1. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    Need help with story arc and emotional beats

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by DaveLu, Jun 6, 2017.

    This is hard to explain, I don't know myself what is missing but I'll try my best to explain!

    I guess the main point is that I can never seem to take my list of ideas from brainstorming to the next stage. Or better yet, I get halfway to the next stage but can't bring myself to fully flesh it out. My plot outlines always look like a list of ideas that aren't truly connected. I identify the inciting incident (sometimes only to discover that there may be another), and at least try to get a good character goal and flaw, but I can never get the characters to move because they're missing those internal notes. The ones that change them. Scenes always drag on. And things get boring.

    It's getting frustrating because it's becoming very hard for me to finish a story, not because I leave it and don't come back, but I guess because I get lost in the plotting. And it's all a bit discouraging. I'm trying to start small and write short stories but even those seem to lack a simple arc.

    I feel like I need to scrap everything I've learned about storywriting and just start over. I don't think, when it comes to character and internal conflict, I've ever really had a firm understanding of story structure (especially in the second act).

    I was re-watching Gone Girl, Buffy, and Game of Thrones today and it just got me thinking. All three are wonderfully written. The episodes/scenes for the most part hit the mark. It's like an awesome roller coaster with dips and turns that don't leave you bored. But mine is flat lining... I think I'm missing external and internal conflict and I'm not raising the stakes.
     
  2. dragonflare137

    dragonflare137 Member

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    So what the problem might be is something that has nothing to do with your story writing skills. There is an idea in psychology called tops-down and bottoms-up. Tops down is when you think about the whole and then break down into specifics, while bottoms up is when you start with specifics and then work your way up to the whole. The way that you have described in you post is like a bottoms up style of thinking. What the problem might be is that you are not a bottoms up type of thinker.

    My suggestion is to not scrape your ideas, but instead look at them in a different manner. Try going tops-down with it. Figure out where you want to start, a conflict, and how you want it to end. Then from their you can fill in the areas that are missing. First place down scenes that you want to happen, and then figure out ways to tie them together. Same thing with characters. Ask yourself how you want them to be in the beginning, and how you want them to be in the end. Then you fill in the gaps, and try to create little things that can help you get your character to develop the way you envision them to.

    For me, I tend to let my characters do the plotting for me. I think about what type of situations I would like them to be in, and then I would think about how they would solve these situations. Somewhere in all that, I find the one that I want. This not only gives me a portion of my plot, but it also gives me a more solid idea of who and what my character is, and if I do it correctly that idea can be translated to the readers.

    Now I don't know if my answer has helped you in anyway, but I do hope that you find your answer. You should never give up on your ideas unless you truly stop believing in them. Even then, your idea is your own, and that is what makes it special. Everybody has the capacity to create something wonderful, and I think you have that capability as well, you just have to find the right way for you. Good luck, and I really hope that this helps you :)
     
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  3. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    Maybe try a different method of writing? I'm not saying abandon brainstorming, but maybe try to just start writing instead of focusing on plotting? It is a theme with me, but I really believe in the concept of "just write." If you are dissatisfied with what you've put down, maybe go back and see what you can add to make it more what you want.

    And make sure you are reading. Always reading. Film is a brilliant medium, but it isn't anything like as effective a teacher as your fellow authors.
     
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  4. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    I think you're right, some of my best writing has started with a blank page and no outline where it all just spills out onto the page. But then in the midst of it, I start thinking about plotting too much and a mental block forms. So then it stops at chapter one because I get too hesitant to move onward.
     
  5. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    Hmm. In the immortal words of a Diaz, "don't be scared, homie!"

    Mental blocks are the worst. And unfortunately, they are a struggle that can only be overcome from within. All you can do is try different things. If you think that over-plotting is an issue, focus on telling yourself that you don't have to put all of your ideas in one particular story. Keep notes of interesting plot things you'd like to try out. Hell, remember that you have a computer! I know this sounds trite, but one of the wonderful things about these things is that you can write something, save it to a separate file, and come back to see if it works. You can try writing a scene several different ways just to see what you like best.

    Most importantly, remember that writing takes time. And things like this are why. You have to have patience with yourself. Develop good habits. Set out a specific time to write as many days out of the week as you can.
     
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  6. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    Hello Dave,

    I primarily specialize in Story Structure, so maybe can help you with your problem.

    The parts that change character are called Dilemmas. This is where he or she has to make a choice between the lesser of two evils, or the better of two goods. Your Character's choice is what changes them. These changes -be they small- build on top of each other until you reach the Climax of the story. The Climax is not some great battle, or where the hero defeats that villain but where the Hero makes the hardest choice in the story, and this choice changes the MC forever. But how do you provoke a dilemma? By structureing your story in the following manner.

    Scene # 1
    Goal: What is your character's goal? Example: A man is looking for his dog.
    Conflict: His cell phone keeps ringing.
    Disaster: Answering his phone, he learns his friend is in the hospital.
    Emotional shift: This one would take a whole blog post to explain how it truly works, but for simplicity, what Emotion does the disaster make the MC feel?
    Dilemma: Continue searching for his Dog, or Go to the Hospital to visit his dying friend. (He has to give up one for the other.)
    Decision: Whatever you pick leads to a new goal, either directly or indirectly.

    Scene # 2,
    Repeat everything.

    This how you structure scenes throughout your story. Thomas Harris, the writer of the Hannibal Lector series, follows this pattern vigour.
    I need to note that Scene does not mean setting. A Scene can have multiple settings (such as a chase scene). I tend use the word Plot Point instead of scene as it is less confusing.

    I hope this helps.

    -OJB.
     
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  7. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    I like that example! Would his decision lead him into the second act?
     
  8. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    It could.... See some stories have only 1 scene in Act I. Others might use 10. It really depends on the length of your story, and how much set-up you need.
     
  9. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    Using that example how would you build on top of that to make the dilemmas more and more harrowing. Say towards scene three? Every time I try to raise the stakes they're never strong enough or I feel like I've raised them too quickly so they lose impact.
     
  10. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    Dave,

    Since you brought up the break in ACT II I wanted to expand my thoughts on this as a way to show how these scenes chain together (within the 3 act structure) but more importantly how to get that character changes you were asking about.

    Let us say at the end of Scene 1, the character decides to go to the hospital. (This shows that the character cares for his friend.)

    Scene 2
    Goal: The man wants to see his friend.
    Conflict: The nurse won't let him visit.
    Disaster: The friend dies.
    Emotional Shift: Sadness.
    Dilemma: The nurse gives the Man a letter- a dying declaration- from the friend, and it ask the Man to seek out the Friend's long lost sister, and tell her that the Friend loved her, and wanted to make amends her. Now the MC has a Dilemma, take a leave from his life to find this lost lost sister, or ignore his friends request.
    Decision: Seek out the long lost sister (This gives the MC a story goal.)

    We could call this the end of ACT I, but let's add one more scene in order to get that emotional change you are after. (This is where the magic happens people.)

    Scene 3
    Goal: The MC wants to leave town in order to find the lost sister.
    Conflict: The MC's wife doesn't want him to leave town.
    Disaster: The MC's wife threatens a divorce!
    Emotional shift: Hurt.
    Dilemma: Leave his wife and search for the sister, or stay with his wife and not find the sister.

    This is where the power of the Dilemma shine. Let's us say that the MC's marriage is not a happy one, and he has been living a lie by staying with his wife. Now put into this Dilemma, the MC has the power to change his life and leave/change.

    Deision: He leaves his life, and sets out to find his friend's long lost sister. (This ends Act I as the MC has decided to go on the 'adventure.')
     
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  11. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    So speaking generally what makes the emotional shift/dilemma in latter scenes greater than their previous ones? As they go on, they have to be more powerful than the others in order to move the story forward and keep it from lagging, so what makes them different? That's another place I have trouble with. My dilemmas just seem like they aren't building up to anything.

    For example, in one of my stories the main character finds out someone is trying to kill him early on and I had no idea how I was going to raise the stakes from death. It's like I had a list of chronological events but no arc.
     
  12. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Have you ever read The Martian? After Mark Whatney finds out that he's been left alone on the planet, the story could be described as a "list of chronological events with no arc" because "he's just trying to survive on his own," but the ways that he tries to survive change from chapter to chapter.

    The stakes are fundamentally the same (death), but the story is about him driving the stakes away from himself as he finds new ways to survive, only for the stakes to come back with a vengeance as his solutions run into complications.
     
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  13. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    Two things Dave, (by the way, these are really good questions you are asking )

    When you design a story -at least this is what I do- think about the Climatic change and work backwards. Let us say the story starts with your character being a very selfish person and ends with him sacrificing his life to save a stranger, with that in mind, makes each dilemma before the last one a little less drastic.

    There are three layers of conflict that occur within a story (rather or not you use all three is another issue entirely) they are:

    Outer-personal (A threat that has no emotional attachment to the MC, such as unknown killer trying to off the MC.)
    Inter-personal (A conflict that does have an emotional attachment, like a cheating wife.)
    Inner-personal (An internal conflict such as emotions, fears, or mental illness.)

    Stakes operate also on these layers. So using your 'Someone is out to kill me' idea. Lets take a look.

    Outer-personal: Some random dude tries to kill the MC. Each murder attempt becomes deadly and harder to avoid than the last. (See how the stakes are raised, not by the fact that someone is trying to kill the MC, but how each attempt becomes harder and harder for the MC to avoid.)

    Inter-Personal: You can raise the stakes by having the killer threaten the wife or family. Now it is not just the MCs life that is in danger, but the people who he loves as well. Or you can use the threat of a murder to strain the MC and wife's relationship, creating hardships at home. Either way, stakes are raised.

    Inner-personal: You can throw Paranoia into the mix with this idea as well. First, he thinks the murderer is his boss, then is neighbour, then brother, and last his wife. These fears then bleed into the inter-personal layer as he has tension with these people because he thinks they are out to kill him.

    As you can see, just from the simple idea of 'someone is trying to kill me' there is a lot of stuff you can do.

    -OJB.
     
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  14. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    Ah ok, definitely helped clear things up! Thanks!
     
  15. Ale

    Ale Member

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    Dave, I've been practically in the same situation. Everytime I would start writing after some plotting, everything would go well until I started thinking about the structure, and I suddenly got stuck because I felt the the story was rambling, the stakes were lame and the characters had no evolution. This is just my personal experience, but what got me out of this funk was a method called the Snowflake Method (you've probably heard of it, it's very popular). It really cleared my head, as it forces you to structure your story and your character arcs, so by the time you start writing you don't have to worry about that stuff. You can find the instructions on the internet if you search 'snowflake method', if the (great) advice other users have given you don't work, I would really recommend you to try this out (skipping ou any step that seems redundant, there are like 9 steps...).
     
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  16. DaveLu

    DaveLu Member

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    I'll definitely try the snowflake method again. I tried it a couple times a loooong time ago and for some reason would never make it past step two or three. (I think it's because I used to struggle with summarizing my story up into a paragraph).
     
  17. Megs33

    Megs33 Active Member

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    I think this is everything. I manage my process so much better when it's broken down in to manageable bites that can be moved and compartmentalized (as opposed to poking and prodding at a giant incongruous knot). this is probably the first time i've seen it laid out with such clarity.
     
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