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  1. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Active Member

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    Establishing a Story Goal

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ChaseTheSun, Jan 7, 2017.

    My current WIP is a novel about inter-generational relationships between the women of a 20th century Australian family. I've spent countless hours brainstorming and planning the ins and outs of the conflicts, inciting events, changes of values and development of the various characters and their actions/motives, and yet I've just realised that I'm still lacking an external, overarching story goal. The entire storyline that I've devised follows each character's internal conflicts and journey to self-discovery, actualisation, courage, self-acceptance etc, but there is no external driving force propelling them on this journey.

    The basic plot summary is this:

    Characters E & C are sisters, born 1930s. E gets married, eventually learns she and hubby are infertile, she longs for child. C, unmarried, mistakenly finds herself pregnant at 15 (keeps the baby, faces major family/social backlash) and then falls pregnant again at 18. The second time, C and E make a private agreement that the baby (L) will be given to E to raise as her own and they will never speak of it again. There are many social and internal factors to influence C to agree to this, including her age, maturity, social stigma against unwed motherhood, finances, family pressure and 'keeping up appearances'.

    The story follows the impact this agreement has upon the various relationships within the immediate and extended family circles, as the biological aunt becomes L's mother and the bio-mum is thought by all to be the aunt. As the web of secrecy slowly unravels, the strain this places upon relationships (E & C, C & hubby, E & first child, E & L, L & C, etc) becomes a platform for exploring what makes up the fabric of family - is blood thicker than water - what constitutes sisterhood/motherhood, etc...

    However I am struggling to pinpoint two major things:
    1) External, driving STORY GOAL
    2) Final resolution to tie all the loose ends together, make the readers' journey worthwhile and demonstrate the change in characters' values or beliefs.

    Part of the novels' climax is that L learns the truth about her biological aunt/mother role switch, and she runs away from home - instigating a dramatic search that results in a main character's death - could the book open with her disappearence, and the Story Goal becomes the hunt to find L? This could then become the springboard to open up all of those old wounds, secrets, lies, resentments, betrayals, etc, and that is what becomes the fabric of the story?

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts and feedback!
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't really agree that all books need an external conflict (which seems to be a synonym for your "story goal"?) I think there are lots of books (and lots of lives) without significant external conflict that are still interesting.

    But I agree that it's most satisfying when there's an overarching conflict of some sort that can be tied up at the end of the story. I think your idea of using the disappearance as the main conflict makes sense to me--it's essentially still an internal goal, as the antagonistic force is L's sense of betrayal, etc., but as I said, I think that's fine!
     
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  3. OJB

    OJB Contributing Member

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    I believe you've answered this question yourself without realizing it. Could not the "Keeping up with Appearances" be the external driving force? It seems everyone would want to keep the secret about L being C's child and not E's. Just some thoughts.

    I wish you the best of luck.
     
  4. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    It sounds to me like you've got compelling ideas that can work:
    • blood is thicker than water (central theme)
    • disappearance/hunt (bookend story)
    • death of a main character (another possibility for a bookend)
    Where you go from here may simply be a matter of finding the right balance of elements.

    Having both a death and a disappearance/hunt may be defocusing your story (but not necessarily) since each could serve as a bookend. Will your story still work if you remove one or the other? Or if you shift one to be significantly more important than the other?

    It sounds like you're also leaning toward turning the disappearance/hunt into a bookend, so you could set up the death of that other character as a trigger for the disappearance which would put it in the bookend as well. Or perhaps the final understanding of the death (why and how it happened) sheds light on where the disappeared character has gone.

    Also, from your outline, I get the impression that all your characters' stories are each as important as all the others. You might consider picking one of them to be the 'focus character.'

    Note: I use 'focus character' because the terms 'protagonist,' 'main character' and 'central character' can all mean one or more characters whereas I'm using 'focus character' to mean: the one character who is affected in one way or another by every event in your story no matter who's involved in said event. This is also the character that will appear in the majority of scenes (ie. more than 50%) working hard at solving her problems.

    From what you've outlined ATM, the focus character will almost certainly be one of the older characters. It could be the one who ran away, but if you want some level of mystery, it would take a lot of effort to make her disappearance a mystery while putting her in the middle of things throughout the novel.

    Hope this helps.

    EDIT: My wife just pointed out that there will be a lot of emotional baggage around this whole 'donated daughter' element and that should give you lots to explore, too. You've said nothing about the men involved in the story, but you might keep in mind their feelings as well. Will the adoptive father be content to raise another man's daughter? Will the bio-dad think it's okay for someone else to raise his flesh and blood? Men are good at throwing monkey wrenches into situations like this and will often wage their own wars that treat the women more as playing pieces on a chessboard than as real people... but then, you knew that. And those man-wars could serve you well as you look for obstacles and challenges for your characters to overcome.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2017
  5. Seren

    Seren Active Member

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    I think what you have is fine. You have lots of themes and ideas and plenty of conflict regardless of what category it actually falls into. I like the idea of the book opening with L's disappearance and then slowly unravelling everything behind it, although I don't think the story goal needs to be the hunt. That suggests the book will be somewhat suspended in a time you didn't originally want it to be stuck in, with the characters hunting for her in the present and giving us flashbacks. Your plot description puts a lot of emphasis on all the events leading up to that moment and only a tiny bit on this hunt. That suggests to me that if you wrote it the way I think you might, it would be a bit of a struggle to make anything in the "present" interesting. It would be nice if you opened with L going missing, either in a prologue or your first chapter, and then started from the beginning of the story thread and told it completely in order, not touching on the disappearance and hunt again until you chronologically reached it.

    I hope that makes sense. :)
     
  6. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Active Member

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    Wow, amazing feedback!! Thanks so much, everybody!

    Great idea, not sure how I didn't see that before!

    I was concerned that the hunt and death would defocus my story. I want them to be pivotal to the focus characters' development, but didn't want to give them more 'screen time' than necessary. I've never heard of bookending before. Just did some Googling, and I think this could definitely be the answer. I'm not quite sure how to implement bookending in a practical sense, but I'm sure some more research will teach me what I need to know!
    SPOILER - The death is actually the death of L - the daughter who runs away. As my current plan stands, she is involved in a car accident and dies before E & C find her (it is the news reports on the radio that lead them to her). I'm still in two minds about including this element (L's death). I don't want to make readers feel betrayed and angry after they've been so invested in the story and then find out that L dies before her mum(s?) even find her. My hope is to explore the emotions and internal conflicts that the two women would undergo upon having the chance for closure and forgiveness snatched away from them. They would need to finally make peace with one another and journey through their grief together as all sorts of questions come up - who was really L's mother? Did one love her more? What would they have wanted to say if they had had the chance? What regrets do they have about the way they did things? What choices would they make in the future?

    This is something I am still unresolved on. I don't know who to make my focus character. I believe I've been able to narrow it down to just the two adult sisters, C & E. Then the supporting cast include L, E's husband, E's lover, L's bio-dad, C's first daughter and L's grandparents. But is it a mistake, putting L in the supporting cast? I don't want her to be a passive character but I also can't have everybody in the limelight all the time. My primary interest is exploring the relationship between the adult sisters and the two very different paths their lives have taken.

    Absolutely! But then how do I do that if L is not a 'focus character' (can a support cast member be a main character at the same time)??

    Aaah yes. The men all have very important roles to play! I just didn't want to confuse the basic summary in the original post, by including all the details! :)

    Absolutely. You hit the nail on the head. I don't want the book focused in the present day time of the hunt. All of the interesting stuff was happening 18 years prior to L's disappearance!

    I'm just unsure as to how to successfully bookend without it coming across as a contrived literary tool rather than a seamless progression of story. I need to do some more research on bookending, I think!

    Thanks again, everybody, for taking the time to leave your thoughts and suggestions. It's been super helpful!!
     
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  7. Seren

    Seren Active Member

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    I think it would still be interesting even if you went completely chronologically and didn't bookend: so if it ends up not feeling right then I think the reader will still be pulled in. It would just be a nice, strong hook, for me at least.
     
  8. Lifeline

    Lifeline Out of the Night Supporter Contributor

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    First of all, I agree with @BayView that it is not in all cases necessary to have an external driving conflict. I think it depends a good deal on your genre and the vision you have in your head.

    If you DO want an external conflict I've a few thoughts but take them with the grain of salt that it is your story I am thinking about. In the end, you are the one who has to write it :)

    If you start the story with L running away, you'd have to tell the story in the present:
    - That means you'd tell the story either in the present of the search (scenario 1) or
    - use the running away as a frame or 'bookend', and the story would be told in the present of years and growing up of L (scenario 2).

    In the first scenario you'd have to tell L's side of the story through interactions between family members. All references to her would have to be shown either by a) family members reminiscending, or b) interacting/shouting at each other, or c) as internal reflections of L while she is out there wherever. Which is a whole lot of reflection and referencing without the focal character having the choice to interact (read: show, not tell). Which might or might not be what you want. From personal experience I have found that it heightens tension if the reader is able to experience something from the viewpoint of the one who sits at the focal point - and that is L.

    In the second scenario you'd establish a frame for more than a few pages. I'd think it needs at least a chapter, to show the importance and the impact that L's running away has on the family. Then you'd jump back in time and the reader would be jerked out of the attachment he/she has build. Again, it can be pulled off but I think it will not be easy.

    Have fun writing ;)
     
  9. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Active Member

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    So I just wrote a 2.5 page prologue following the bookend concept... would it be appropriate to post it here for people's feedback? (I'm still learning the ropes regarding forum etiquette and specific thread requirements!)

    L isn't my protagonist - C and E share that role equally (told through swapping POVs). L is a main character but not the one who drives the plot. It is C's and E's relationship and choices that propel the story forward.

    I've written the opening bookend as a reflection-type piece, with E in present day time (but in past tense voice) remembering the day they realised L had run away. I'm thinking from here, I will take the reader back to the 1930s when C & E were young women and, in present tense voice, begin unfolding the story in a linear format, following their relationships with each other and others, their choices and the deceptions and events that finally lead up to the disappearance of L. At this point, the prologue would be re-told in the present-tense form as the natural progression of the linear story, winding up for the big climax soon after.
     
  10. Lifeline

    Lifeline Out of the Night Supporter Contributor

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    Uhm I am not exactly sure. I don't usually use either the workshop, nor post bits of my WIP in specific threads in other subforums so I honestly don't know if it would be appropriate. Going by my gut-feeling I suspect it should go into the workshop, but I think this question should be answered by the more senior members.

    You can always just start writing the main part of the story, starting in the 1930s and settle the question of how to make the prologue when you have written more. Most advice I have heard is to not get hung up on the start of the story because it most likely will shift around. Judging from my own struggles, this is true :rolleyes:
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2017
  11. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Active Member

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    Thanks for your feedback! It is so nice to feel like I'm not doing it alone. I'm just not a solitary type of person in any area of my life, and writing can be a lonely pursuit sometimes! Love all the suggestions and encouragement. I'm really inspired by the bookend idea and so far I'm delighted with the way the prologue seems to be segueing into the main story. So I'm just going to run with it for now, and see how I go!
     
  12. Lifeline

    Lifeline Out of the Night Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry for misinterpreting what you wrote at the start, but I got confused by 'when L runs away things come to a pitch'. This sounded to me like you meant it to be a pivotal point, and that L would be a main character.
     
  13. Lifeline

    Lifeline Out of the Night Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah well - that's what Alpha readers (and friends) are there for :D
     
  14. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Active Member

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    I can understand the confusion! I'm still figuring it out in my own mind and so perhaps am not explaining things clearly. :)

    What's the difference between alpha readers and beta readers? How does one go about connecting with readers of this sort? I find the idea of sharing unfinished writing with people who I personally know to be quite daunting and vulnerable, I would rather share the first drafts with people I don't actually know! :p
     
  15. Lifeline

    Lifeline Out of the Night Supporter Contributor

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    Well there are several differing opinions (as with almost everything in writing :D ) but I'll give you my personal take:

    - Alpha: A person who comments on character arcs, story structure, things that don't work generally, inconsistencies; the kind of comments a casual reader would pick up. In the early stages of a draft these comments are infinitely valuable!
    - Beta: A person versed in the 'craft of writing' who can comment on pacing, SPAG, micro-tension, numbers of adverbs, and whatsnot that a casual reader would probably not 'catch'. The chance of crafting a work to be enjoyed by a whole lot of people are better if the writing flows (not to mention that if you submit to traditional publishers they expect a certain level of proficiency), and a good Beta should be able to point out all the technical issues with it (and additionally comment on Alpha stuff if there is any left).

    How to go about it? Just ask :) Honestly, that has always served me well. If there was a person whose writing I'd admired I'd ask. Or if I had a research question which got answered and I found myself in 'tune' with the helper (copy that oh you my Alphas?? :D ). I find it much more difficult to share with people who can give well-founded critique on facts/events (research oriented if you like) than with people who are friends in RL - but that's my own pecularity.

    But this forum here provides you opportunity enough to connect with people you don't know if you have kittens - so go for it. We have here the 'collaboration' subforum which you can use if you stick around a bit (it gets unlocked at a certain point, please look at the help-pages), or as I said, you can just make friends and ask them :)
     
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  16. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributing Member

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    Prologues are the death of good storytelling!
    Your story isn't linear if it requires an old person's reflections on the past to setup the story to come. If your story is indeed linear, and begins during the Great Depression, that's where you put the reader. No explanations, and certainly not with a wise old woman telling you what to think.
     
  17. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Active Member

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    Hmmm, you don't think there are ways to make this technique worthwhile? I usually hate prologues and would agreed with you but I like to think that every rule is up to be broken, if it's broken with style and skill. ;) (Obviously whether I've succeeded in said style and skill is up to others to determine, when I can find somebody to read my work.)

    My primary focus in the piece currently being called 'prologue' is to show, not tell, and to allude to a bigger conflict and establish a hook for the reader through giving the reader a couple of big questions straight up. The narrator is far from being the generic wise but prescriptive older woman!
     
  18. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributing Member

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    I wrote a vivid, lyrical, and if I do say so myself, brilliant one paragraph prologue to the story my writing partner and I are working on. And trashed it. The story begins as it should, with the reader not knowing anything at all about what's to come.
    My advice, find a way to hook the reader in that's more natural, so they feel as if they've discovered it on their own. Storytelling is all about manipulating the reader's emotions and expectations... play with them the way a cat does a wounded robin.:)
    I know there's folks that say rules are meant to be broken. Some rules though, we should hold fast to.
     
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  19. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Member

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    Sheep, it's set in Australia so there should be sheep, or oil, or trouble with the English, or the outback, or gold. It sounds like you got a lot of window dressing but nothing that ties it together, like money. Everybody has to make a buck somehow. Pardon my bluntness.
     
  20. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Active Member

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    I appreciate your thoughts. I wonder if it would be any different if I simply changed the word on the top of the page from 'prologue' to 'chapter one'...

    I honestly can't tell if you are even being serious! Haha.
     
  21. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributing Member

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    Not exactly... you can have your prologue and eat your cake too.:)

    Mary Shelley does it with a series of letters in Frankenstein. Do it in anyway that isn't the magical narrator talking down to the reader. The letters are a correspondence that do a great job foreshadowing the nature of the tale to come, but without divulging too much.
    Perhaps this older woman is speaking from beyond the grave, in the form of a letter that had never been read?
     
  22. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think a framing device could be useful for a story like this. I'm thinking of The Joy Luck Club - it's been a long time since I read it, but I think it might be worth you taking a look at in terms of structure - how to connect all these links from the past into something coherent in the present. Wuthering Heights might be a useful model in terms of a family-trauma approach.

    If you go for the framing, you'd need to figure out a way to explain the flashbacks, probably? In Wuthering Heights there's the visitor who gets stories told by the housekeeper; in Canterbury Tales they're all telling their stories as they travel; In Frankenstein wasn't the narrator writing to his sister or something? I can't remember how it was done in Joy Luck - the characters were all brought together in the modern day, but I can't remember how the story segued into the past events.

    Anyway, if you can figure out the structure, I think a frame can give good depth and interest to the past stories. You open with a sort of mystery - why is this girl running away? And then answer the mystery with the older stories.

    Damn, now that I write that... there was a story I read a decade or so ago... I can see the cover but not read the title! It was about a runnaway girl digging into her past.... there was... a dwarf, I think? Like, one of the characters she encountered was a dwarf? And she ended up in Malibu and made a pun about evil owls (Mal hibou in French), and... other stuff. Damn, I can't remember the title.

    And did White Oleander have a framing story? I feel like it did, but I could be wrong...

    ETA: Crossposted re. Frankenstein!
     
  23. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributing Member

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    That's interesting, and now I feel more confident in the first line the reader will come upon in the story I'm working on.

    "Each of the feathered vanes of an arrow-- do you know they use the feathers of an owl because owls fly silently", Valerie said, to no one in particular.
     
  24. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Member

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    I'm dead serious. It doesn't seem as though there is a common binding theme in your story. It's all sub plots, or so you seem to describe it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
  25. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Active Member

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    Haha fair enough! I was just unsure as to the relevance or usefulness of using sheep or the outback to tie together a plot about a mysterious child-swap arrangement that includes secrecy, betrayal, blackmail and intrigue with multi-generational impact, set in suburban Melbourne in the 30's. There will be trans-continental backpacking/hitchhiking/road tripping. Perhaps that satisfies the 'outback' requirement? hehe ;)

    I suspect you are not Australian... I would debate the accuracy of your suggestion that "It is set in Australia, therefore it must meet these requirements..."

    I appreciate your input, nonetheless! I'm sorry if I haven't explained the various elements of the novel in a way that gives you a complete picture about the whole work. I only felt it was necessary to summarise the parts which were directly relevant to the conversation about the prologue/book-ending/time frame topic. If I told you about all of the major themes and plot developments, you'd not need to read the book when it's finished! ;)


    Thanks for referencing all those works. Some I have read many years ago, some not at all. I will have to do some research!

    As it currently stands, my 'prologue' is in a sense a kind of flash forward. It opens with "If I had known that my day would begin with a frantic knocking on my door and my sister’s voice yelling through the window that my daughter was gone, I would never have woken at five in the morning to paint the back room in that hideous sunflower yellow that Lucy - a newly minted hippie - loved with such questionable passion." (note: past tense form)

    Following this first chapter/prologue/flash forward, the novel will slip back about 18 years and proceed in a chronological nature for the rest of the book - narrated in present tense (in 'real time', if you will) leading all the way up until the moment which is described in the 'prologue' (which will be re-narrated in present tense form and from a different character's POV) and then reaching beyond that to discover what happened next, which will bring about the denouement and conclusion.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017

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