1. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    Keeping Pressure on my Plot

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mikmaxs, Mar 6, 2017.

    In summary:
    My story is a sort of road-trip/investigation sort of story, where my two characters are working to try and track down some kidnapped people and rescue them.

    The problem I'm finding is that, as connective tissue, this story elemeny is doing very little, and I'm left with a string of try/fail and try/succeed cycles that are all good on their own, but lack any sort of pressure or momentum.

    There are a couple ideas I've had to fix this or alleviate the issue, but they all have their own unique problems.

    One: Currently, I have it so that it takes my protagonist a couple of months to find a willing bounty hunter to help her. I can reduce this time to make the inciting incedent more immediate and relevant, but the quicker it is, the less time she will have had to feel the pressure of and adapting to living on her own and handling her family's farm on her own, and the more coincidental and lucky (and therefore suspension breaking) it will be that she finds the perfect person for the job.

    I could include flashbacks which include her family who were kidnapped, but I have no idea how those would have any bearing on the plot *besides* reminding the reader that they exist.

    Lastly, I could include cuts to her family in the place where they're kidnapped, but that will require an entire second plot, and would increase the length of the book by at least 50%, which seems a bit like getting a heart transplant to fix high cholesterol.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Without wanting to get into specifics, if each try/fail sequence leaves the situation worse, or the time frame becomes tighter (in terms of maybe the kidnappers threatening to kill the parents, or something like that) then your plot should move forward, no bother. Just tighten the screws if you can. Each try/fail will leave her in a more desperate situation. Do beware of letting the forward momentum stall, while developing different aspects of minor story arcs.

    Decide before you write it what each chapter needs to accomplish. By accomplish, I mean how will the chapter take your story forward? Be specific. If you settle this issue ahead of time, you're more likely to focus and get the job done, rather than just meander around within the chapter, doing interesting things but not getting anywhere much.
     
  3. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    The problem is that my heroes spend most of their time trying to find the villain, and even once they locate him, it's a while longer before they get to where he is.
    I can make things better/worse for her with other conflicts, (she gets seperated from the mercenary she hired, gets in trouble with the law, etc.), and the plot is moving along at a nice clip, but it's almost possible to forget why their story matters, because they have no direct contact with the people they're rescuing, and thus there's no personal attachment for the audience - She's rescuing a MacGuffin.
     
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  4. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    After flailing around trying to get my novel to come together, I finally found Lisa Cron's Story Genius. Her trick is to have what she calls the third rail, the driving force or belief behind the plot. Each scene requires making a 'scene card' in which the external plot and the third rail are constructed together. At the end of the scene card is a final And so where the future effects are added. I've found this technique very effective for bringing a lot of coherence to my story.
     
  5. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I don't know the specifics of your plot. But I'd say make sure each one of your chapters accomplishes something that contributes to reaching the end of your story, and you should be okay. I assume you have an overall purpose to the story and an ending in mind? Just make sure all your chapters help you get there. Be careful of creating 'interludes' that don't really matter.
     
  6. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    Well... Okay, I'm doing that. I have an overall purpose, I have an ending. Every scene works towards the goal in one volume or another, but that's not my problem.

    My problem is that the source of conflict and the character's goal is very far removed from the action, and that makes the conflict feel less important than it should. She wants to rescue her family, but her family (as it currently stands) do not have any appearances in the story because it starts after they're kidnapped and they are not able to contact her in any way. It's third-person subjective, so not as strict as first person, but I still don't want to cut away from her viewpoint if I can avoid it.
    Meanwhile, the villain is also far removed - She never meets him until near the end. I include a little foreshadowing about him, but the problem is that the audience doesn't KNOW that it's foreshadowing until he shows up, because they don't know who he is.

    So, as it currently stands, my character is searching after what is effectively a random macguffin (since her family has zero characterization) and trying to retrieve it from an unnamed and unknown bad guy who, because of how the story is set up, can't have any direct impact on the difficulty of her journey.

    There's conflict, but it's all situational, dealing with the moment-to-moment issues raised by the various circumstances that she encounters on her journey. (Which is why I compared it to a road-trip story.) I am worried that this will leave the audience unconcerned about the overall success of the mission - They want my MC to be okay, sure, but since her eventual goals and eventual enemies are a nonentity for most of the story, I think it's very easy not to care if she actually succeeds on her mission.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well one of the best ways to make her parents come alive for the reader, is use her POV to think about them, to remember them, to worry about them. The more worried she is, the more worried we'll be as readers.

    Does she know they've been kidnapped? If she does, she'll know there is a 'kidnapper' out there somewhere. So she'll be thinking about him/her as well—wondering who they are, what their game is, wondering if the kidnapping was random or if her parents were targetted for a reason. And if so, she either knows the reason or will be wondering about it. And having hunches, maybe even getting messages from the kidnappers? Kidnappers don't usually kidnap people without some motive, usually involving ransom, blackmail, or some other agenda (maybe even trying to catch somebody who might be motivated to look for the people he's kidnapped.) All of these details will contribute to reader anxiety, which is what you probably want here.

    If you have a POV character, fully use her POV. Don't just show her doing stuff, going places, speaking to people, etc. Let us in to her mind and heart. She will be terribly anxious and worried here ...and if you're using her POV to its fullest extent, so will we, the readers.

    The Wikipedia definition of a McGuffin is this: In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot.

    Why is the kidnapping of the woman's parents unimportant to your overall plot? Make it important, and you'll solve your problem, and you'll have a more compelling story.

    If it truly is NOT important to the plot, then something must be. Discover what that something is, and work towards making the reader feel strongly about it. If nothing is very important to your plot, and your main character is just wandering around having adventures, that is likely to the core of your problem.
     
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2017
  8. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    Her parents were part of a larger group of people kidnapped to be taken as slaves. While my MC doesn't know this right away, it's figured out pretty early. The kidnappers were a fairly large group, and effectively don't know that the MC even exists - They're aware that there are people effected by their kidnapping, but they don't know who she is or that she's coming for them.
    I could obfuscate the reason as to why her parents were taken for longer than I currently do, but it's still not going to be for super long - My MC's searching can't get too far without finding this out, because a large part of the investigation revolves around finding slavers to get information.

    She's a POV character in that the story is told from a subjective viewpoint - The audience generally only sees what she sees, because the viewpoint is always in the same room that she is. I'm more doing this to prevent the dissonance that occurs when there's an omniscient narrator or multiple viewpoints, but secrets are still kept from the audience that wouldn't make sense to be hidden otherwise. (The bounty hunter has secrets that he is keeping, for story reasons.) We can't see her thoughts.

    I can have her talk about her family with the bounty hunter, mention things in conversation, show that's she's worried, etc, but I don't know if that'll be enough to really convey the importance of her goal without some action or narrative weight to back it up.

    You're misreading what a McGuffin is here, I think. As the quote you listed says, the McGuffin is important, but the specific nature of the McGuffin is unimportant. For example, the Arc of the Covenant in Indiana Jones - What matters is that it's an important thingamajig that the Nazis want. The actual nature of the object itself doesn't really matter, because the specific nature is unimportant.
    In the same way, as my story currently stands, her parents being kidnapped is EXTREMELY important to the plot - Without it, there would be no story. However, the specific nature of her missing parents doesn't really come into play - It matters that she is looking for something (or in this case, someone) of extreme value that was taken by a bad guy, but other than the fact that 'Parents' are a much stronger motivation than, say, 'They stole the good silver', there's no real reason it has to be her parents at this point.

    Also, and I feel like this is important to note: All of what I mentioned above is my problem.
    I want her parents to be more than just 'The thing that's being looked for.' I want them to matter, so that there's more investment in her goal, and so that the plot doesn't lose tension. But just having her mention her family in conversation doesn't seem strong enough, and I don't have a better solution to make her parents seem important in a tangible sense. It's her goal, and it is nominally important, (Because it's the reason she starts her quest, it's her destination, she needs it to go back to a normal life, etc,) but there's no emotional connection.



    With all this in mind, let me rephrase the question:
    How do I establish an emotional connection to characters who are never seen? Or, possibly, how do I show these characters in a plot-relevant way when they can't appear as part of the MC's actual quest?
     
  9. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Are her parents important to her, in an emotional sense? Does she know them or remember them? Or are they just something she thinks she ought to do, once she finds out they've been kidnapped?

    You say: But just having her mention her family in conversation doesn't seem strong enough, and I don't have a better solution to make her parents seem important in a tangible sense.

    You're absolutely right. Just mentioning her family in conversation won't be strong enough. However, she is your POV character. As such, she should be revealing her inner thoughts and feelings to the reader. If she cares for her parents, and this is a strong motivator for her to be doing what she's doing, THIS is where the purpose of the story takes place. In her head and heart.

    We don't have to 'meet' the parents to get to know them. We'll get to know them via her memories—which may be pleasant or otherwise—and whatever it is she wants to happen if/when she finds them and rescues them. Does she want to be happy families with them? Tearful reunion? Revenge? Does she want to prove a point to them? Does she look upon this as a duty, for which she has little emotional connection? Or is this something she must do or burst with grief? This kind of insight is where the story will come alive for the reader.

    Use your POV character, and give us her point of view, as thoroughly as you can. It's not just what she does and says, it's also what she thinks and feels as well.
     
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2017
  10. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    I mentioned this in my last post, but to be clear: She is not a POV character in the way you are describing. You are describing either first person, or third person subjective with a heavy emphasis on the 'subjective' part. That is not what I am writing with. I am using Third Person Subjective, but in a looser sense. The narrative follows her around, but it is third person, and doesn't go into anyone's head. She isn't telling us the story, we're not being told the story from her brain, we are being told the story by an invisible narrator that's following her around and recording everything she's doing. (I've heard the term 'Third Person Limited' in similar context, but I'm not sure if that's completely apt, so I won't use it here.)

    I can't just write what she is thinking. I can have her *say* what she is thinking, but she's not going to just announce every thought in her brain, so it's not going to cover things completely - If she mentions things, it will be in conversation, but as we've established just talking about her family doesn't seem strong enough.
    Similarly, I can't just say how she's feeling. I can demonstrate it by her actions, but that's still not strong enough.


    (Something that I didn't mention but probably should have: She's 16. She has lived with her parents and brother her whole life. I mentioned that she is taking care of the family farm and living on her own for the first time, but... Yeah. She's not quite a fully matured adult just yet. Her parents are very important to her, and she literally cannot live a normal life without them.)
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Right. I wasn't clear about the POV angle. I actually haven't ever heard of that kind of POV ...where a narrator doesn't let on what anybody is thinking or feeling, but just shows what they do and say. In other words, this POV operates kind of like a camera and recorder?

    Hmm. If that's the case, I see your problem. You can't show the reader anything that isn't actually happening right in front of them—so we can't know anything about the parents that we can't see, or can't be talked about? I'm not sure how I'd handle that. Maybe there is somebody else here on the forum who is familiar with this kind of POV who will be more help than I've been. :) I'll follow this thread and see what I can learn. An intriguing dilemma, for sure.

    Aha! I've just discovered what that POV is called. Objective POV. Interesting. I have never heard of it before.

    http://www.learner.org/interactives/literature/read/pov2.html
     
  12. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    If anyone is interested, Cormac McCarthy handles a mostly objective POV masterfully.

    That's the guy to study. It's not used very often.
     
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  13. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

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    The woman and the bounty hunter could both be hunting down the people independently. To begin with, they're getting in to each other's way, and are an annoyance to each other. Then, they both turn up on a good lead at the same time. It doesn't work out, but they end up interacting, and forming a truce/trading of information agreement. Then, they decide to work together, as they are both working towards the same goal. There can be conflict still, though, as they are both doing it for different reasons.
     
  14. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    I mean, that's not a bad idea, but it doesn't really fit what I'm doing for a multitude of reasons, and it doesn't fix the problem anyways - My issue is that the end goal isn't as compelling as it should be, not that I need things to do on the way there.
     
  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    The most obvious way to add pressure to a hunt is to introduce some kind of time pressure - they have to find the kidnapped people by xyz date or They'll be killed, or they need the knowledge that one of them has by a certain date because..., or they've been given a dealine to find them oranother hostage will die or whatever

    you can also refference the tickdown of time in chapter headings
     

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