1. john132
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    john132 New Member

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    Writing a story with many characters and without a particular goal

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by john132, May 19, 2014.

    The story is set in a fantasy setting (without dragons, dwarves, or endless magical powers) but in a very barren, worn-out futuristic world, where magic sometimes slips through to surprise the characters because of what they do as a consequence to their actions. It's not about one young character who has to go on a quest and save the girl or the world and become great (even though that's not completely out of the question) but about a group of characters who are middle-aged and who are in denial of how bad their lives have turned out and go on an adventure that forces them to see the mistakes they've made and so they can do right and "change."

    I've been trying to write this story for probably about eighteen months now and all I've ever been able to do is come up with a million different plot ideas and then realizing, after three weeks or so, that it's not what I want and then scrapping it and redoing the whole process again, each time thinking "this is it!" when it's not. All I really know is who I want the core characters to be and what they have to go through but I just don't know what context to put them in or how to create enough tension with their story or even how to connect all of them together since they come from such different backgrounds.

    I think of the story as kind of a like a tv show where there's not really an ending until way down the line (which I have kind of a vague idea of). So in a show like "Mad Men" there's a group of characters (with each their own stories) the show revolves around but they're all part of an ad agency that already groups them together and where they can meet and interact with each other. I don't really have anything in my story that can group them together like that yet in the way that I want.

    These are the only characters I've had in my head for what seems like forever and I can't get rid of them or create new ones and the only thing I feel I can change is the story they interact in but this is the only story I feel I can tell and it feels it has been too long without having anything like a first draft. It's like an addiction or an obsession I can't stop myself with. Is there some kind of narrative that I'm not understanding or using to why I can't get anything on paper and having it stay there? Is it not the hero's journey? Is it not a three-act structure? Is it not an adventure? Is it not a fantasy? What do you call this story? What would you call "Mad Men" in a novel format as it's not really a story with an ending? I've looked at so many story structures, formulas, and theories and have tried to apply them to my story but I can't get any of them to "WORK" and I always just say to myself intuitively "this isn't what I want" and I just delete it and put it in my "story" folder where there's over three hundred scrap documents of failed attempts and then I start over again. I just want to know what the hell I'm doing wrong.
     
  2. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It sounds you need some sort of inciting incident to throw a bunch of unconnected characters together to give them a mutual goal.
    For example if the characters all happen by coincidence to be in the same place, (For example on public transport) when some of your magic leaks through and curses/empowers them all in the same way.
    That's just one way to try and handle it, to give an example, but it's your story, the specifics of the plot are up to you.
     
  3. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    By the way I haven't seen Mad Men. Maybe the throwing together of random characters via plane crash in LOST, is similar to what you want to achieve?
     
  4. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    Write it anyway. Even if it is not where you want to to go or what you want. Don't worry about that just write it. The reason is you might find bits and pieces that you really do want. Interesting things happen when you actually write. I would think far better to write something then just to sit sit on it waiting for something to come along.
     
  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You've got two options - start writing like aguywhotypes suggested which sometimes can just pull the story together. Or try and find a reason to bring all these people together.

    Think of a story like Jaws. It's about a shark who attacks people but it needs elements to make this a story not just an event. You need a person who feels passionate about stopping the shark and you have to make it personal - the shark is attacking people on his beach in his resort town. You also have to make his goal in stopping the shark difficult. There's the mayor ( I think - haven't read it in a while ) who decides to keep the beach open because he doesn't want to wreck the tourist season. You also have the shark chomping up boats. He's no ordinary adversary. What sounds like a simple task becomes the story because of all the twists and problems.

    Think about an idea - like Plothog said - to trigger these people into action - than start them on their journey. Think of their own internal journey versus the external journey. Give the characters not just problems but things that make reaching their goal seem impossible. In Lolita Humbert Humbert thinks that marrying Charlotte will bring him closer to Lo but Charlotte says that once they're married she plans on shipping Lo off to a boarding school. It's a tense moment for Humbert ( and a surprise for the reader ) who even considers killing Charlotte.
     
  6. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the word you're looking for is "ensemble drama," where the characters, their interactions, and their individual goals are more important than plot. It has worked for numerous television shows. The novel I recently finished is pretty much this.

    I agree that you need an inciting incident, but I'd like to add one thing to what plothog said above. They don't need to share the same inciting incident. Character A may be on this journey for an entirely differnt reason than Character B or C. They may join at different times for different reasons. Think of the Wizard of Oz; the characters joined for their own reasons, and some joined sooner than others. The only thing uniting them is a need to see the wizard.

    The world you described sounds like the perfect setup for this kind of format. A post-apocalyptic world means things like families, work obligations, and such are (probably) rather loosely defined. Some of these characters might already be wanderers/drifters. And the ones who aren't, probably have very little tying them to their current "home." In brief, it doesn't take much to get them traveling, just a nudge in the right direction.

    To borrow the Wizard of Oz one last time, I think what you're really lacking is your "wizard," the thing your characters are all seeking. Once you figure out what that is and why each of them wants it, the rest will fall into place. You may need to start writing to figure it out.
     
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  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    More likely, it's an insecurity that you think you can't get past. It's often said that our characters take on a life of their own. There's an element of truth to that because as we write, new ideas occur to us that we didn't think about when we first conceived the characters. But some people carry that to mean that they lose control of their characters, and that's nonsense.

    When you say you don't feel you can create new characters and you feel this is the only story you can tell, you are saying you don't have what it takes to be a successful writer. But, given the effort to which you've gone to build a defense for that position, I don't believe that. I think you can create new characters, and you can create a complete story about them and the ones you already have. You just have to decide to do it.

    Forget about comparisons to a TV series, and I don't care if it's Mad Men, Hill Street Blues or Car 54. Stop focusing on what your story is not and focus on what you want it to be. Maybe that means intensifying your reading, paying attention to what various successful authors do, how they pull their stories together. You might even stumble across examples that resemble your characters or a piece of your story idea.

    And stop worrying about how long it's taking you. I thought of a great idea for a novel when I was 25. It's now 35 years later, and I still haven't had the time to research and write it. But I have written a few others, based on ideas I didn't know about when I was 25, and the one I have in process right now might be the one. I work assuming that it is. If you really feel like this idea isn't going anywhere, try branching out to something new. Take a character, figure out some ultimate goal for him/her, and then build obstacles to prevent the goal, and then find ways around it.

    Good luck.
     
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