1. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    I have difficulty answering the question "What is your story about?"

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by DaveLu, Oct 26, 2016.

    My writing process is usually a mix of plotting and pansing, though I tend to do more of the former. I come up with a list of ideas, which I then try to organize into an outline. However, what often happens is the idea list gets longer and longer as I think of more interesting ideas. I come up with so much to the point where the plot starts to get too complex and maybe even superfluous. I get stuck in this kind of perpetual state of plotting.

    I've tried to stop plotting and start writing whenever this happens, but that didn't seem to bring me any closer to my goal. What's more is the ideas begin to become unfocused. They don't revolve enough around the Main Character's goal and Main conflict because there's more elements and characters being introduced. They all relate to the goal in one way, but not as strongly. (I have a hard time dealing with Main Goal and Conflict)

    Let's stay I start off with a general idea, "A boy wakes up to find that his sister is missing." From here I would build around this, focusing on events I would want to happen. Maybe "He finds a note by a river in his sister's hand writing" and "a car tries to run him off the road after he finds another clue." And then as I come up with more ideas and things start to stray a little, I'll write down something like "He runs away from home" etc.

    I'll keep coming up with ideas like this, but can never manage to connect them. No matter how many ideas I have I can never quite make it into a fully linked Beginning, Middle, and End. I can't get it from that premise statement to a fully fleshed synopsis.

    At the end of the day, when someone asks me "What is your story about?" I can't explain it to them in a few words. I have to go into this long explanation about the whole story line and my ideas. I get embarrassed every time this happens because the answer I give just seems so unprepared and unsure.
     
  2. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    Main goal and conflict are crucial parts of the story--so crucial that you really don't have much of a story without them. But to me, a goal and conflict is much more robust than simply, "A boy wakes up to find his sister missing." That's not to say you have to have a solid goal and conflict mapped out before you start writing, but as a plotter (the direction I also tend to lean), it certainly helps keep things in perspective from the get-go.

    Let's break it down a little. A story is, in essence, about someone who wants something he or she doesn't already have. He or she tries to get it. The antagonist is in the way. The protagonist overcomes the antagonist to get The Thing. That's about as simple as it gets, but it gets at the crux of the issue. The Thing. What is it?

    I'd argue that it's more complicated than finding his missing sister, and perhaps that's where the problem is--you may not know the true goal of your character.

    The way I think of character goals is like this--there are things we know we want and things we don't know we want. The things we know we want--a girlfriend, a new job, a big house, financial independence--are tangible. We can say if we have them or if we don't. But the things we don't know we want are intangible--affirmation of self-worth, for example. It's not so easy to say if we've attained that or not, especially since we don't know we want it. But this allows you to layer your characters and your story.

    For example, let's say my character, Bob, deeply wants that affirmation of self-worth without knowing it. What will make him think he has it? Maybe a new job. So the conflict is, he needs to get that new job. How does he go about it? Maybe he applies for it but knows he's terrible at interviews (which fuels his self-deprecation, driving him further from his goal). Maybe the interviewer is biased against him and he really struggles. Maybe he fails. Maybe he tries again. Maybe he gets the job.

    Then we complicate things. Does getting the job actually give him that sense of self-worth? No way. Now he's stressed over his job. That interviewer's actually his boss and makes life difficult for him. Points out all his mistakes. Makes sure to throw him under the bus. So now what? Now he has to dig deeper, internally, and figure out why he's not happy. He needs to try and unearth that deeper-level goal and figure out how he can attain it.

    Side plots and side characters can relate at any level. There will be characters and plots that relate at the outer level--the finding a job level, as well as any other outer goal he tries to attain in search of that inner goal. And there will also be characters and plots that relate on the inner level--the ones that touch deeply on The Thing Bob really wants, even if he doesn't know it. And you build from there (or, at least, I do).

    What's my story about? Bob trying to reach that inner goal. That's what it's truly about.

    But, that's what works for me. That's the way I approach it. YMMV, as they say.
     
  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    For me, that question, "What is your story about?", has a very different meaning. For me, the answer to that question is going to be something along the lines of a one word idea: Forgiveness, Discovery, Learning, etc. No matter where my story meanders or wanders off to, that answer always remains the same.

    You seem to be looking for a synopsis, which to me is something very different.

    Like if I were to give you a synopsis of one of my WIP's, the answer would be: It's about this guy named Tevin who falls in love with the most unlikely person, this other guy named Brenn. They have an adventure and along the way they learn to see the world through each other's eyes.
     
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  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    See how @xanadu 's answer allows for all kinds of paths to happen in the story with that one bright point off in the distance that is the goal?
     
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  5. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    Would you call the intangible wants the motivations? And I guess I should have came up with a more fleshed out example, but could he not want to find his sister for simply love or family? Or is that too shallow.
     
  6. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    Ultimately it's up to your story to determine that, but if you're having issues keeping things relevant or trying to find a unifying goal that brings everything together, you may want to look a little deeper. Keep in mind, "finding his sister" can be a means to an end--a step along the path to a different goal--but that's something that's going to depend on your story.
     
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  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    When people ask me what I'm writing I say I've got a suspense-thriller murder mystery. That seems to go over well at parties. ;)
     
  8. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributor Contributor

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    I kinda know what you mean, my last project "Prestige & Glamour" is sorta that process.

    I wanted to write a story about a heartless witch on parole for mistreament of mortals with inproportionate curses for unintentional slights and having to assist humans & substain from use of unsanctioned spells as community service. It seemed fun.

    So I played around with her cold, bitchy personality to really nail her. Then I played around with her companion's personality to a balance her out & to force her into actions she otherwise wouldn't engage of her own volition.

    Then a whole bunch of scenes & dialogues & events play through my head, and often I'll jot down quick excerpts of these portions or keep them rattling around my brain till I write it out.

    And the story grows scene by scene & character by character.

    I don't figure out the full scope of the story until the story is in fact concluded.

    I don't think it's anything to be too stressed about, if you don't know what your story fully portends before you've finished it. Some people sure know where they're going with it from the onset & are steering the story in that direction; some discover in the midst of writing; some of us figure it out in the end.

    That said, it should never end up a pointless ambling of a story. If it does, you need to go back & fix it.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That sounds like a lot of story and no plot. Who are your characters? What do they want? What is it that is getting in their way?

    Besides the mystery/thriller genre, is there a evil criminal? A stalker? Is it about money? Heirs fighting? Spies? You need a plot.

    You might try Lisa Cron's Wired for Story. I sound like a broken record recommending that book, but it covers one aspect a lot of writers could use some additional knowledge in.
     
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  10. Solar

    Solar Contributor Contributor

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    I just say it's about stuff.
     
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  11. wrigby paige

    wrigby paige New Member

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    There's also the synopsis we have internally in our minds which differentiates one story idea from another. Hopefully that's not too esoteric. For example, the core of story A is superheroes unite to save the world from aliens, and story B is a young man helps the rebels defeat the evil empire.

    Even if you have a kitchen sink's worth of ideas, you will hone your craft and instinctively be able to discern which of those ideas do not fit your vision for the story and which ones are merely superfluous.
     
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  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Just tell people that you are the God of many universes, and spend the vast majority of your time antagonizing the poor inhabitants. :supergrin:

    (But be careful. Theoretical Physics supports the multi-verse theory, so it just might be true.):superlaugh:
     
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  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I always liked the saying—and I forgot what writer said it, and I'm paraphrasing here—"If I could have told my story in 500 words or less, I wouldn't have bothered writing a novel."

    I know, I know ...not much help at all. But it's a perspective I like.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2016
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  14. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    That sounds like a really fun read! I guess I need to stop stressing over things so much and just let it flow. I think a lot of story writing is kind of like nurturing a plant. You just have to keep caring for it until it blossoms. One just has to be sure not to over water or over feed it.

    Alright seems like I need to sit down with my characters and have another talk lol And I'll definitely check it out, as I haven't heard of that one before.

    Every time I go to my dentist she asks me what I'm writing, about her ideas, and what I plan to do with "a creative writing minor". Girl, please just clean my teeth.
     
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