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  1. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    What Is Plot Creation and Development?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Cogito, May 23, 2008.

    It seems the majority of threads begun here lately are of the form:

    My answer to most of these is the same. It doesn't matter what the storyline is. It may sound so familiar you want to groan and say, "Oh, not another one!" It may sound so outlandish and improbable that you think to yourself, "You have got to be kidding!"

    What matters is how you write it. Are the characters well developed? Is the dialogue believable and interesting? Is the description well balanced with the action?

    These are not the kinds of questions you can answer from a plot summary.

    So why do we have this forum at all?

    First of all, let's distinguish between the theme, the storyline, and the plot.

    The theme is a concept that sums up the point of the story. Typical themes are:
    Coming of age
    The value of friendship
    The value of integrity
    Lessons of life
    Overcoming overwhelming obstacles
    Your relationship with God

    The storyline consists of the sequence of events. What happened first, and to whom? What events led to other events, and what events merely happen to coincide.

    The plot is the force that moves the story along. It consists of actors, environment, conflict, and resolution. Every plot has a conflict that defines it. A large work, such as a novel, may have many subplots wound around a central plot, each of which has its own conflict.

    Conflicts may be:
    Man vs. man (in the broadest sense - sentient being vs, sentient being)
    Man vs. himself (inner dilemnas, moral conficts, warring motivations, etc)
    Man vs. God (includes man vs. nature, man vs. natural obstacles)

    Various people draw up somewhat different lists of the types of conflict, but this covers the general range.

    The plot develops from when you first introduce the elements of the conflict, up to the climax where the conflict reaches a critical point, and thence to the resolution. The resolution may be an outright victory, but more often it's some manner of compromise, whether a satisfactory one or not.

    So developing a plot is a matter of identifying/defining the conflicts that comprise the plot, and deciding how they interact. Subplots may, either in building toward their climax, or in their resolution, complicate the central conflict.

    Nor do all the plots need to be resolved by the end of the story. Some loose ends bring a more realistic feel to a story, although you should have some manner of resolution for your central conflict, lest your story feel "unfinished."

    So try to think in these terms rather than focusing on whether the storyline is appealing in and of itself.
     
  2. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    Great post, Cog. We do get a lot of threads like that. I'll even admit to creating some of them, though usually I'm trying to get assistance on a nut or bolt of the plot.
     
  3. Crazy Ivan
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    Crazy Ivan Contributing Member

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    Thank you. We've had a flood of these lately. Hopefully this will get things more back on track.
     
  4. Samswriting
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    Samswriting Senior Member

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    I came to look at this because of a post in the "general" area :) wonderful summarized :) And of course everyone checks the sticky's at the top of each area :)
     
  5. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Well, now we have somewhere to direct people who post 'here's my idea' posts to. Just stab them with
    after removing the '+'. That should give them some direction.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I removed or moved several posts that strayed off topic (including a couple of my own responses - oops!). Please limit responses to the distinctions between theme, plot, and storyline.

    This is a stickied thread because it deals with a recurring source of confusion. I'd rather not have to close it in order to keep it informational.
     
  7. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't quite follow on the difference between "plot" and "storyline." Is a storyline a collection of plots and sub-plots or are they two completely different things?

    For example:
    Imagine there's a novel about a soldier named Jim who goes off to war. While fighting in the war, he falls in love. Let's assume Jim's love life is a sub-plot and the war (his conflict with the enemy) is the major plot. In this case, would the storyline be a combination of all these things or do I have the wrong idea altogether?
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A storyline is a sequence of events. A storyline can exist in the absence of plots, which can sometimes mean that "It has no plot" is a valid criticism. Ususally, though, "It has no plot is hyperbole."

    A plot is defined by the tension between a character attempting to achieve a goal and the resistance he or she faces from conflicts or obstacles. It is analagous to Newton's Law, F-ma. In other words, the imbalance between the force driving a character toward and away from a goal result in movement of the plot. A plot has an actor, a rising action, a climax, a falling action, and a conclusion.

    Several plots can overlap, seeming to be a single plot. However you can separate out the individual conflicts, and see that not all elements of the goal are necessarily achieved at the same time, if at all.

    A storyline tells you what happened. Plots tell you how and why.
     
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  9. psyence53
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    psyence53 Senior Member

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    Yes, I've always struggled to separate plot from storyline.
    Could storyline be described as SEQUENCE of events, in comparison to plot being the CONTENT and FACTORS (etc) of events?

    (This is a helpful thread btw, Cogito, from the few posts I have read of yours, you're awesome! Haha. )
     
  10. Smithy
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    Smithy Senior Member

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    So, does this mean we shouldn't post Synopsise for feedback?
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. A synopsis is not reviewable. Everything depends on the writing of the final piece.

    Unless, of course, a synopsis is being delivered as a completed work by itself, such as what you would send to an interested publisher on request. But it will be critiqued for it's writing quality, not in terms of the story.
     
  12. BadPenny
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    BadPenny Member

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    Where/how is it appropriate to post questions about storyline?

    Where/how is it appropriate to post questions about specific plot points?

    I appreciate your advice.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The only time you should post about storyline is if you are really stuck for a way to connect two events in a storyline, and for the life of you you cannot see how to get from point A to point B. Likewise with a plot point, if you have written yourself into a corner and need aome help figuring a way out of it.

    Even in these cases you're better working it through on your own, but sometimes you can be so stuck you need a fresh perspective.

    If you're looking for approval for a story idea, don't bother. If you are looking for someone to try to talk you into throwing away a story idea, don't bother. You will get both if you post a story concept, and each is worth exactly zip. The concept only has value when you craft it into a completed story.
     
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  14. Dreadmoc
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    Dreadmoc Banned

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    Very true.

    I see all ideas as worthy, until you cast Steven Seagal as the lead role.

    Seriously, Cog, very well said.
     
  15. semmie
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    semmie New Member

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    Omg, my brain was just about to explode, and then I read this:

    Thanks, Cog. Is it fair to say that plot is more about cause and effect, rather than just a series of events? I was wondering last night how a tale of mine would be altered if I swapped the role of my main character with one of the supporting characters. Some of the events would undoubtedly be the same (storyline), but the plot could be incredibly different due to personality, motivation, history, etc. Am I way off on this?

    Help me, Obi Wan.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A story may have many plots, but the central plot is the one that defines the story's climax. The main character is the actor of the central plot. In more complex stories, there may not be a single indentifiable central plot, or even a single main character. Thise stories are significantly more difficult to manage, though.

    In addition to the main character, you have POV (point of view) characters, from whose perspective the story is told. The POV character can be an anonymous viewpoint, or it could be one of your characters. Closely tied to the POV character is the narrator. The narrator may be the POV character, or an anonymous observer close enough to follow the POV character, perhaps close enough to read his or her thoughts. It's generally a subtle distinction between the narrator and the POV character, but you should at least remember that the distinction exists.

    The same set of events can be told centering on different combinations of main character, POV characters, and narrators, and even te same storyline, but the resulting stories will be very different. For an example, read and compare Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card.
     
  17. Kaii
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    Kaii New Member

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    Do I truly get this?

    If i am understanding what you are teaching me here, is that a plot is kinda an example like this; A Cat must defend it's from the neighborhood bully dog, avoid the cat killer kid that enjoys throwing little kittens into the bog, and still get to her owners school every afternoon to be there when her human is released and can play with her again.

    But the storyline is the situations, and events that lead up to the cats reason to meet the child at school, it's fights with the bullies, and dog, to actually be sitting on the wall of the school just outside of the door every afternoon.

    If that is right, I still am not understanding how Theme would work into that. I understand that there is a relationship between the 3. And I can kind of understand that the theme would, in the example above be apart of the reasoning behind the cat wishing to pick up her human, or it could if it was friendship, or completing a personal goal of never being alone, or keeping a promise to the lonely child that the cat would be there everyday.

    Or am I just confusing myself? But how would you choose your plot. I am doing the researching for a warrior novel, but I'm just not understanding the theme for that one either. Does it have to have a direct relationship like the above example of the cat keeping a promise to the lonely little girl, or could it be completely unrelated thing like to follow your heart despite the fact that the one who she has fallen for, killed her twin sister when they were 14, and her assignment to to banish the man tot he underworld?
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A storyline is a chronological collection of events along a timeline. It's what most people incorrectly call a plot. All it does is repeatedly answer the question "What happened next?" But a storyline only tells you what happens, not why.

    A story rarely consists of a single plot, although one plot may dominate the story (the central plot). A single plot defines the dynamics of a single character or group's struggle to attain a goal or meet an objective against a particular opposition and with a single motivation. If you have multiple motivations, or multiple oppositions, you have multiple, possibly overlapping, plots. A plot focuses on who, why and how. The four components of a plot are the actor, the goal or objective, the motivation, and the opposition.

    For your example, one plot would be the following:
    actor: cat
    goal: to find the child
    motivation: it is lonely and misses its owner
    opposition: the bully dog

    another plot:
    actor: the bully dog
    goal: attack the cat
    motivation: pride. No lousy cat must ever outsmart him
    opposition: the cat doesn't want to be caught

    In this case, you have two plots interacting against each other. Only one of the two goals can be attained. The resulting conflict defines part of the story, and so these plots will drive some of the events of the storyline.

    By identifying the plots, you can modify the level of tension. Increase the motivation, and increase te oppositition, and you amp up the story's tension. For example, if the cat has to deliver a message to its owner, or its kittens will be taken away, increases the motivation. And if instead of one aging neighborhood bully dog, you have a pack of cat-killing pit bulls, you've escalated the opposition. You can also add oppositions while keeping everything else the same. Maybe the cat is afraid of the water, but has to cross a swift stream along the way. Maybe the cat is simply afraid of failure, so you have an internal conflict.

    Finally, a theme is an overall message, like "Face your fears and persevere, and you can succeed." The theme for Harry Potter might be, "You are defined by the choices you make, not the abilities you are born with."

    I hope this clarifies storyline, plot, and theme for you.
     
  19. ilocar
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    ilocar Member

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    you forgot Man v. Society, kind of important conflict type, and its different from Man v. Man, you can't kill society or make it go away,and its not Man v. Nature/God, because society represents a human creation not a naturally ocurring one.

    if you want to say its not common enough, I have 4 words for you: Catcher in the Rye
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The classifications of conflict are not all that important. Different people break the list down differently. The important thing is to be able to identify and use conflict to develop plots.
     
  21. Acrimen19
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    Acrimen19 Banned

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    Thanks for the info. It really helps.
     
  22. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    I totally hear what you're saying, but I have one question:

    Sometimes, I merely want to know whether the progression of events is logical or if the ending sufficiently ties up the loose ends. Is it OK in that particular instance to post a general summary of the plot?
     
  23. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Cogito, you do have some good points about this. I am wondering if a movie script has to have all of the elements as well as a novel, an actor, a goal, Motivation, Oposisiton?
     
  24. amydyslex
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    amydyslex New Member

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    I have struggled endlessly with "plot creation" and "story development" and found out that one should focus on the basic plot first and then let the story develop itself because this is what happens with everyone.
     
  25. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    In today's modern general 'non fringe' fiction the character arc and plot are intertwined and inseparable.

    How our characters relate and/or not relate to each other when conflicts arise are an essential element.


    For the sake of conversation I use the term fringe fiction to exclude the plot heavy genres (war,who-done-it ,horror,japanese vampire's in the alabama hood )
     

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