1. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    I have no idea what I want to say.

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mouthwash, Feb 16, 2017.

    Can someone help me do some introspection? I know how stories make me feel, and I know that I like certain plotlines... it's just totally different from the perspective of the writer. There's a vague setting and a scattered bunch of ideas spinning around my head, but I have absolutely no idea what the point of the story is going to be.

    If it helps, I like reading hard science fiction as well as fantasy that has some kind of revelation or discovery as its theme. I also prefer characters becoming more than what they are at the beginning or fulfilling some kind of destiny. For this reason, tragedies and underdog stories of rebellion don't really move me. The Myers-Briggs test would label me intuitive.

    Maybe the difficulty of building a story that would satisfy this is just too much for me.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
  2. iRoppa

    iRoppa Member

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    Do you not answer your own question here?
     
  3. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    Not in any useful way. I know what sort of point I want to make, but I can't imagine what point specifically.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
  4. iRoppa

    iRoppa Member

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    Can you expand on what you mean by 'point'? Are you looking for plot ideas? Or an actual theme?
     
  5. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    The former.
     
  6. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    If you know what sort of point you want to make, start there, start writing - the rest of it will come. The "point" of my book changed at least two or three times in the process of writing (getting to know characters will do that to you, by the way, the more meat you put on the bones, the more it feels like it's moving organically rather than according to plan - at least in my experience.)

    Here's the other thing, sometimes you need to let the story make a point that you can't really vocalize. That sounds abstract, but actually there's some concrete basis for that. I went to a lecture on Russian literature once, and the guy giving it made the point that in English/American literature, we have a tendency to start from abstract philosophy (Plato, Voltaire, Marx, whatever) and build a narrative on top of that. In Russian literature it tends to got the other way - the novelists are the cultural touchstone (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc.) and the abstract philosophers end up commenting on the narrative and why it does what it does - start with a character, a human being or at least a fake human being, look at his/her unpredictable behavior, and ask what that says about the human experience. (And I'm just paraphrasing someone else's lecture so don't ask me to back this up with anything).

    Anyway, I think the guy had a point about the function of novelists in society, which is that by building imaginary people - we try to capture those parts of humanity that defy easy explanation in abstract philosophy. So, it's good to have a point (I have tons of them), but at the end of the day, a significant part of our art is embracing the fact that humanity is a lot messier and more random than academics would like to think it is.

    And that may be the single most esoteric thing I've ever put on this board - but at least in my case it's true. Tell a human story, and it will make some of it's own points.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
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  7. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    Also - if you're more intuitive you may consider starting somewhere other than a plot outline. I have loose mental outlines and occasional notes on paper but normally I'm mostly a discovery writer (which means I write with no outline and work forward along with the characters - it's messy and requires more back-end editing, but it works for me).

    Sometimes plot can be a good starting point, but in my case I almost always start with character. I'll get a loose idea for a world, then plop a character down in that situation - and then as the character develops more fully I get an idea of where they're going, who else is involved, what point they're trying to make, and what I need to throw at them to cause conflict.

    Heres one example: I started with the idea of "Fallen Valkyrie who's now a practicing Orthodox Jew" (this is what happens when you go see Wagner's Ring Cycle operas during Passover and get thinking about anti-Semitism). So start with Wagner's nine valkyries, I picked Rosseweisse, the one with the last entrance and fewest lines. Assume they escape the incineration of Valhalla/Ragnorok at the end of the operas (spoiler) - okay, so how do you get from there to an immortal in modern America practicing Judaism? Wait a minute - How does a being with tangible proof of her own divinity end up serving religion other than the one that worships her? Oh, wait, there's your villain - we have a Jewish valkyrie - now let's meet her evil twin sister who's now a neo-Nazi. Oh wait, these people are both immortal - when did Ragnorok happen? Well, probably about the time Norse religion died out - which lines up with both the People's Crusade in Germany (look up that atrocity sometime) and the Greenlandic norse sagas (the only viking connection to America...). So, okay, I have one Valkyrie who gets picked up by Rhineland Jews in a field in France, decides firmly that she is NOT a god (if there's a world after the your gods literally die and the you watch the tree of life burn, something about your perception of reality must have been wrong). She ends up serving as a sort of mythical protector for assorted Jewish communities through the ages. The other one decides she IS a god wants to rebuild the glory of Valhalla - which of course means she's involved in all sorts of anti-Semitism over the years. The two circle eachother until WWII (where things get REALLY dark) - then both end up in America when Europe blows up - and now after seventy years with no contact, they end up in a race to find something very, very old that could decide the fate of the world. Viola, plot starting from character - with a side of worldbuilding in this case (extrapolating what valkyries ARE if they're not divine was a challenge.)
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
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  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    My most successful brainstorming trick has been: when trying to come up with a good idea doesn't work, I try to come up with the opposite of a bad idea instead. I look for something that I don't like in fiction, and I try to show my readers something better.

    The best examples I can think of off the top of my head from my own work are about theme
    Some common world-views that make me want to throw up are
    • "People of compatible gender/orientation can't be friends unless one is already in a relationship"
    • "Evil people can't be friends without betraying each other"
    • "A woman who's in charge is 'bossy,' a man who's in charge is The Boss"
    • "A villain always thinks s/he's a hero"
    • "Men should talk about what they're doing to resolve the plot, women should talk about what the men are doing to resolve the plot"
    • "Men are deadlier than women"
    • "If black people are put in charge, then qualified people won't be"
    • "Women are sensitive and men are not"
    Countering all of these has given me:

    The villain protagonists of my Urban Fantasy are a crew of drug dealers turned bank robbers. My narrator is a straight white man named Alec, and one of his best friends is a straight white woman named Amy. They love each other platonically more than either one have ever loved anybody romantically, they wingman for each other because neither has to worry about the other cross-targeting, and there's no alpha-macho insecurity on Alec's part about Amy being a legendary serial killer "The Richmond Ripper" and him not being one.

    Their other best friend Charlie is a black woman whose orientation I have not yet settled on, and Alec is 100% willing to do what she tells him to do because a) she's The Boss of the group, and b) when they disagree, she generally turns out to be the one who's right.

    Alec and Charlie are walking into a bank (without Amy, the bank she tried to rob exploded and she's still unconscious in the hospital) and Alec asks if Charlie, being the boss, is going to take point on giving the teller their demands while Alec waits in the back in case of a shootout.

    Charlie reminds him that he's more of a people-person than she is and better at thinking on his feet. She's fantastic at running an organization, but a job in enemy territory requires a Luca Brasi instead of a Don Corleone. She's waiting in the back, Alec is taking point.

    One of the gang's numerous rivals in the story is a woman who loves reading about the world's most legendary psychopaths, serial killers, and who wants to read about herself in those same books someday. She's decided to extort millions from banks by making a name for herself as "The KT Bomber" not because she cares about the money, but because she wants to brag about being the kind of megalomaniac super-villain who brags about being a megalomanic super-villain.

    After the KT Bomber interrupts Alec and Charlie's attempted robbery (and brags about putting Amy in the hospital) Alec and Charlie high-tail it out of there. Charlie comes up with the idea to steal the Bomber's robbery, but the Bomber – who has been hiding in the car the whole time – jumps out of the back seat and holds Alec hostage to interrogate Charlie about what she meant by "stealing the robbery."
    But the same general principle applies just as well to plot. Can you think of any plots that you don't like seeing in stories and that you would like to do differently?
     
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  9. Megs33

    Megs33 Active Member

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    if you're like me, you're trying to force a plot idea rather than letting it occur organically. there's no way to tangibly explain it, but you've just gotta let go- step away from what is frustrating you. it can sit there in the periphery, but don't make it your sole focus. maybe you have a character idea that sings to you, something you can picture clearly (or that you at least have a feel for); let that take root and flourish for a little while. then suddenly you might realize that this character should do X as part of his/her development, and a puzzle piece falls in to place because there are dominoes that need to be knocked over in order for that idea to be plausible. i just follow the string, winding through a story that i didn't even know existed. and there will be holes along the way, and you might think "this is unbelievably stupid", but that's not for you to worry about initially. you just follow along.

    I also recommend you pay closer attention to your world outside of writing. it's taken me a while to realize that there are ideas upon ideas out there that are just waiting to boop you on the nose, and all you have to do is let them come to you. i've been reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (HIGHLY recommended), and she talks about how she keeps note cards in her purse or her pocket to write down any little idea that comes to her. she may not use the idea; it may sit in a desk drawer forever. but she notices and writes it all down. And it's not like it's a complete plot idea; she might just notice a red fire hydrant and think about a childhood memory of playing in the summertime.

    i think you might be surprised what you come up with when you aren't stressing out over what you *need* to produce out of your own head. i know i was!
     

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