1. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    "Why?" is my worst enemy: Plot troubles

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by UberNoodle, Oct 26, 2010.

    Hi,

    This is my first thread, or post actually. I hope I haven't broken some rule that an admin carefully carried down from the mountain. I didn't mean to, honest. The thing is, I have been bashing my head against the wall in regard to plot design. The irony is, the more brains that leave one's skull, the more one's ability to write a plot diminishes. My skull is almost empty.

    The chase: the pattern is simple. I ask "why?" too much. That's how I was raised. That's why no teachers liked me. "Why, Ms. Stone? WHY?!"

    Anyway, this character trait means that I don't let anything stay on paper for very long. So many erasers needlessly worn to oblivion because I second guess every idea, and ask "whys" that I only lead to rationales that lead to more whys. So perhaps this is heading into "story" territory as well. The thing is, I'm a messy desk kind of person. I can't seperate plot from story. Both threads are going on at the same time, and now there's a huge knot.

    "That wouldn't happen!" "Why would anybody let that happen?" And it's not just some cynical neuron with loud voice. I agree with these appraisals. I have ideas coming out the wazoo, but can't link them into a story/plot. My mind is so focussed on answering "why", that I can't believe in any plot or story I come up with.

    SO: I've read a few pages of these forums and the posts have been helpful in many ways. I would like to know what the rest of you do to get past the "why?" voice, or put a sock in its mouth.
     
  2. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Um... I'd have thought reading through your plots with a constant "why?" would be good? it's always good to know where you're going and what happened before, the things that influence the immediate happenings.

    Just follow through those whys and see where they take you... Maybe you'll even discover whole new stories that need to be told. I've been favouring a storytelling style lately where I tell a pretty basic story over a day or three of some character's lives, but most of the drama and reasons they're like that now happened in the past... Wrote it like that because I was asking whys of the simple story, and writing what I found. If not, it'd have been a pretty surface-y drama, but as it was, I got in all my character development and found out so much more... *shrugs*

    Not sure of the details of your stories, but if you're asking why and coming up with bad answers, either you don't believe in your stories enough, or you're not letting yourself see through to the beginning point of the "why?"s


    PS: I have a headcold and know I had to work really hard to remove one spelling that wasn't a word from that post ("immedient" :p), so I apologise if there are any more odd spellings in there...
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Like Melzaar said, this is a good thing.
    If I knew what your story was about, I could help more -- but here's an example:

    Let's say that you are writing a story about an outcast kid at school who sneaks into an off-limits storage room due to lack of friends at lunchtime, where he/she then discovers a portal to a fantasy world.

    The questions you'd have to answer...

    1. Why is the kid friendless
    2. Why does he/she have that quality(ies) that make him/her friendless
    3. Why is the portal to the world located in this closet
    4. Why is the closet off-limits

    And it goes on and on into 100s of "why" questions to be answered.

    Your concern isn't a problem, it's something all good writers deal with and it's part of the process of deepening your storyline.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Pretty much what Melzaar said.

    If you find yourself saying "That wouldn't happen!" then ask yourself what would happen, and write that. If your character does something and you say "Wait - he'd never do that!", write what he would do. Sure, this will lead you where you weren't planning to go, but if you're saying "That wouldn't happen" then you're following a bad plan.
     
  5. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Thank you Melzaar. You are indeed mighty. (And Mallory too, thank you for your reply). And you (are both) correct in saying that "why" is essential for a tight and sturdy plot. The problem is that whys don't end ... with me they don't. When to stop?

    I like that idea of setting a time limit for a story. Perhaps it's not what you had in mind, but not that much can happen in three days, which could help keep things simpler.

    Belief in the story and the events is an important factor. I have about 200 pages of starts and middles. No ends. The plot never came to me, or it did and I why'd them out of existence. One story was post-apocalyptic, and I really enjoyed writing as far as I did. Yet, when it came time to start actually going somewhere, I realised that I didn't really believe that a M.A.D. scenario was actually possible today. That's when the why-beast tore my plot up at the roots.

    So perhaps the problem isn't plot at all. Perhaps plotting is exposing a problem in scenario design that I don't notice until I try to get the cogs turning.
     
  6. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem isn't that you ask or find the answer to you questions. Thats is a part of the creative process. The problem is that you get stuck there.

    You are in control. Decide on an answer, and go with it. Don't struggle at finding the right answer or the perfect answer. Decide on an answer and build something from that answer. You job is to make things up, out of you head.
     
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  7. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Yes, I think you have hit the nail on the head. Just missed my thumb though ...

    I think I'm being too controlling, trying to mould things before I even know their material and texture. Sid Vicious once said, and there's a sagely man, "if you say to yourself, 'I'm gonna start a punk band', then you've already lost". Of course, I paraphrase, but I guess he means that art should be left to find its own shape, on its own, with the artist in the passenger seat.

    But honestly, that's against my every instinct. I have come up with a theme and a world, and perhaps I'm trying to force plots into it.
     
  8. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    My head is too noisy, too many answers, but it's a good idea. I guess getting stuck just means that I need to research something.

    But when it comes to your own method of writing, do you plot it all out first, or do you bring a character to life somewhere, and just record what he or she (or it) does?
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Start with a basic plot. This is what you need to figure out in this order: (At least this is how I find it to work best)

    1. Main conflict or goal that follows character throughout story
    2. Obstacles, villains
    3. How does the main character handle each obstacle (this leads to subplots)
    4. Does the character have any motivation changes? (This also leads to subplots)

    Start with the plot. Characters are just tools for the plot. Figure out your main protag and antag in detail. Steer clear of "profile sheet" info; no one needs to know the character's food tastes or music preferances. Deal with things like motivation, personality, etc.

    Smaller characters will evolve on their own as you write the story and run into a need for them.

    Trying to perfect a character 100% before you start writing will hold you back.
     
  10. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Im a discovery writer. I start with a rough thematic concept, and for my example i going to use The Matrix to illustrate the work process.

    Thematic idea:
    What if the world was a computer program, and we could have really awesome fight scenes?

    Character idea:
    I think I start with a wimpy hacker as main character who is ignorant of that the world is a computer program. And somewhere in the story I what this agent in a suit and calm voice as a villain.

    Situation:
    I want to start the story with this hacker guy in a quite normal situation. Maybe hes asleep in his untidy apartment?

    And I get the ball rolling, start to write the first scene, filling in the blanks as I go. This is actually how little info I have when I start going.

    But to be able to do this easily and well you need to been practicing improvising stories, characters and so on. The same way if you prefer to outline a story need to practice planning and executing a lot of stories this way before it gets easy and you get good at it.
     
  11. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Thanks Mallory. Now, how vague should a plot be? Sci Fi is prone to have plots that are enabled by (and entwined with) themes, worlds or technologies. McGuffins galore. This makes it hard to have a "simple plot" because even the premise of the plot can have deep and tangled roots into the background of the story. Or perhaps I am looking at all of this the wrong way.

    Thanks ... w176. I don't know what kind of writer I am. Whenever paint or play guitar, I guess I use a discovery approach. With painting, I often don't really know what I will end up with. Perhaps too much time has been spent on my current story's planning and trial runs (it's been a long time). There are too many options now open for me. I will try just putting it all away and starting afresh, your post in mind.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't start with a fully-detailed plot. Like you, UberNoodle, I have a theme and a world. Then I create a character and a situation. The character isn't fully fleshed out yet, but I have some idea who he is, and I know the situation he's in. The situation is not his normal status quo; it has to be something that motivates him to do something that is not routine for him. The character has to have a problem, in other words, and some reasonably urgent need to solve it.

    I also have an ending in mind, but this is just a provisional ending, a target for me to aim for when I'm starting out. I definitely do not expect that my provisional ending will be the actual ending of the story - the actual ending will develop in my imagination as I write. But it's enough to get me going.

    So that's it: a character, a problem or situation that forces him to act in some way, and a direction for the story to move. That's what I start with. Then, I have to trust that my creativity will be sufficient to build a story as I go along from there.
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Baaasically when I write like that I come up with a concept scene - in my novel that I think is the best example of it, the scene is just two guys in a kitchen, and they have this big passive-agressive stand off, for no apparent reason, and stomp off their separate ways. I chose that point because it was the moment when things stopped building up and started rolling - basically the moment when you'd start asking whys. From there I had a pretty simple outline (I never really know what I'm doing when I write either, so I kept it pretty easy), and basically had as my plot, "there will be a party", then as I wrote this really really simple series of character interactions, every time I thought there might be a "why are they like this? doing that? going out? lusting after each other but doing nothing about it?" I dipped further and further back in time, picking out all the moments of "why?" as a flashback scene, memory, or other way of having the characters look back from that simple moment. Basically, the first scene I answered no whys, but set up the possibility for a ton of them, then I answered as many as i could, then in the final act, I stopped using flashbacks, and finished off the story using both the immediate knoweldge from the opening, and the accumulated experience of the flashbacks (before I'd been really cagy about showing their effect on the characters, even not letting them share important things, etc), to tied it all back in.

    Just... explaining in more detail how I approached it, hope i can give you some ideas if you're going to take that route. :D
     
  14. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Thanks everyone! You all rock. Something got unclogged in my creative plumbing due to all your responses and advice. Thanks!
     
  15. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why's are perfectly healthy. What you perhaps could fix is the way you handle them. Don't throw away your stories because of them -- the next one will be just as full of why's, I'll guarantee you. Use the why's as a tool for fixing your story. Give it a serious try, and don't let the why's win, 'cause every why can be answered, if by nothing else then with "Why not?"
     
  16. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    So true about the "why nots". The instinct to make everything work in a story world, flies in the face of reality. The real world is full of whys, many of them unanswered, or answered with a "why not".
     

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