1. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    Working around a center theme or idea

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Alex R. Encomienda, Nov 27, 2018.

    First of all, I'll say that everything has been done before so it's not so much of a question of 'has it been done' but 'how can it be done'..

    I'd like to express the importance of a certain worldly known idea in a short story or novella but the problem would be going forward; having little plot.

    What do you think are some important things to add into a story where there is one important theme and the characters are only there to show how this certain idea is true and unavoidable?

    We've all dwelled on a certain thought and wondered if it can work as a piece of fiction. I think it would be an effective story with the right things incorporated.

    What are your thoughts?
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that the characters need to be there for their own story, not just as accessories to an idea. A reader wants a story.
     
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  3. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    Well, the characters would have their own stories or conflicts but their conflicts would express this certain known idea. It wouldn't be like using them as mouthpieces but each character's story or conversation would show that this idea is there and worldly/inevitable.
     
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Any chance you can tell us what the idea is? Or even make up another one? This is difficult to discuss without context.
     
  5. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    Let's just use Pet Sematary's theme: "sometimes it's better being dead".

    Zelda's story was to show that she was better off dead than living with a frightening disease. Gage's story also showed that being dead was better. At the end, everyone pretty much knew that the father was going to bring his dead wife back to life and they were probably screaming "dead is better! Dead is better!" the whole time.

    Instead, writing a story emphasizing a different theme might be interesting. My only concern was, of course, a plot or subplot.
     
  6. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Do you necessarily need a "plot" per se? I've heard once that the really serious literary fiction writers scorn story - in fact, the less story, the better. They seem to decidedly lean towards the philosophical. And no, I don't remember where I heard this now.

    Have you read other short stories that are similar to yours? What about The Outsider, for example, or any of Kafka's stuff? Or I've never read Hunger by Knut Hamsun, but I seem to think that the whole thing's supposed to be philosophical? Or even Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - again, honestly, there's not much plot to it really, is there? Even 1984 I'd argue has no real plot. Handmaid's Tale has next to no plot/story either - the whole thing's an excuse to showcase the world. An Inspector Calls, an English play by JB Priestley, also has no real plot - the whole thing's long dialogue between the inspector and various members in a household, at the end of which is the message: "None of you physically killed the maid, but all of you are responsible and just as guilty as if you were the killer." (the maid committed suicide)

    You just need a single character the reader can identify with, a sentiment or cause the reader can relate to, and then show us how the character goes to achieve that.

    Outsider: guy was accused of murder I think and it's about "Will he be found guilty?"

    Inspector: dead maid and "Who did it?"

    Fahrenheit: Books are being burnt, why and how do we stop this?

    1984: oppressive government and quiet subversion - "When will he be found out and will he survive?"

    Handmaid's Tale: trapped as a baby-bearer, "Will she ever break free and find her family again?"

    Kafka's Metamorphosis: guy's now a cockroach, "What does that mean for him and his family?"​

    I don't think your idea is new - so I'd look into literary fiction perhaps. From my quick summary above (based on a fairly shaky memory yeah since I read all those a long time ago), it seems they all pose one very simple question for the character. There's an intense situation right off the bat, and there's one single pressing question that the book's all about. But then regarding the book going forward, it's not about resolving anything. It's more about how the character lives out his or her situation, showing elements and inner thoughts as opposed to action. Each action/scene is crystalised as opposed to lengthy "show" scenes that commercial fiction has. If you think of the above examples, few things are truly resolved by the end of each book.

    It's also about building expectation. So the length of your piece would be all about that, I think.

    An Inspector Calls, for example - you expect there to be a murderer throughout it all and you find out only much later it was a suicide. And therein lies the twist, and therein lies the message that it was everyone's fault, as revealed in the dialogue. You're made to think it's someone else's fault and you're directed to be looking for the killer. You're never directed to look at yourself - until the end. (incidentally, no one was arrested, yet everyone was found guilty. In other words, there's an answer but no real resolution)

    1984 - expectation: torture and death if the main character is found out, and the whole time it's really the dread being built up. The government continues on and the character is broken at the end - nothing is resolved.

    Handmaid's Tale: Offred is seemingly arrested but we don't really know if she's heading to her death or to her freedom - or perhaps they're one and the same? But it's not truly a resolution. But the question wouldn't have been there if the world hadn't been showcased throughout the book - that's the build up.

    Metamorphosis - the guy's death was tragic because you saw how human he was throughout the story - that's the build up. You build up his humanity and then juxtapose it with the way he was being treated by his own family.

    Or I'm reminded of I Am Legend - the book, not the film. It's a novella that's deeper than the film and better. It was indeed about a virus that was turning everyone into vampires. Throughout the novel you're egging the main character on to finding a cure, to survival, to killing the vampires. At the end, you find the vampires have formed a society and they want justice. They arrest the scientist and sentences him to death: "You killed my mother, my grandfather, my child." Those vampires he's been killing were someone else's beloved. He's the murderer. And it ends with him in prison and the vampires shouting outside, demanding his death, and his death sentence to be carried out on the next day in the vampires' eerily identical justice system as ours actual one.​

    But the twist wouldn't have been there if the book hadn't built up our expectation of the scientist's innocence, if we hadn't been on his side all this time, missing the vampires' perspective entirely. The expectation of the vampires' evil and the need for their eradication ultimately led us to the shocking truth at the end and the coin is flipped.

    The build up is the plot.

    So, what's the expectation you want the readers to have of your story? What is the flip side to the message you're trying to convey? Build that up, and then turn it on its head.
     
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  7. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    I am a huge fan of Kafka and Sartre.

    I love the warped sense of perspective their characters have and the crucial mistakes they make.

    After reading through your details, I have a better grasp on how to execute the form. Do you think something like that would work as a shorter piece? Let's say under 8,000 words?
     
  8. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Why give yourself a word count? Write as many words as it is needed to tell your story. Unless it's meant for a competition?

    I don't write short stories, unfortunately, so I can't say I know. It will probably depend on the situation you design for your characters too. If the whole thing's gonna be about Margaret getting bread from the shop round the corner, then probably 8000 words would be fine. It would probably also depend on how you plan to convey your message. An Inspector Calls is significantly shorter than Handmaid's Tale, after all, but one uses dialogue and the other uses world-building, two quite different devices.
     
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  9. Carriage Return

    Carriage Return Member

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    Last edited: Dec 31, 2018
  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think the best way to have a certain theme or message come across is to illustrate it with a good story. Personally, I don't give to much thought to themes and such. If you tell a good story, the themes and messages will be there. But it is the story you want to shine. Themes and whatnot are more of an added bonus than something that needs to take center stage. I also think that if you try too hard to push a certain theme or message the story can suffer or come out weak. Let the story be your masterpiece and take a light hand to incorporating the themes you want to be present. I think when themes are done in a subtle way they often have more of an impact.
     
  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, you need a plot. So-called serious or literary fiction does still have a plot and tell a story. This is what I read and write almost exclusively. There is always a story, however, there is more than one way to tell a story. I would argue that "serious" or literary fiction tells a different kind of story, through which there are many ways to do it, but there is always a story.
     
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  12. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's true that as I wrote my post and summed up what I thought was each book's core premise and question, I also thought that that is indeed a plot.
     

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