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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Plotting

   
Author Topic: Plotting
mythique890
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I seem to be asking a lot of questions on here lately, but you guys have helped me so much, I can't help myself!

How do you all come up with plots? I have plenty of ideas, and I'm trying to weave them together, but I've come to find that most of them lack conflict.

The trouble I have is made worse by the fact that once I've got the plot down, I'm afraid to change it because new plot points are so hard for me to come up with. Thus my story is inflexible and, in parts, forced.

How do you come up with exciting/interesting/twisty plots that flow?


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Natej11
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Well first off what do you mean by conflict? I used to think the only possible conflict in a story was actual fight scenes, but now I believe that there are plenty of ways to introduce conflict into a story without needing actual combat, and a lot of those ways can really help characterization.

It could be something as simple as a traveler getting lost in a new city, his interactions with apathetic citizens, his attempts to find an inn and the innkeeper trying to swindle him. He could imagine danger that was never actually there, or be surprised by danger that he manages to avoid.

You could have conversations between would-be lovers in that awkward stage where both are very much interested in each other and look for any excuse to be around the other person, but are too timid to come right out and say it, and then afterwards are angry at themselves and feel like they made a fool of themselves.

Endless possibilities, ways you can make a story interesting and believable without having your hero slash his way through every chapter.

But as for conflict in the form of actual fighting, most of my stories have plenty of that. I try to keep it spaced out, have at least every other chapter focus on some other type of conflict. It can be pretty exhausting reading about one battle after another with no break in the action, and it doesn't give much room for plot, characterization, world-building, etc.

A lot of time when I'm writing action I don't put too much forethought into it, I just sit down at let it flow to the desired conclusion. Meanwhile with everything else it's much harder to just let it flow, so I have to put more thought into it. Those are the scenes I think about when I'm not writing.

Anyway just a few thoughts. I don't know how many apply to your questions, but I hope they help.


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MartinV
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A conflict is pretty much everything that makes the character unsatisfied with his/her current situation. If they are satisfied, there is nothing to write about.
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MattLeo
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Well, it's a bit mysterious where ideas come from. For example in the romantic comedy/space opera I'm working on the protagonist is from a place called "Keystone"; I'm not sure why I chose that name, but I decided I'd call the whole work "The Keystone". It wasn't until I'd been working on it for a month that I realized that a keystone is the thing that allows two halves of an arch to work together at the same time as they oppose each other. That was a total freebie from my subconscious.

Now I think it happened this way. I'd decided to name the hero's love interest "Archie" because that was Cary Grant's real name. I suppose my subconscious noticed this sounded like "arch", then put this together with the general romantic comedy template of two characters who oppose each other learning to work together. But far as I knew at the time "Keystone" came out of the blue.

Now ideas may be mysterious in their origin, but the working out of ideas is a different matter. Here *structure* is your friend. By breaking a big, fat, hard to swallow lump of plot into bite sized pieces, it allows you to focus your creativity on details. The three act structure is one generic template for working out the details of a plot, at least for a longer work. You don't have to use it, but it's very generic and robust, and works especially well for a longish work where the protagonist is heroic:

Act 1: Introduction. Meet the hero and his antagonist, and get enough background to understand the nature of the conflict. At the conclusion of Act 1 the protagonist typically makes a choice which commits him to solving the problem.

Act 2: Complication. The protagonist attempts to solve his problem but meets with opposition or unexpected difficulty. Act 2 ends with him hitting bottom, as far away from his goals as he can be. Since this act is typically more than half of a work, it sometimes has its own structure, with some kind of pivotal scene in the middle tent-poling either half of the act. If the hero's problem is hubris, this will be the height from which he spirals down to despair. Otherwise it might be the first point in the story where the protagonist understands what's *really* at stake, after which he spirals down to despair.

Act 3: Resolution. At the start of this Act the protagonist discovers the key to solving the problem. That's good because by now we're on the verge of getting tired of seeing him fail. Using the key, he overcomes all the obstacles that defeated him in Act 2 and resolves the primary conflict. Then there's usually a little bit showing how everything has changed (or maybe dropping a hint that there's more to be done in the next book).

Now personally, I think the hardest act to write by far is act 2; it's the meat of the story and if you don't do it well nobody will care about the resolution in act 3. Act 3 is easy. Once you've figured out what the key to the protagonist's problem, act 3 pretty much writes itself. This leaves us with act 1. It's easy to write *an* act 1, it's hard to write a *good* one, particularly the opening scene. That's because you've got to bring the reader up to speed without losing his interest.

Now you don't have to use this structure; there are alternative structures. For example in fairy tales, we often get three brothers (or sisters) who try their hand at solving the problem. The proud and clever ones fail, but the foolish but virtuous younger brother succeeds. Or there the "hero's journey" structure, in which what corresponds to act 2 above is a series of trials which leave the hero proven and purified.

It's quite possible to write a story without consciously using structure at all. I'm pretty sure that Jane Austen, Herman Melville and Fyodor Dostoyevsky just sat down and wrote their great novels start to finish. But (a) they were geniuses, (b) they were masters of prose who could hold our attention without tight plotting and pacing and (c) they weren't concerned in the least if their novels' lengths approached or even exceeded 200K words. Maybe you belong in their company, but if you don't, thinking about structure might help.

What structure does is give you a framework for breaking a big, vague plot idea into manageable chunks. It also gives you a sense for how large and elaborate each part of your plot should be. But it's still hard. Using structure is like sitting down at a potter's wheel to throw a pot. Even though you know the shape the pot ought to be, making it happen is hard work.

Some people are natural plotters, but I know *I'm* not. I'm a satirist, an observer and gentle mocker of character. I can sit my characters down for a revealing and funny argument about any topic under the sun, but keeping them moving toward some goal is much tougher. Other people have other writing métiers that make plotting difficult. There's the world builder, or the action set-piece constructor, or the scene painter. We all need all the help we can get.


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History
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Genetic predisposition to Imagine.
Age (accumulated memories and experiences)
Decades of reading.
Dreams.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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pdblake
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Alcohol
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AndrewR
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One way I've envisioned plot is like a tennis game between the protagonist and the world (i.e. everyone and everything else).

It starts either when the protagonist decides he wants to do something (the goal)--oftentimes precipitated by the world changing in some way.

The world--the antagonist, nature, society, whatever--responds in some way, keeping the protagonist from succeeding.

So the protagonist considers and responds to what the world did, comes up with a new plan, and does something more.

The world responds, foiling the new plan.

Thus the ball goes back and forth, with the protagonist becoming more desperate each time, the stakes becoming more dire each time, until finally, in one last desperate attempt--oftimes by doing something he hasn't tried before--the protagonist gives his last shot.

Then he either wins or loses, the goal is either achieved or not achieved, a new equilibrium is attained, and peace reigns (at least until the sequel).

So all plotting requires is a goal the protagonist is willing to die for (or close to it) and a nefarious world that tries to stop him. Then it's just up to your devious imagination to figure out how to stop him.


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LDWriter2
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I think Dr, Bob has a point and pd... well, if you want some really twisty plots.


With me I think reading shows me what plots, twisty or otherwise, there are. My imagination and/or muse takes over from there. Practice helps too.


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Robert Nowall
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Usually I start with some central "incident" in the plot, whatever that might be, then work forward to where it's gonna end, and work back to some beginning point---the later in the story I can start, the better, I think---and then hash it out, with sometimes even the original "incident" changing in the process, or even dropping out.

Then I start writing, either the story itself or some notes about it.


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mythique890
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Wow, as always, thanks for the advice, everyone! I've never taken a creative writing class and I feel like I'm pretty new to writing fiction, so I really appreciate all of your help and advice!
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LDWriter2
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Depending on who taught the class you may end up throwing it all out or sharing some of it with us.

I've heard of both things happening. Some teachers are good while others don't seem to know what really works. Most probably some of it will work for you but not everything. That goes for the advice here too.

But keep practicing and learn what works for you and how you write as you seem to be doing.


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Teraen
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I have a technique that I use, but keep in mind I've never published so I can't speak to its usefulness. For me, however, it works.

I usually actually start with a scene. For example, I'll watch a movie and a scene will unfold a different way than I anticipated and I start going down that other direction.

Or I'll come up with a scene that makes me want to write it, for example, right now I have a scene where my characters (notice, I have no clue who they are yet...) are running away from something/someone pursuing them. They escape into an old Roman-type sewer system and one of them breaks their arm when they fall down. One of the other ones has to splint them up.

Then, I take my scene and begin expanding it: why would someone patch the arm up? Does he have medical training?

Who is he patching? Is it someone they don't get along well with? In my current example, I am having the splinter be in love with the splintee, so he is trying to be extra gentle despite the pursuit behind them.

Then, all sorts of questions start boiling out. Why are they being pursued? Where are they going?

As I keep writing/plotting, more and more threads seem to go off in a million different directions and it gets really complicated. But eventually, I start finding ways to weave them into a coherent story and it ends up working...


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