armor. She is given tons of attention and resources. Her twin, while also taught some of the basics of how to fight and ride, is not nearly as popular, and can't help but resent her sister. #6
    * The kingdom holds a parade / celebration for the oak-leaf twin on her 17th birthday, when she will go and defeat the dragon. #8
    * The dragon is defeated. #9
    * The "normal" twin has to pretend to be her sister, and goes out to try to kill the dragon. #1

    Now you have to choose the order they go in. The author of this story decided to start it just as the "normal" twin, dressed in her sister's armor and riding her sister's horse, with a sword at her side and an oak-leaf mark painted onto her forehead, leaves the castle gate and heads toward the outskirts of town with a cheering mob around her. So the last * above turned into #1. The other bullet points became backstory, and were ordered accordingly; the dragon's defeat (apparently the twin had been sufficiently trained in combat, after all) comes last, whereupon a new event -- #10 -- shows her coming out of the cave, headed back toward the parade and the cheering mob.

    To write this story, you write out the events according to the order the cards go in. And you can insert new cards, or split a card up into several cards.

    Typed or written plotting is when you put your plot down on paper or a word processor. You can write one huge list of events, then use copy-cut-and-paste to put them in the right order. Or you can write multiple event lists, corresponding to each viewpoint character or each larger plot. This is the one I use second-most.

    Mental plotting is when you work out the storyline (or at least the major events and characters) in your head. It's more flexible, but it doesn't give you a physical checklist to stick to when you write. I use this one most. (It works pretty well, but then, I also have a lot of practice under my belt.) (I've also gotten burned very badly with this method, and now know to work out the magic system first before getting into a complicated plot. I lost 35,000 words that way. *sigh* Which doesn't stop me from using it.)

    Oral plotting is when you discuss a storyline with someone else, who may make pointers or suggestions. You have to be near someone who is good for bouncing ideas back and forth. My dad and some of my friends are excellent for this. Better, at least in my experience, to use this at the beginning, to get ideas rolling. By the end of my plotting, I have a pretty solid grasp on my world and I don't like to get sidetracked, even if the tangent my dad comes up with is a brilliant one.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i do have a method that i use for the aspiring writers i mentor... feel free to email me for help with this, if you want...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
  4. PNG_pyro
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    PNG_pyro New Member

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    I see; I've never tried using physical notecards for my outlines, but maybe I should. I think being able to easily re-arrange the major ideas in the story quickly like that could be helpful. Thanks for the advice, guys!

    This is good stuff! Anyone else have thoughts?
     
  5. jacklondonsghost
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    jacklondonsghost Contributing Member

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    I usually come up with the ideas in my head, jot down some notes, bounce ideas off a good friend of mine until I have a complete and logical plot, and then copy down all of that onto note cards and order them. This all works for me every single time :)

    The friend really helps with filling in plot holes and to test whether ideas sound plausible.
     
  6. Cosmos
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    Cosmos Contributing Member

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    I generally have an outline for pretty much everything I write, as I'm obsessed with organizing things. If you feel you're not able to keep track of things the way you are doing them, writing the ideas, characters, etc. down might help you. At least when you go to write and get stuck you can always go back to your outline to figure out what you're missing. You might see a character listed that makes you go "Oh, right, she's suppose to be introduced to him by now" which will fix your problem. Don't feel like you have to follow your outline like it's made in stone, but use it as a guideline, a map if you will, of generally where you want to go.

    As for how to categorize your outline, well, that relats to the individual story, but I generally have a section for characters, setting, plot and notes. The notes section generally encompasses everything that doesn't fit in the other categories, such as remembering to mention something as an easter egg, or take note for a further story. Whatever works for you is what matters, so ping a search on it, and try a bunch of them to see which suits you best. Best of luck.
     
  7. PNG_pyro
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    PNG_pyro New Member

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    Well, I did a search on it, and I didn't come up with much...so I'm asking you guys! I do write my stuff down, and it helps a lot. I was wondering if you guys had systems specifically for how you write it out.

    Note cards are a good idea; I like that a lot, but I don't want to have to deal with all the paper, really. Any other ideas?

    Keep them coming; some good stuff here!
     
  8. vinniram
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    vinniram Member

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    plotting... yeah I've tried outlines and failed, and when I don't outline (like in my current project), I can get really far into the story. then I start making major revisions and changes. the skill I'm learning is knowing when something is important enough that I need to change it before completing the first draft, and when something isn't so important that I can let it slip until the rewrite. tricky for me.
     
  9. Motion71
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    Motion71 New Member

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    Heinlein Fan

    I think your method is excellent, and being a beginning writer myself, I do plan on trying this.
    Thank you for taking the time to offer the help for us new people.
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    About 3 years ago I adapted something I saw on the internet about mapping out plots. It worked particularly well for historical romances with a limited number of subplots and characters, but also works for other genres I think. I wish I could remember what the site was--I wasn't so careful about references in those days :( but basically the system I've adapted from it is:

    - You plan the story in sections (these are not chapters, they're much shorter than that. Think of them like scene templates), e.g. for the 70-75,000 word romances I'm writing, there are approx. 55-58 sections.

    - The MC (always the woman in romances!) has a resolve at the start, e.g. to restore her family fortune, marry the romantic lead, get by without the romantic lead etc.

    - You develop the plot from a 'suppose', e.g 'suppose heroine vows to marry the first rich man who offers for her after she catches the man she's loved since childhood--but has never divulged her love for--in a clinch with her stepsister'.

    - Each section has only one character's POV and focusses on that character. The heroine has most of the sections, the romantic lead about a quarter of that number, and sometimes there's a villain, e.g. a rival, who has just a few.

    - Every section starts with a goal, e.g. 'I must find out what that letter was about...'

    - Every section has its own conflict (sometimes the conflict is emotional, sometimes it's against an obstacle or person).

    - Every section has a failure (which drives the story forward and means that it has to continue). This can be a misunderstanding or defeat. The goal for the next section is generally born from it.

    - The final 2-3 sections resolve, or tragically don't resolve, the MC's overall goal.

    - You divide the sections into three: beginning, middle, and end, with the middle sections being a bit more than the beginning and end.

    - The beginning sections set up the main story line and, in the case of romances, the heroine and her romantic lead.

    - The end sections resolve all the plot threads.

    - The plot has about 4 'kerPOWS!', kind of like 'three weddings and a funeral' (only of course in a romance it's usually 'three funerals and a wedding'). Every 'kerpow' has to be bigger than the last, and you need a chill-out/assessment scene after each one.

    I make any other notes about characters separately, but I tend to visualise the characters quite clearly anyway so I don't write down lots of character notes about their appearance etc. I sometimes have to work out a family tree so I can figure who's related to who and when they were born. I note down occupation if it's relevant too, although it's generally 'Viscount .../Lord ...' LOL.

    I try to make less notes than I used to because I never got around to writing the actual story. I print off articles etc which I get plot inspiration from and keep everything in an empty photocopier paper box. That way I can type and look at the copy at the same time if I want.
     
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  11. PNG_pyro
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    PNG_pyro New Member

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    Good stuff, madhocah! That's very helpful. Maybe if I combine that with heinline fan's notecard system, I'll be able to keep better tabs on where my story is going.

    Thanks guys.

    If anyone else has a good system, please don't hesitate to post.
     
  12. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    One thing that I've started doing is to write my plot around the motivations of main characters. For example a basic one would be if I had a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist is on a journey in hopes of meeting his father but the antagonist is out to get revenge on the protagonist's father my means of killing him.

    So, from there I just make up stories in my head about how the protagonist and antagonist might go about reaching their goals - purposefully make them conflict with each other - and any time a consistent story forms in my head I'll write it down and after a few days of doing this, I'm confident that the plot I chose is the best for these two characters to have in this setting.
     
  13. PNG_pyro
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    PNG_pyro New Member

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    'K, thanks for your replies, everyone; I don't think I'm going to be back to this thread, because I've gotten several good answers, and responses are slowing down...so go ahead and post if you have something for others, but I might not read it.

    one thing I thought I'd add for anyone who comes after me is that I've just started using Microsoft one note for organizing my plot. It's designed for taking notes in class, but it seems to work extremely well for plotting, too; it allows several levels of organization, and you can make notes in little boxes and shuffle them around on the screen!

    Anyways, that's all for me! Thanks again for your help; I'll be back to your boards if I come up with another question.
     

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