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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » fine tuning a story

   
Author Topic: fine tuning a story
Andromoidus
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ok, Ive started some novels and plays, and Ive realized one thing consistently: I cannot come up with specifics for any single book. I come up with a pretty descent storyline, good characters, and nice twists, but when it comes down to actually WRITING the blasted thing, my brain goes numb.

how would you overcome this problem? (Its really annoying.)


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extrinsic
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I've been there. It's frustrating having an idea and no clue what to do with it. In plowing ahead, I wound up with episodic stories that aren't really stories at all. That's what set me on my course of narratology study, finally culminating in the dynamics of plot. I'd started there and circumnavigated through all the elements of story at last arriving at the one shape of all stories.

The idealized shape is a two-dimensional stepped ziggurat (or pyramid) with five parts and three crises. An introduction scene finishing with the inciting crisis (predicament) that sets the protagonist in motion. Rising action scenes where antagonism creates escalating efforts to address the predicament presented by the inciting crisis, in order of increasing antagonism, resistances, obstacles, and setbacks, with the setbacks transitioning into greater efforts, all the while the outcome increasingly remaining in doubt. Climax and great crisis, where efforts and antagonism are greatest, and outcome is most in doubt. The great crisis is what clinches an outcome's likelihood through how the protagonist addresses it. Falling action scenes, where efforts and antagonism decrease and outcome becomes more certain as a result of what is learned by addressing the climax crisis, still in order resistances, obstacles, setbacks. The final crisis where the outcome becomes certain and the protagonist experiences a reversal of fortune from the state of circumstances at the beginning and comes to a satisfied accommodation with the reversal, denouement or resolution.

The keynote for an introduction is creating reader resonance through introducing a sympathetic protagonist with a predicament that poses an overarching question that a story answers by the ending.


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BenM
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I found the same thing as extrinsic, with an additional twist or two. The first is character development: Make sure that the characters develop in some way (the story changes them) through that plot structure. The second was simultaneous plots: When planning a novel last year, I basically sketched a plot structure and development for each character. This gave me a huge list of plot points that I could arrange so that when it came to writing a chapter there was plenty happening physically, and the constant character development meant there was plenty happening emotionally. Having the main characters' plots all climax at roughly the same time also gave a nice sense of growing tension and satisfying climax in the story.


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Jeff Baerveldt
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I'm not sure I understand your problem. If you have a story, characters, and twists, what are you missing?

It seems to me that what you don't have -- only because you didn't mention it -- are scenes. The best definition of a scene I've come across was in Robert McKee's STORY. "A scene must turn." That is to say, it must advance the story; it must push the story forward.

Have you tried breaking your story down into scenes?

There are various ways to do this. The way that I like is to first identify the ten major events of the story. These are what I dubbed Master Events -- the big climatic moments in your story. (If you're writing a short story, you'll only have one of these.)

Sometimes these Master Events are already scenes; that is, I conceived them as scenes. But most of the time they are just events.

If they are events, then I need to create a mini story arc for each event -- the problem is presented, a complication arises, a climatic moment, then a final resolution. Thus at the bare minimum, you probably need three scenes to adequately tell one Master Event. (The resolution isn't necessary as a scene, since you can include it within a scene.)

The other thing you need to know is that each scene is (usually) followed by a sequel. This is a term I picked up from Dwight Swain. A sequel is downtime after action, when a character reacts to what has happened, sorts out his dilemma, then decides on his next course of action.

Scenes and sequels -- they carry the day.

ANOTHER way to get the brain out of it's funk is to copy out the prose of a favorite writer. A couple of hundred words should be sufficient -- enough to awake the creative side of your mind.

I hope this helps.

[This message has been edited by Jeff Baerveldt (edited March 23, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by Jeff Baerveldt (edited March 23, 2009).]


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Andromoidus
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thanks for the help, jeff.

you too, extrinsic and ben. youll see the results (hopefully) of your advice in Fragments and Feedback.


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Robert Nowall
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I read somewhere that writing is like learning to fly: you learn by jumping as high as you can, and when you reach the top of your jump, you jump again.
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Owasm
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I hate to reference a book in place of advice, but if you are really stuck, read James Bell's Plot & Structure. It's an easy read and will address the mechanics mentioned above. The plot structure recommended is consistent with extrinsic's ziggurat analogy. Bell also addresses developing plots depending on your writing style, anal and non-anal.

It helped me.


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