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Author Topic: Plot
Progonoskis
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Okay. This has probably been discussed here before, but I didn't see it (it wasn't obvious, at least) on the front page. So....

I feel as if I'm great (woohoo me!) at coming up with a premise for a novel (or perhaps a short story), but then I can never generate a satisfying plot: Sometimes I know how it ends, but I can't get there. Other times, I know how it begins but then what?

Do any of you have a strategy for making plot work for you? Or do your ideas come to you, mostly fully formed?

Progo

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MartinV
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Mostly they are being formed in the background of my mind but sometimes I will give my rational mind a go. If you know how the story ends, try asking yourself: "What would be the best three ways to get to this conclusion?" and then work your way backwards until you reach the beginning or a good middle point.

Make a rough set of reference points and then try to connect them with minor events.

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Grumpy old guy
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Okay, I would ask, do you really have a premise for your story that you truly understand? Lajos Egri defines the premise of a story as being 'so and so leads to this'. Such as, the premise to Romeo and Juliet is; that great love leads to defying death. Both characters were driven by that premise to kill themselve because of the love they felt for each other.

With such a premise, the characters themselves drive the plot. They can do nothing else. Romeo's character is such that, upon hearing of Juliet's supposed death, he can no longer bear to live -- so he kills himself. Juliet, upon realising that Romeo is dead, joins him in death.

The premise of the story, combined with the construction of the characters, drives the plot. There can be no other resolution.

So, it would seem to me that you do not fully understand either the premise of your stories or the psyche of you charcaters. The love between Romeo and Juliet was so strong that, not only would they defy the conventions of their society, they would rather die than loose it. So, from that premise, all else flows. The telling, the emotions and the plot.

Perhaps you need to focus on what is really important in your stories. Not what you think is important, but what your characters think is important. What is it that they want so badly they are wiling to die for it?

Phil

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Robert Nowall
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Ask yourself: who's the person most in the middle of this premise? What would this person do?
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extrinsic
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Plot laboratory, that's what I do. Over the years I've found that plot means different things to different writers. Many writers can't manage plot at all because they have other priorities and emphases they're more capable of creating. Setting, theme, character, event, or voice emphases, for examples. Nonplotted stories often result.

The simplest definition of plot, or simplest method, is giving a dramatis personae, usually a central character, a want that requires a struggle to satisfy, not necessarily resolve. Give a character a want of a degree of magnitude and then keep the character from satisfying it at all costs. All the cosmos is an obstacle to satisfying the want.

E.M. Forester's famous saying about plot: "'The king died then the queen died,' is a story; 'The king died, then, out of grief, the queen died,' is a plot." Note that the queen's death in the latter is caused by grief. Cause and effect, grief causes the effect, the queen's death. Causation is the first axis of plot, or dramatic structure, the skeleton upon which a plotted narrative is fleshed out. Aristotle located causation as a prime plot mover.

The second plot axis is tension. Empathy or sympathy and suspense are the two forces of tension. Readers caring and curious about what will happen in a narrative drive tension. Gustav Freytag located the dynamics of tension in dramatic structure.

The third plot axis is antagonism. This is the forces of want and problem in opposition. In other words, it's the central problem wanting satisfaction and all the problems preventing satisfaction of the want. Antagonism influences causation and tension and, similarly, each influences the others. Antagonism is my contribution to plot’s structural elements.

From a premise, develop the central problem and want. Say, a bug-eyed monster invasion. That's a problem of high magnitude. The want, obviously, is defeating the bug-eyed monsters. A simple bug spray holds promise, but fails when the bugs develop immunity to the treatment. Failure is necessary for plot; that's antagonism. Antagonism keeps the final outcome in doubt. Keeping the final outcome in doubt drives tension and causation.

A new effort holds promise, flamethrowers. It too fails. Meanwhile, a way to defeat the bugs emerges, but it requires great effort and sacrifice. This is the climax. Then when the battle seems won, a newly discovered wrinkle causes a tragic failure. The outcome seems a foregone conclusion. Defeat of the human race is imminent.

Last ditch efforts to turn the tide of bug-eyed monsters fail but a definitive way to defeat the bugs emerges. Great personal sacrfice and cost is called for. This is the transformation crisis; what results in the unequivocal and irrevocable change of status. Then the ending is the final outcome of the problem wanting satisfaction. Chemicals and fire, bullets and radiation, and a virus and a computer hack defeat the bugs. Hmm, the storyline for the film Independence Day there? And most of Hollywood's bug-eyed monster invasion films, for that matter.

A beginning act, roughly a quarter of total word count, sets forth the central problem wanting satisfaction, the terms of the struggle, the contention, the competition, the conflict, the clash, the confrontation, the conflagration.

The middle act portrays the struggle, etc., roughly half the word count, to satisfy the problem wanting satisfaction.

The ending act portrays the final outcome of the problem wanting satisfaction, successful resolution or tragic failure, or coming to an accommodation with a new normal and personal growth at great personal cost.

This is plot. It's not easy. But if creative writing were easy we'd all do it as easily as breathing and it would mean nothing.

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genevive42
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I've been looking at this a fair amount lately as plot is one of my weaker points.

The most important thing I've found to make sure of is to be certain you have an arc with rising action that when it finally reached the release at the end, results in a satisfying result for the reader. How many times have you enjoyed a book or movie but the ending tanked?

The things you do to achieve this are the tough part. As has been mentioned, the story should probably center on the person most greatly affected by your premise. Who suffers most? How is their life affected? And what are they going to do about it? Or, what are they forced to do about it?

Moreover, you need to be true to your characters. They need to be rounded and believable so that when you drop them into a situation the reader has a good expectation of how they're going to react. If your characters response to the problem is not what you need for the plot, you need to either change the situation to get the desired result out of them, or change the characters. Don't move your characters around to satisfy your plot with no concern for their individuality. Plot will rise from character. Allow it to be flexible.

And knowing your ending is extremely helpful. Start with your characters, and your goal and a few crisis points and see what you dream up for the middle. Then ask yourself if it is interesting. If not, add more twists and complications or give your characters a restriction that will make the task harder.

One of the best discussions of plot that made sense to me is from the LTUE con a few years ago, by Dan Wells. It's compiled here: http://www.fearfulsymmetry.net/?p=405

Good luck.

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genevive42
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I think extrinsic and I were typing at the same time. Dang he's smart.
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Progonoskis
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Thank you all. Lots to consider. I have a good handle on plot as a reader, but when I tell stories (to my kid at night), I have a tendency to revert to a "fairy tale" framework. This new story I'm working has a strong central character, I think. And a compelling exposition (I'm sure, as I've shared it with others who think it's a great idea). Perhaps instead of writing what happens after it all goes down, I need to tell the story of it going down.

Ugh. I just need to do more research. Can't write a story if I don't have my head wrapped around all the essential points yet. Moving onward.

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Progonoskis
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Genevive42 - the powerpoint is phenomenal! At least it gives me an outline for approaching this task.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Progonoskis:
And a compelling exposition (I'm sure, as I've shared it with others who think it's a great idea).

I'm not sure how you use the term "exposition." If you mean setting forth, setting up, introducing the central dramatic complication, the central problem wanting satisfaction, huzzah! I'm down in trumps with that. That's a beginning act, the traditional name for a beginning act. If you mean exposition in the sense of the narrator voice, I guess I'm okay with that. If you mean exposition in the sense of late how writers refer to summarization and explanation writing modes, expository composition, I'm not as thrilled as I was thinking you mean the first above.
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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by Progonoskis:
Thank you all. Lots to consider. I have a good handle on plot as a reader, but when I tell stories (to my kid at night), I have a tendency to revert to a "fairy tale" framework. This new story I'm working has a strong central character, I think. And a compelling exposition (I'm sure, as I've shared it with others who think it's a great idea). Perhaps instead of writing what happens after it all goes down, I need to tell the story of it going down.

Ugh. I just need to do more research. Can't write a story if I don't have my head wrapped around all the essential points yet. Moving onward.

Don't take fairytales lightly. There is a reason that those stories have stood the test of time. Recall that originally they were not necessarily written only for children. They may be short, but they have all the parts of a story. They have characters that the reader can identify with, heroes and heroines, villains, conflict, and resolution. There is much to be learned about the art of story telling from those ancient tales.
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Progonoskis
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Yes, I think that's why I gravitate toward their form. But, plot wise, they tend toward simple rather than complex, no? Not quite enough to sustain a novel?
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MattLeo
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Well, if you visualize plot as this big, amorphous problem, you're bound to be paralyzed with indecision. What you need is a tool to cut it down to size. What you need is "structure" [note 1]. If you were building a human sculpture out of clay or wax, you'd build something called an "armature". That's a kind of skeleton you position, then apply the modeling material to. Depending on how you pose the armature and the amount of material you apply to it, you can make a portly man or a teenage acrobat girl with the same armature. Structure is like that; it's standardized pieces that you can articulate and flesh out as you see fit.

The simplest useful structure is the so called "three act" structure. The term is borrowed from theater and cinema, but don't let that daunt you. It really means a story needs a beginning, middle and end. In the first act we introduce the protagonist and his problem. The second the protagonist struggles (unsuccessfully) with his problem, and in the third act he solves his problem. It's simple enough in concept, but there are some subtleties in skillful use of any structure, and given the small number of parts in this one it should be no surprise that the key places are where we weld the acts together: the end of act 1 and the end of act 2.

In act 1 (introduction) you introduce the reader to the protagonist and his problem, but often the protagonist isn't quite sure he wants to tangle with that problem. He may even refuse. But something happens at the end of act 1 that commits him irreversibly to confronting the problem. Think Star Wars. Luke refuses Obi-Wan's call to become a Jedi, but then returns home to find his family murdered. He has nowhere to go back to, and so he makes a commitment to follow Obi-Wan. That's the end of act 1.

Act 2 is the complication act, where the hero works out the consequences of his choice at act 1 through various twists and turns and (of course) complications. Act 2 has its ups and downs, but the general trajectory of act 2 is away from a solution to the problem. At the end of act 2 is a low point -- the protagonist is as far from success as he'll ever be, but there's no place to go but up. Often this is where the protagonist's illusions are punctured or the props he's been supporting himself with are snatched away. Think Star Wars again; this is where Obi-Wan is killed. After that Luke is more sober and serious; some of the cockiness is still there but no longer just a lark; he's committed to the cause now.

These kinds of places where the the direction of action changes are often called "plot points", and clearly you need more than the two above. You'll want to put in several plot points in each act, for example structuring the first act like it was a story in itself with a beginning middle and end. I think the mid-point of a manuscript is an important point and a good place to put a significant plot point -- perhaps a false high point from which he tumbles to the bottom. But it could be a low point from which the protag falsely believes he can fall no father.

Now some people point out that three act is not really enough structure to build a story -- and they're right. But it may be enough of a structure to cut down the amorphous problem of plot into manageable chunks. Different people need different amounts of help.

If you'd like a *lot* more help, there are other alternative structures championed by various genre writers to try. One of the more interesting variations is outlined in the late writing teacher Blake Snyder's book on screenwriting: *Save the Cat*. It turns out that all those Hollywood movies *are* built around a formula, one with fifteen parts that slot into the three act structure described above. This structure is easily adaptable to novels, which are more flexible than movies. Movies are vast, collective art works in which the writer is only a tiny cog in the wheel; he has to provide a somewhat standardized product. But again this is a skeleton you can pose and fill out any way you like, and as a novelist you can elaborate or cut from it as you like because you don't have to make some director's of putting the story on film easy. I used the 15 point beat sheet in drafting my WIP, which is a classic Hollywood screwball comedy -- in space. It's a very serviceable and flexible structure.

One nice thing about choosing a structure is that it gives you some idea of how close you are to finish and how long the result is going to be. Three act breaks down the MS anything from roughly even thirds to 1/4, 1/2, 1/4. The fifteen beat movie script beat sheet is keyed to a standard movie script length -- roughly 110 pages. You can scale this up proportionately to the length novel you are planning. If you're aiming for 100K words, you take the script page and multiply it by 100k/110. For example "The Long Dark Night of the Soul" starts on page 75; in your 100k word novel it would start just after the 68K word mark.

By the way, I think of this kind of thing as "macro" structure -- how the whole story fits together. But the basic, organic narrative unit of the novel is the scene, and you'll find yourself structuring *scenes* with a beginning, middle and end. This is particularly important when you're writing an action scene; too many action scenes are boring rather than exciting because there's no sense of *progress* in them. Fight scenes need to have a goal (e.g., escape from prison or resuce the princess) or something at stake (who controls the bomb detonator), just like the whole story needs a central problem.

And every scene should count. Every character should enter the scene with a direction and agenda, and come out of the scene changed, possibly heading in a different direction. The protagonist exits the scene nearer or further from his goal than when he entered, or knowing he's nearer or further than he thought at the start. People don't refer to that as "structure", but its really the same kind of thing on a different scale.

Note 1: like every other term in writing "structure" is used to mean a lot of different and loosely related things. I once heard a panel of literary fiction authors talk about "structuring" devices, and they clearly meant things like using chapter heading quotes for introducing the themes of the chapter. That *is* kind-of structural, but not very helpful to you. The sense of "structure" that'll be useful to you is the one I used here: standardized story parts that you can flesh out as you please.

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Brendan
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I have faced the same issue. I would have passive characters, plots that didn't fly, ending that I couldn't reach and starts that didn't have a satisfying end.

And then I read two books that changed my view on what story was. From them I was able to distill a method towards developing plot, which I made into a series of lessons. You could try them out - I put them on this site over here. It's called "The Structure Experiment".

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Progonoskis:
Yes, I think that's why I gravitate toward their form. But, plot wise, they tend toward simple rather than complex, no? Not quite enough to sustain a novel?

I don't know about simple or complex. More a matter of magnitude. Getting left behind and knowing home is only a mile or so away and knowing the way is a minor magnitude, probably, maybe worthy of a short story. Left behind light years from home and no idea how to get there is a high magnitude problem wanting satisfaction, worthy of a novel at least.

Aristotle names simple and complex plots in the Poetics and defines them, respectively, as a straightforward storyline portraying struggling to satisfy a problem wanting satisfaction; and a storyline with an anagnorisis or a peripetia or both. The former is an abrupt, profound realization of true circumstances, like that Oedeipus has killed his father and married his mother. Peripetia is an abrupt, profound reversal of circumstances, like Oedipus on top of the world, ruler of all he beholds, married to the finest woman in all the land, puts out his eyes in pennance for his most mortal sins and becomes a beggar.

I don't see fairytales, or folktales, as conventionally having a simple plot. Twists and turns of complex plots run through traditional folktales as much as simple plots do. What I do see is a propensity for indirect discourse in folktales, tales told entirely in diegesis and exigesis modes, or summarization and explanation recitals, instead of mimesis, or imitiation, or scene with close narrative distance and great audience appeal. They are templates for expansion into fully-realized mimesis narratives, though.

Folktales may have ancient roots, though new ones crop up all the time. Contemporary, or urban, legends are a classic example of current-day folktales, some are fairytales. One of the more common legend motifs is tales of spectral figures, like Native peoples' ghosts haunting their traditional nation's territories. The main distinction of a legend from any other form of folklore, gossip or rumor, for example, is that the performance text has the features of a narrative, re: a plot with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. A singular distinction between a folktale and a fiction is that someone or many someones believe the folktale.

[ October 08, 2012, 12:44 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jess
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Wow I was going to suggest Dan well's story structure too, but someone else already did. I like the youtube videos (didn't know there was powerpoints out there).
I honestly couldn't plot my way out of a brown paper back before I saw those videos. Now I use it for all my stories and my plotting (not perfect or else I'd be published) but my plotting has gotten a lot better.

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genevive42
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And that Dan Wells 7-point story structure was the topic on Writing Excuses this week.

http://www.writingexcuses.com/2012/10/07/writing-excuses-7-41-seven-point-story-structure/

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by genevive42:
And that Dan Wells 7-point story structure was the topic on Writing Excuses this week.

http://www.writingexcuses.com/2012/10/07/writing-excuses-7-41-seven-point-story-structure/

Seven points is good; fifteen is good too. Pretty much any number greater than three or so and less than twenty could work. If you squint you can fit just about any successful story into any reasonable structural scheme, provided the scheme isn't so complicated you run out of story first. I believe that not all stories follow the same structural scheme, but that sensible schemes tend to have enough in common with each other that they bear a strong family resemblance.

Here's the tricky bit: once you've selected a structural scheme, how do you actually use use it? I start by visualizing the key scenes identified in the scheme's rubric, then filing in the gaps. This could be done through outlining if you prefer, but I like to rough draft those key scenes before anything else. This means early on I've got a very good idea of where I'm going and whether the story concept works as I hoped it did. But this comes at a significant cost: finishing is a arduous and boring slog through the least interesting parts of the manuscript. I suspect that drafting an outline doesn't have that problem, but I like the security of knowing right away that those key scenes work.

I'd be interested in hearing how, exactly, others who have tried various structural schemes have gone about actually converting the scheme into plotting.

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Progonoskis
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:

I'm not sure how you use the term "exposition." If you mean setting forth, setting up, introducing the central dramatic complication, the central problem wanting satisfaction, huzzah! I'm down in trumps with that. That's a beginning act, the traditional name for a beginning act. If you mean exposition in the sense of the narrator voice, I guess I'm okay with that. If you mean exposition in the sense of late how writers refer to summarization and explanation writing modes, expository composition, I'm not as thrilled as I was thinking you mean the first above. [/QUOTE]

Your first def is what I meant. That is, I have a concept for a dystopian society that would serve as the setting. Originally, I felt that everything would come AFTER the new order was established (a la 1984, Brave New World, Hunger Games, etc.), and I would reveal clues about how the shift occurred through "old news files" and other "research" done by the main character, who stumbled across the "why" by accident. But perhaps the story is really in how the dystopia came about and not what happens once it has changed.

Therein lies my problem: I have a premise and a main character but can't figure out what CONFLICT other than "society this way sucks" to make it a story.

Gah.

I'm going to work with all this great advice y'all have given me and see where I end up. I think there's a solution in all your responses; I just have to do the work.

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Progonoskis
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BTW, Extrinsic, I love your response re fairly tales and magnitude. Thanks for taking the time to help me see it differently!
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Progonoskis:
Therein lies my problem: I have a premise and a main character but can't figure out what CONFLICT other than "society this way sucks" to make it a story.

"Conflict" is another term writers apply differing, sometimes widely, meanings to. I know the term in a literary sense as dramatic conflict, which is a diametric opposition of stakes and outcomes, like life or death, riches or rags, acceptance or rejection, salvation or damnation, and so on.

A term I prefer for the driving force of plot's antagonism, tension, and causation (ACT) features is dramatic complication, which is a central problem wanting satisfaction. Give a central character a high-magnitude want caused by a problem and keep him struggling to satisfy it. Mischief managed. Humans are clever problem solvers. We learn by watching, which reading is, as well as trial and error of our own. One reason and function for why we read.

A common dramatic complication feature that's much desired by readers and appeals broadly is when a central character's problem and want is of the character's own creation and satisfaction. So you've got an impending dystopia. What if the central character causes or contributes to its emergence? That could be an opening act, an exposition act. The inciting crisis, the first major plot pivot could then be the realization by the character that the character caused the dystopia. The middle act could then be the character's efforts to stave off total disaster. In the middle of the middle the struggle will seem won, but soon thereafter all will seem lost. The ending could then be coming to an accommodation with the new normal the character created. Or total failure or total successful satisfaction.

I'd say a bridging complication is in order for the opening. Some related problem wanting satisfaction that efforts to satisfy causes the dystopia to emerge.

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Progonoskis
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OK. Well, the dystopia is in full force by the time we start our story. Been around for years. No one seems to notice it because it's the prevailing culture. Then protagonist does some digging (for something else), sees what used to be, wonders why no one bucks the system.

Then ... MAJOR STALL. So what?

I still think I can find a solution through your plot lab, Extrinsic, and with the comments of others. I just have to PUSH until the solution (haha-- which is my central conflict) reveals itself.

Ugh. Time...time....

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Grumpy old guy
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Well, you've got the right first question to ask: Why *isn't* anyone bucking the system?

The *real* reason is probably going to be the antagonist. Is the antagonist a person, a thing or an idea?

Next question...

And keep on asking questions and imagining worlds.

Phil

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theworldinthewords
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I think the plot derives from the main conflict. What must be accomplished by the end of the story and what are the obstacles preventing that from happening? Ultimately, the events of your story, the plot points, will either be your character attempting to accomplish the goal or someone (or something) trying to stop your character from accomplishing the goal.

Also, it helps to think of your story arc in this way. You begin with the status quo. Something happens to disturb the status quo, and your character must resolve the disturbance. At the end of the arc, your character either returns the status quo or establishes a new status quo.

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InarticulateBabbler
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If you're not adverse to the use of some profanity, you might check out Chuck Wendig's 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story. It helped me with the concept of plotting and outlining. You'll see all the advice here (simplified) and more.
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mfreivald
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Well, I always feel foolish giving advice about this stuff--my qualifications are few. And there are a lot of great ideas above. However, I think you need to distinguish between story structure and plot. Both in my experience and from the experts I've read, there are many ideas that lend themselves well to story structure, but they are not sufficiently developed to produce dynamic and rewarding plot.

Some of you have hinted at this, but if any of you said it explicitly, I didn't pick up on it, so forgive me if I am rehashing what you said or meant to say. The three act structure and the additional points of a story, such as Wells' techniques or Snyder's superb beat sheets are all well and good--but they are not plot. They are landmarks along the way of plot. They are things plot drives toward or has to deal with--but they aren't actually plot. (You might call them "plot points" in a sense, but that only acknowledges their skeletal function for the plot.)

In terms of process, I think story structure comes first, then plot, but before that comes a strong premise. If the premise doesn't naturally spin out plot and structure ideas, chances are--even if it is a great idea--that the premise is not complete. I've found Donald Maass and Blake Snyder to be great resources to developing premises to the point that they generate plot and structure by the conflict and character inherent in the idea. I would start by reading their stuff or someone like them and fleshing out the true potential of your premises. Structure and plot will follow. (And they both have plenty to say about those, too).

That being said, if you had bought me a cup of coffee to pick my brain about this, you probably would have overpaid.

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rcmann
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Plot is what happens. Structure is how it happens. Theme is why it happens. Characterization is who it happens to.

Figure out who your most important character or characters is/are. Give them a goal. Throw a slop bucket full of obstacles between them and their goal. beat the hell out of them along the way, and make them get tougher and smarter because of it. Finally let them either win or fail in a blaze of glory. Your plot is done.

Now you can worry about structure.

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Progonoskis
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I am SO glad I came to this place! What a wealth of ideas!

I"m a teacher. I tell kids the same thing a lot of different ways hoping that they'll eventually reach understanding -- along with other stuff, of course.

I think that's kind of what's happening here. Everyone of you has given me a new way to think about this, work with it, consider it...and it's all valuable ... and, mfreivald, worth much more than a cuppa joe!

You can bet I'll be back for more when I overcome this obstacle and hit my next one!
Progo

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Progonoskis
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BTW, InarticulateBabbler -- What a great site! Thanks for pointing it out.
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mfreivald
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rcmann, I think those ideas are oversimplified.

Plot doesn't always happen to a character, sometimes a character drives the plot. Plot is a complex interaction of cause and effect (though not at all limited to cause and effect) involving character, conflict, events, and a lot of other stuff. To my understanding, there is far more about how something happens in plot than there is in structure. Structure consists of those major markers in the plot that have great effect upon the direction of the story, and thus propels the plotline in a different direction, but how that happens is still more a function of plot.

And the way I work, plot without structure is like a mammal without a skeleton. Structure comes first, then comes the plot. But that's just me.

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MattLeo
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mfreivald -- I don't think rcmann is referring to something like plot devices when he says structure is "how [plot] happens"; but I see how putting it that way could be confusing if you didn't know what he was talking about. It might be better to say that structure is "How phases of the plot fit together."

Structure is just a particular way you have chosen of breaking a story up into major pieces. The transitions between pieces of a story are obviously important, so you can think of a structure in terms of those key scenes -- the signposts on the road if you will. When you focus on those key transitional scenes you'll end up thinking about the kinds of things that have to happen to drive the transition. And that's how you go from thinking about general structure to thinking about specific plot.

As for structure coming first -- it's a tremendous aid, but not everyone needs the same amount of structural guidance. It depends on the kind of story you're writing. If you're writing a Hollywood screenplay, you need lots of standardized structure so that the producer and director can envision the story translated to the screen. If you're writing a literary novel, you might have no a priori structure at all, or some kind of experimental, ad hoc structure.

I think structure can be imposed on smaller scale too. The first chapter of a novel has to work almost like a standalone story with a beginning, middle and end. The first act of a novel can often be broken up into three parts: everything that comes before the inciting incident, the protagonist encountering the problematic consequences of the inciting incident, and then the protagonist flirting with solving or avoiding the problem.

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mfreivald
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Makes sense, MattLeo. And I emphasized twice that structure first was a personal bearing toward the process, so bully for anyone who can flesh it out later. My hunch is, though, that most who worry about it later actually have a much better talent than I do at naturally working into a structure though they haven't explicitly noted it, and that beginners would do well to approach structure very early.

But my hunches are worth what you paid for them.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by theworldinthewords:
Also, it helps to think of your story arc in this way. You begin with the status quo. Something happens to disturb the status quo, and your character must resolve the disturbance. At the end of the arc, your character either returns the status quo or establishes a new status quo.

Just thought I'd mention that what you are describing here, theworldinthewords, is only one kind of story (according to OSC), and it's the one he calls Event story. You might want to read his two books on writing (CHARACTER AND VIEWPOINT and HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY) to see how he explains the other three kinds of stories (milieu, idea, and character).
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mfreivald
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Yes, Kathleen. I can also highly recommend Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat!" and "Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies." As I said above, Snyder helps look at premises to develop and complete them (as a log line), but he also discusses what he calls ten "genres" at length. He doesn't mean "genre" like most of us do, though. They are ten different story types, and he picks them apart with many examples.
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rcmann
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I bought OSC's books, and some by King, and others. I have read several more. All of them are useful. But ultimately I honestly believe that no two people will ever tell a story the same way. So maybe it helps sometimes to get down and dirty. Put the story in its most simplistic and primitive form. What is it about? Who is it about? What happens in the story? Why does it happen that way? When you can answer all of those questions without hesitating, the rest falls into place fairly easily for me.
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Grumpy old guy
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I thought I had a pretty good handle on plot until I read Lajos Egri's book -- the Art of Dramatic Writing. Granted, he is mainly concerned with the dramatic form of plays, but his words also hold true for the 'dramatic' novel.

The first key to plotting is the story's premise. Once you have a premise for your story, you need to prove it. It doesn't have to be factual, you just have to prove it in the world you create.

The next step is creating the characters of your world. In creating them, you need to decide what it is that your protagonist really wants; wants so badly he can't exist without it. Then you create an antagonist who wants nothing more that to stop your protagonist getting what he wants.

They create the plot. If they are rounded and believable, their personalities will force them to behave in certain ways. Romeo could only behave as he did because that was the nature Shakespear had given him. He loved Juliet so much that he would defy all the mores and belifs of his culture, even though he might die for it. Juliet was the same type of character. When Romeo thought Juliet was dead, he killed himself. Juliet did the same thing when she found out what he'd done. If you change anything in their personality, the plot falls apart.

Just my 2c worth.

Phil

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extrinsic
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Plot as I know it is structure, dramatic structure to be exact. Plot is an organizing principle used for arranging the framework of a dramatic action. The ancient Greeks called dramatic structure mythos. Plot as a word used in the sense of narrative structure began in the 1640s.

I've read hundreds of lengthy and in-depth rhetoric essays on plot. None are in conformance with any other. Though they are inherently more similar than different, their differences are more illuminating than their similarites. One focuses on character influences, another brings setting and milieu in to the mix, another is all about events, another empasizes theme and idea, another discourse and voice and expression. One emphasizes audience appeal. And so on, plot's relationship in some way to a degree topically related to audience, voice, or craft.

Dictionaries do not do plot justice. Something along the lines of a plan of a narrative's events is about all there is to dictionary definitions. Frustratingly, cruelly, the above referenced rhetoric texts are equally short of a comprehensive definition. That's beautiful though, from wanting a definition I discovered how broad the principle of plot is and eventually came to a satisfactory reconciliation with its difficulties. The journey was, is enlightening.

Sequence and pattern are significant organizing features of plot, as they are for any narrative or for communication of any kind. The first principle of writing for publication, for audiences of whatever makeup is on point: facilitate reading and comprehension ease. Plot is one fundamental organizing principle that does that.

Other organizing principles are afoot, though, like for argumentation composition, one method is to express the significance of a topic by stating a claim, then a reason for the claim, then supporting the claim, then anticipating objections to the claim, then rebutting the objections, then drawing conclusions about the argument. That's the Toumlin argumentation principle.

Another organizing principle for expository composition is to state signficant facts to get readers' attention first then escalate detail. Another involves the scientific method.

Sequences and patterns, these are first principles of natural organizing principles that readers are familiar with from our daily existence struggles and that facilitate reading and comprehension ease.

A narrative organized solely around plot, though, is likely too simple-minded for readers more sophisticated than early grade schoolers learning to read. For example, many narratives also follow the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief. A basic assumption any writer might make about organizing principles is they structure a heuristic, trial and error process that's fundamentally cause and effect, action and reaction.

However, a plot solely based on causation is likely going to be static, stale, lifeless, and have the emotionless flat line of a dead heart. This is what editors label trvial narratives. Tension adds depth to a plot. It is readers caring and being curious about what will happen to a central character or dramatis personae. Since heuristic processes strongly appeal to audiences, antagonism is the third feature or axis of a plot shape. Antagonism is an empathy-worthy problem causing a want, an empathy-worthy want causing a problem, or an empathy-worthy problem wanting satisfaction. Antagonism connects causation and tension together.

Plot is not necessary for artfully creating an appealing narrative. Some organizing principle, maybe two or more patterns and sequences is, though. And the dramatic complication, the problem wanting satisfaction must be accessible, appealing, entertaining, and informative for audiences. I struggled with audience appeal for years. In-depth folkore study provided satisfactory, for the time being, answers. A central function of folklore is timely and relevantly expressing people's struggles, fears, anxieties, desires, wants, needs, contentions, and problems so that we may learn how to cope with them.

[ October 14, 2012, 11:27 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Then you create an antagonist who wants nothing more that to stop your protagonist getting what he wants.

May I suggest that an antagonist can be more interesting if he has his own goals, independent of the protagonist, which just happen to put him into conflict with the protagonist?

And even more compelling may be when they both have GOOD goals. That can be the stuff of tragedy, when only one can win, and after winning, the winner is devastated to realize that his opponent was also trying to achieve something GOOD.

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Grumpy old guy
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Kathleen, I completely agree with your sentiment, but it will now probably start a thread on the nature of conflict. For me, the antagonist can be just as *good* and *right* as the protagonist but the two of them are inevitably in conflict with each other.

Also, on the point of the personality of the antagonist; they musn't be totally bad. They have a motive for behaving the way they do that is important to them.

The problem is, what is *good*, and who's it *good* for?

Phil

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
\The problem is, what is *good*, and who's it *good* for?

I quite agree.
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extrinsic
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Conflict and its many interpretations for writers is certainly fertile ground for a dynamic discussion. Conflict is even more complex and broad and at times has opposing definitions with mutually exclusive meanings more than most other writing topics.

quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
The problem is, what is *good*, and who's it *good* for?

Depends on the audience. Not that I'm satisfied with that answer; it's taken me quite a while to define my preferred audience and understand their literature preferences that accord with mine.
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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Originally posted by Extrinsic:
it's taken me quite a while to define my preferred audience

I beg your pardon. I'll be happy with any audience I can get.

I'm afraid my notions of what is good, bad, right and wrong are, while for the most part set in stone, also fluid in some circumstances. Now, I only mention that because what I belive in and feel will inevitably show through in what I write and how I write it.

My audience may agree with me, or they may not. And while they may not agree with my outlook, they might still enjoy my stories. And that's why I write. Perhaps I may ingnite some spark of self-questioning, but I'm not preaching to an audience nor am I pandering to their preconceptions.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I beg your pardon. I'll be happy with any audience I can get.

I'm afraid my notions of what is good, bad, right and wrong are, while for the most part set in stone, also fluid in some circumstances. Now, I only mention that because what I belive in and feel will inevitably show through in what I write and how I write it.

My audience may agree with me, or they may not. And while they may not agree with my outlook, they might still enjoy my stories. And that's why I write. Perhaps I may ingnite some spark of self-questioning, but I'm not preaching to an audience nor am I pandering to their preconceptions.

Phil.

Writing for an audience is about more than shared social norms, mores, folkways, and values. It's about the other side of shared life meanings too: fears, desires, anxieties, wants, problems, joys, sorrows, and so on. And yet a third space too: association and identification with familiar circumstances and the excitements and curiosity-arousing qualities of exotic circumstances.
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