1. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Contributor Contributor

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    Writing a story with more drama than action and need advice

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by BlitzGirl, May 30, 2018.

    The fantasy story that I am working on at this moment is unlike many of the stories I have attempted to write (I say "attempted" because I have yet to finish one of my original stories). It is not about an epic quest from one side of the world to the other, nor is it a fantasy story with what we'd consider "magic". There are, indeed, several scenes so far that involve action/danger, but they are not the focus. Most of the story's drama comes from relationships, the main character's doubt in herself, and political intrigue and conspiracy (which the MC naturally must figure out). After a certain point rather early in the story, the plot then remains in one location, so I can't rely on adventures and quests to keep things interesting. That must somehow be achieved through the people and events in the city.

    The trouble is, I have been stumbling a bit with this type of plot, especially when it comes to the "slow"/"quiet" scenes that take place between the high-intensity game-changing scenes. "Small talk" can also be a struggle, but I know that that is where most character development can occur. I want to keep the story interesting without resorting to having high-drama and action happening all the time. In fact, such things would not make a huge amount of sense given the details of the setting. Pacing is also an issue. Quieter scenes must balance out the "louder" scenes, but, as I mentioned above, those can be more difficult to pull off and make convincing. I have to have the reader be invested...somehow. Now that I have given you a sense of what I'm struggling with, I will briefly describe the story's plot/setting so that you can get an idea of how this pertains to the larger picture...

    The story is told in first-person, therefore making events in the story limited to what the main character sees, hears, and does. The MC is 9 years old for the first few chapters, and after that point it exclusively focuses on her as a teenager (or young adult, in the context of this world's society). In this world, the main religion worships the sun and fire, and the phoenix is a real creature that is viewed as a god. The religion is led primarily by women, with young girls being taken (with the families' permission) to train as priestesses. The MC is one of these girls. Once she grows up and learns to accept her fate, she and her friends are sent to the capital city to continue their training. But the temple they are at is attacked, and they are forced to flee, and this is what kicks-off the story's main source of drama and conspiracy. From then on, the MC is living at the temple in the capital and ends up discovering her important destiny. She uses that in order to investigate what has been going on. When the story is not focusing on what she and others are doing within the temple, it shows what she sees while in the city streets, and the relationships she develops with characters. So far, there have been several flashpoints, both physical and emotional.

    As you can see, I have not gone into too much detail about my story so as not to overwhelm any of you. I will gladly go into more detail about events and such if you need to know anything in order to help give me advice. Please, don't be afraid to ask for more clarification! :)
     
  2. Subject24

    Subject24 Member

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    It'd help if I knew what your aim is behind the story. Are you looking to have a drama orientated story? Or maybe you also wish to include political, ethical, societial themes to bring a more meaningful genre of purpose to the story.
    Maybe the religion they teach offers some sort of spiritual beleifs?
    Who are the main characters that you have outlined so far? What are they like?
    What is this destiny that has been given to her? Who gave it to her?
     
  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I’m curious as to what you mean by “small talk”. I’m also curious about what you see as quiet versus loud scenes. Most of my scenes are probably quiet, in the sense that there’s no rapid action, no physical violence or even rapid physical movement, and rarely any shouting. :).

    But there’s still drama, at least drama that I perceive. Much of that drama comes from an imbalance of power and conflicting goals. At any moment, character X could exert power in an unpleasant way. Character Y could get up and walk away, never to return—or at least, forcing Character X to exert that power. Or, with other scenes, Character Y is gathering strength or comfort from other people, sometimes Character Z. Sometimes Character X is gathering strength or comfort from Character Z, thus producing a conflict for Character Z. And so on.

    When I read the advice, somewhere (probably many places), that every scene should involved a conflict, I was fairly “meh” about the idea. Now I’m realizing that, yes, I pretty much agree.

    At a glance, that scene where Character X is buying Character Y an expensive strawberry pastry may just look like a wish-fulfillment lark, but, no, it’s Character Y testing her ability to make demands of Character X, and Character X suppressing his need for power and deciding to fulfill the demands, rather than exert power, for the sake of a better negotiating position with Character Y.

    So IMO there pretty much is no small talk.
     
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  4. Lawless

    Lawless Active Member

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    I think it's a great idea. My almost-complete SF novel is much more psychology than action. I mean, there is a world war going on, but the war is pretty straightforward. The surprises come from the various people's interactions.


    So, is there something that makes the people in your story psychologically different from the ones in the real world? Something your readers might be curious to figure out?
     
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  5. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I have to agree with @ChickenFreak. I'm not so sure what you mean by quieter or louder in your question. There are entire stories that you could quiet, but that doesn't mean they're boring or lacking anything. I'm just not quite sure what you're trying to balance. And as chicken said, I, too, don't believe you need "small talk" You say you're writing in first person so essentially your character is telling the story. If he was telling this story to someone, are there parts where someone could say, "Hurry up and get to the good part?" Because that doesn't mean your writing is quiet. That would mean you should hurry up and get to the good part. The good part doesn't have to mean anything explosive or crazy. You're writing this story. You know what the good part is. So, skip the "small talk" and get to the good part.
     
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  6. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks for your questions, and I'll try to answer as best I can. I just wasn't sure how much of my story's plot, setting, etc. I wanted to reveal in the original post, so I kept it as basic as possible.

    The story definitely is having political and societal themes. In fact, the big conspiracy that the main character has to face is involving the king, his wife, the captain of the city guard, and others around them. It's probably more accurate to say that the political and societal themes/drama of the story are tied directly with the religious aspect of this world. In this world, the Phoenix is seen as a god and has the sole power to accept or deny someone's request to be ruler of the country. And since the big issue going on at the time of this story is more everyday people becoming disenchanted with their faith, it directly affects political decisions. Essentially, there is a heretic movement going on that could threaten civil war. So that's my attempt at addressing your first and second questions.

    The main character of my story is a girl named Kaina, who, as I described in the OP, is serving as a priestess per her country's traditions. She didn't accept it right away; in fact, it took her getting lost and injured trying to run away (as a child) and having a vision where the Phoenix seemed to talk to her for her to realize that she could move on and accept her fate. Her biggest weaknesses are the fact that she doesn't always have great confidence in herself (which of course improves over time), and she is deathly afraid of fire, having nightmares about a house fire that she and her family barely escaped when she was much younger. And since the religion of the country places reverence on fire, this naturally makes her nervous. When the story skips ahead to her being a teenager, she's more or less fine with her life even though she does miss her family. She makes friends, and these characters are the ones who go to the capital city with her, as well as her mentor, who also plays a big part.

    They go to the capital not only because Kaina and the others were to be transferred to its temple for further training, but because they also need to alert the head of the temple there and the king and queen about the attack they narrowly escaped. Tying into the bigger picture detailed in my paragraph above, no one has attacked a temple or harmed/killed priestesses in a very long time, so it has very serious ramifications. Priestesses are a protected class. After Kaina and her friends have settled down a bit in the new temple, the final trial that determines whether the transfers will be kept on permanently there results in her having the first vision since she was a child, and, well, let's just say that she's declared to be something called a "Speaker", an individual who appears once every few decades who can actually communicate with the Phoenix, and therefore is seen as important in their society. This is the destiny she really has a hard time accepting, and it's here where the Phoenix, Erif, becomes a more or less regular character. So, even though she has always been afraid of fire, Kaina turns out to actually be immune to fire, unable to be hurt by it. That doesn't make it any less scary, of course (I myself have arachnaphobia, even if I know that most spiders I encounter won't actually harm me. Fear doesn't always have to be rational).

    My story also deals with relationships. Not only does Kaina have friends and people she looks up to (such as her mentor), but she eventually falls in love. Now, having romantic or sexual relationships with anyone is forbidden for priestesses; they have to live a chaste life. So that aspect adds more drama/risks to the story. I had discovered during the last 6 months (while mulling over my story) that Kaina is actually bisexual (I say "discovered" because I don't always "choose" certain aspects of my characters. I let them develop naturally, just like it would with real humans. And I don't feel that her identity is forced at all). This results in her having feelings for one of her best friends (who herself is lesbian and has secretly had feelings for Kaina since they first met), but...this results in her friend being expelled from the temple... Kaina does not get expelled, of course, because her role as Speaker is too important, but that doesn't make the situation any less awful for her. She also develops feelings for a boy she meets in the city, and it is with him that she ends up having the strongest relationship later in the story. Yeah, she's breaking rules, but this really is a "coming-of-age" story and nothing that ends up happening in the story is what would normally happen in their world if things were peaceful and calm. So a lot of trends get bucked, but not always consciously.

    As you can see, I do have a lot of material so far that I can pull from to make the story interesting and not boring, but what's hard for me is trying to keep each scene "fresh" and not pulling from the same few hats over and over. I apologize for the loooooooooooooong post, but you asked questions and I was determined to answer them! Let me know if I didn't fully address some inquiries of yours.
     
  7. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Contributor Contributor

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    What I mean by "small talk" is conversations that we all end up having with our friends and people we know. Conversations that aren't earth-shattering, but end up showing bits of character and even something about the world. The main character and her friends live cloistered in a temple and spend most of their day there, so they are going to interact and talk to varying degrees. I can't just have characters sitting around saying nothing, or only talking about big, important, scary things all the time. I don't know if I'm clarifying myself well, but in my head I know exactly what I'm talking about.

    And my story certainly has the type of drama you are referencing, and those are the "quiet" scenes I am referring to, where the drama is solely from how characters are interacting and what is at stake (whether it is someone's confidence, the fate of a relationship, or something else).

    I view "quiet" scenes as conversation scenes, or characters just going about their normal day while also trying to show something to the reader about the characters, the setting, or other things. "Loud" scenes would involve violence or threats of violence, or characters being emotionally upset and stakes are racked up high. My view of "small talk" and what that entails is described above in this post. But as I said in my OP, it's challenging for me to try to keep a story that doesn't always rely on action/violence interesting, and without playing the same "cards" over and over again. Given the fact that the main character is either in the temple or sometimes in the city (she can't always be going into the streets all the time, obviously) really limits what I can do, but it would make zero sense for me to do anything else because this is the story I'm trying to tell. I can't rely on a big globe-spanning adventure to shake things up this time.
     
  8. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Contributor Contributor

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    I do eventually want to post stuff for feedback (more in the sense of getting feedback on pacing and other story stuff), but I would be unsure what chapter/scene would be the best example. I've technically written 25 chapters so far, and have typed up 12 of them. The story is still ongoing. It is the part of the story where I am now and have been in for quite a good number of chapters that is giving me the most grief with trying to be creative and not be boring.
     
  9. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Can you maybe offer a summary of a small talk scene? I’m getting a vibe that you may be missing opportunities for character drama. It’s easier to discuss a directly relevant example than to make up my own.
     
  10. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    What you described for some reason reminds me of Harry Potter. Imagine, at least in books 1-4, they're all set in Hogwarts, one location. Apart from the travelling from the muggle world to Hogwarts and then the occasional school trip, everything's in one location really. I'm thinking of the Chamber of Secrets - people are petrified (frozen like stone) and Harry must figure out what's going on. My suggestion is maybe read Harry Potter 2 and see how Rowling did it. Brandon Sanderson does something similar in The Rithmatist. Yours sound like a bit of a fantasy crime/mystery sorta plot.
     
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  11. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Contributor Contributor

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    That is a good assessment. I was considering reading the HP books again to get some inspiration, but then I found myself not having the time or energy to invest in reading these days. It is very similar in that regard, especially with the main character (and those around her) having a pretty set schedule that doesn't vary too much from day-to-day. But I'm getting a bit tired of resorting to filler lines (this is my first draft, so it's just getting the ideas down no matter what it takes) that more or less say "I did this, then that, and nothing exciting happened." Now, I don't have a sentence in my story that literally reads like that, I was just giving an example of the kind of thing I want to avoid.
     
  12. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Taking a break from your WIP to read is a worthy activity - sometimes it gives you inspiration or other times it just means you can come back to your book fresh and excited again.

    Anyway, perhaps what you're missing is the purpose of these dialogue scenes. There should always be purpose behind it. An alpha reader actually told me my dinner scenes were some of the best in my book - better than the battle scenes (I'm not surprised since I suck at battle scenes). But in terms of level of drama, battles are obviously more intense than dinner and table talk. It seems I do it on a subconscious level since I had no idea I did this until he pointed it out, but it seems all my dinner scenes run with a lot of tension. I'm usually exploring character relationships through the dinner scene.

    To give an example, my characters are having dinner. But one guy actually invited himself and is totally unwelcomed. He also makes a pass at the host, which makes things seriously awkward. This is in Chapter 1 and establishes their personality, alongside some important back story/exposition.

    Another scene, this time lunch. But one of the characters is the childhood sweetheart of my MC and they haven't seen each other in 8 years, and neither really know where they stand with each other. The childhood sweetheart is also from the upper-class while everyone else was lower-class, and she's reading into things that aren't there based on her own upbringing and she's desperately trying to fit in.

    Both of these were several pages long. Of course there were certain mundane lines included, like "What's cooking?" But ultimately the small talk is just embellishments for something else.

    So what's the purpose of your characters having dialogue? If you find that, you'll have solved the problem.
     
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  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Can you clarify why you have those filler lines? If nothing happens, why have the lines, or the scene, at all?

    I would still really like a summary of an example scene. I feel that we don’t yet have enough information here. If you’re not responding to that because you don’t want to summarize anything in your actual novel, can you make up something?
     
  14. Zackery

    Zackery New Member

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    Alright, so i would suggest getting together a stepping stone plot outline that gives you some periodic plot points to hit, to keep your story moving.
    Kiana is being sent to a school to become a priest. She has befriended her peers. They have everything to talk about!
    // Hey, What do you think about going to this school?/ What do you think about this teacher?/ I really love that teacher he's helpful,..i don't he's mean/ Hey guys, i think i might be crazy, i keep seeing a talking bird in my sleep/ I'm not sure about how things are doing with the capitol's general population, i think there might be something stirring/ Whats for breakfast?
    Just the friends could carry the entire story. From the high energy to the low energy and everything in between. From what i can see, you have the potential for humor breaks, drama scenes, romantic scenes, character growth scenes, political undertones, spiritual overtones... anything basically. Sounds like a solid story premise to me, plenty of ground to work with.

    You also have the politics. The country is in upheaval. Old ways are being rejected, old customs are being doubted /// theme doubt? - doubt versus faith?
    Are the old ways right? Why do we still follow them? Why am i becoming a preistess? Why are you becoming a preistess?
    Civil war - Presents an aspect of danger. A source of tension that could give plenty of cause for dynamic rising action events. Its been there for awhile though. ever since she was a child? Meaning this has been a long running issue in your stories country. Possibly the ending of your story might include a change in the winds? Brought on by your Speaker preistess?

    If you have problems with dialogue, its probably because either your plot is half-baked, or your characters are... or both. I might suggest to you to get a point-by-point plot outline, and a good dynamic character bio for every major character that has more than 10 lines of dialogue.

    and can i say that i love your story, or at least what you've detailed sounds like something id love to read, even if it was terrible.. the premise of the story is attractive to me.
    :>
     
  15. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Contributor Contributor

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    I want to thank everyone for their advice and questions so far, and even though I have not addressed everyone's questions, I am giving everything that has been said so far some thought. If I can't implement the advice here right away, then at the very least I will be utilizing it in the second draft (it is easier for me to go into "editing mode" while typing on a computer as opposed to hand-writing in a notebook, which so far is what my first draft exists at).
     

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