December 13, 2017, 07:28:12 AM

Author Topic: "Murky middle" problem with outlining a story  (Read 1152 times)

Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: "Murky middle" problem with outlining a story
« Reply #15 on: September 22, 2017, 02:50:18 PM »
No offense dude, but unless you're writing short stories or very episodic fiction, that's kinda terrible advice.

If you don't mean to offend, perhaps don't call people's advice terrible.

I felt I was clear in that my advice wasn't something that suited everyone. The problem presented was that Ninja was stuck on the outlining part and wanted advice on how to proceed. Telling him to outline more seemed counterintuitive to me. I didn't interpret it as a call for plot suggestions (though it may have been), but a call for a method to deal with the situation he's in.

I am aware of the need for a narrative structure, but you should be aware that there are many ways to create one. That one particular method didn't work for you does not mean that it won't work for someone else.
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Offline NinjaRaptor

Re: "Murky middle" problem with outlining a story
« Reply #16 on: September 22, 2017, 06:31:53 PM »
From the details you've given, I would presume the climax of the opener is the Chinese emperor getting his hands on this magical staff. For the quest you probably want to just have him obtain it through nefarious means, and her proclaim her intention to reclaim it. For a chase, you could have her catch him in the act, fail, and as a result to redeem herself she goes after him. If you went revenge, you could give her some real power to her mission by also having her father be killed as a result of that coup so she also has the protection what are now her people on her mind.
I particularly like this one as a motivation for her. Thanks! Though the father also getting killed in the struggle could also add some extra emotional weight to the heroine's desire to redeem herself.

As for the final act, it's basically...

Spoiler for Hiden:
The villain's goons bring the staff to him, and he tries to use it as a weapon. The heroine defeats him in a violent struggle, establishes a peace treaty between their countries with whomever fills in the "Chinese"
 power void after the villain's death, and returns home as queen.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2017, 06:38:05 PM by NinjaRaptor »
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Offline D_Bates

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Re: "Murky middle" problem with outlining a story
« Reply #17 on: September 23, 2017, 04:33:34 PM »
So in that case the story you have is a chase, whereby your heroine is tasked with stopping the staff reaching it's final destination, else all is lost.

Obviously, if the staff's use is the crux of the final act then you can't have it being used to it's full extent midway through, but that doesn't mean you couldn't have a minion try and harness it's power at some stage just to show them being blown up in the process.

The drama in chase plots plays off similar excitement from the schoolyard game of tag, where the chaser (the heroine in this case) almost gets her hands on her prize, but for one reason or another just can't quite get it done.

Some other ideas for you then:
You could add a betrayal twist, where one of her trusted companions (assuming she's not alone in her chase) turns on her through jealousy or greed or lust for power, costing her the chance to recover the staff and forcing her to do the final stretch of her journey alone, when much of her success has been her reliance on them throughout the first half.

Or you could have her actually recover the staff midway through, but in her effort to escape, gets cornered and tries to use the staff's power, only to find that she can't control it (and is knocked backed on her arse, having to once more take up the chase only this time while also being wounded in pride and body).

Or you could keep it simple, the almost got you, missed, recovery period, almost got you again, missed again (and badly this time), and is now maybe forced to rely on the decency of some of the Chinese natives in order to help her finally overcome. This might also add a nice touch to help avoid people jumping to the conclusion that the story is a punch at the Chinese culture as a whole, where the emperor's obsession with the power of the staff no less of a grave threat to his own people as much as it is to hers.

So you see there's lots of ways you can go with this. The key is to understanding the plot you're writing and how to draw the drama out at the climax peaks, and then as others have suggested, when you start writing there will be little details that start popping in which help to shape the twists and turns that hopefully end up making your work unique and fresh.
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Offline NinjaRaptor

Re: "Murky middle" problem with outlining a story
« Reply #18 on: September 23, 2017, 05:23:19 PM »
Or you could keep it simple, the almost got you, missed, recovery period, almost got you again, missed again (and badly this time), and is now maybe forced to rely on the decency of some of the Chinese natives in order to help her finally overcome. This might also add a nice touch to help avoid people jumping to the conclusion that the story is a punch at the Chinese culture as a whole, where the emperor's obsession with the power of the staff no less of a grave threat to his own people as much as it is to hers.
I like this one. I think I even know which character is going to help her out this time. Thanks again!
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Offline WilliamRay

Re: "Murky middle" problem with outlining a story
« Reply #19 on: October 04, 2017, 06:33:31 PM »
When I'm stuck like that in the outlining process, sometimes I brainstorm on random scenes.  Almost like imagining a snippet that might appear in a movie trailer for your story.

For example, just start thinking of your setting and some of the themes involved.  Maybe you start to picture a wild chase on foot through a marketplace, with the heroine dashing after some rambunctious thief.

From there, start working backwards to figure out where that scene fits.  Where could there be a marketplace like the one you pictured?  At that stage in the story, what could be stolen that is precious enough to elicit the sort of action-packed chase scene you imagined?  Then think about what you want at that stage of the story.  If she needs to meet another character around then, maybe they're the thief, or maybe they help her catch the thief.  Or maybe she wins them to her side because the thief stole from them instead of her.  Or maybe you need to show her character, so the chase ends with mercy, or a lack thereof.

Once you plant the scene where you need it, and figure out what you can use it for in that spot, then tendrils drift out into the rest of the story, filling in even more of the middle.  If the thief stole money, then to make that dramatic, she must want money.  Suddenly, you're filling details elsewhere with scenes to show how a woman raised as a spoiled princess struggles to manage her finances.  Or maybe you decide she's flawed and greedy, and you show her chasing down the thief to demonstrate that quality of her character... which of course, is a detail that will need to spill over into other scenes she's in.

The more bits and pieces you fill in like that, the more of a cohesive vision you'll build for yourself of your setting, characters and the final story.  When you've done all your work, in the end those patchwork scenes will seamlessly unite even though you didn't know exactly where each would go when you first imagined it.

Offline bdcharles

Re: "Murky middle" problem with outlining a story
« Reply #20 on: October 16, 2017, 10:12:13 AM »
I think of the beginning as introducing the event (and therefore the goal; resolution of that event) that sets the MC on his or her course; I think of the end as being the aforementioned goal, and the middle being all the things that conspire to prevent the MC getting what they want, and all the ways they react to that, and all the ways it changes them and the things and people around them. As long as they are somewhat oriented towards the goal in all that time, and as long as the stakes trend higher, things should be ok. Just remember to keep batting them away from achieving their dreams whenever they get too close! :)
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