July 14, 2020, 08:33:17 PM

Author Topic: "I want to write a story in which..."  (Read 805 times)

Offline Yora

"I want to write a story in which..."
« on: October 30, 2019, 07:05:34 PM »
Every story has to be about a protagonist wanting to do something. That's what makes it a story. Everything else builds upon and supports the protagonist's path to get to this goal.

How did you get to the point where you said "this is going to be my goal I write a story around"?

Looked at in a vacuum without the setting and supporting characters, the goals of most stories sound very bland and interchangeable. Do your ideas start with a goal, or is that something that comes later when you have already decided various other things about the story? When I think of possible bare-bones goals, none of them ever seem to be worth writing about without context. Where do you start with this process?
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline cupiscent

Re: "I want to write a story in which..."
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2019, 10:02:58 AM »
I start with the context. :D

But seriously, how I usually build a story is start with something that interests me - a character or a moment or a setting or a conflict - and then build out from there to support the thing that interests me. If I want to write about a smart-arse character, the most interesting conflict might be something that makes him have to admit he doesn't know everything, so that shapes the story (and the goal). If I want to write about a setting where you can do anything with magic, but nothing that isn't a magic-user can survive, then that informs the society I built and that in turn prompts the conflicts that arise from that society and that, in turn, points out the most interesting characters to write about.

Goal is often the last thing I figure out. Literally - the first-draft revision notes for the last three novels I've written have started with "the protag needs a goal dumbass". :D

Offline NedMarcus

Re: "I want to write a story in which..."
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2019, 12:16:26 PM »
I start with a simple idea: I want to write a story about something. From there, I work out the forces of antagonism. Once they're developed a bit, I think about the protagonist. About what type of person would stand against them. And then it's about refining the idea into a tight premise. Then a one page outline, and then I'm off...

At least that's the idea. We'll see how it goes tomorrow when I start my new novel for Nanowrimo.

Offline MrNybble

Re: "I want to write a story in which..."
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2019, 02:19:14 PM »
Start by thinking of a sentence or two idea. Flesh it out to a single page outline, and wing it from there.

I will usually strip out the reluctant hero journey stuff. Redefine proper roles of established character types. Add scenes that are usually avoided or uncomfortable. Fill plot armor with holes. Use permanent character death to progress the story.

It's all about how it works for you. Find something you like and fill it out. Use other works as a template if needed.

Offline Skip

Re: "I want to write a story in which..."
« Reply #4 on: November 04, 2019, 04:30:08 PM »
It has varied for me. My first novel had a premise: goblins invade the Roman Empire. The MC's goal was to save Constantinople. It felt really straightforward until I got into the writing, but the ultimate context and goal remained.

Into the Second World also began with a clear concept: a re-working of Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth but set in Altearth. It was the story of a woman journalist trying to make her reputation by going on this dangerous expedition, but it also provided important context for the history of Altearth, so there was something important that had to happen down there in the center of the world.

At the other extreme, The Garden of Hugo Vuerloz began with just a concept--a lone agent with a shady past who has to help an old friend who has got in over his head. I had an opening: "The elf was dead by the time I got to him."  And I knew there was a story hanging off the end of that sentence. Setting, character, theme, all that was worked out on the fly.

Finally, there's left field. For me, it came in the form of a folk tale from early modern Brittany, about a fearsome character who grabbed people who dared walk alone at night out beyond their village. He was tall, with long hands, and they called him the Carrotfinger Man. That's really all there was. I knew I wanted to use that character but in the fantasy setting of Altearth. It resulted in a short story with dwarves and pixies. And the Carrotfinger Man.

I don't know if any of that helps directly, but it does illustrate that stories can have different starting points and different lines of development, and that the only true failures are the ones that don't get written.


Visit Altearth

Offline Dan D Jones

Re: "I want to write a story in which..."
« Reply #5 on: November 05, 2019, 03:36:15 PM »
There appear to be two different questions being asked here.

The first concerns the nature of fiction. Certainly it's true that boiling a story down to it's essential conflict leaves a bare bone with very little flesh in which to sink your teeth. Plot is the skeleton of a story and skeletons are generally of interest only to paleontologists. Stories aren't about plot. A plot does not make or break a story. What determines the worth of a story is the characters and the details that flesh out the skeleton. Hemingway can write an entire novel about an old man catching a fish and it still resonates over 50 years later. There are plenty of books with wildly inventive plots that sound incredibly interesting but fail miserably when you attempt to read them. Any conflict can be used as the basis of a story if there are interesting characters and sufficient detail that the readers cares about the outcome. Readers can become invested in a character saving the universe from utter annihilation or a character attempting to deal with the impact of having an uncaring parent or anything in between. There is no such thing as a bad story idea. An uninteresting story is the result of a poor implementation of the idea, not the idea itself.

The second question is how an author approaches constructing a story that will interest the reader. I think there are about as many answers to this question as there are (aspiring) authors. For me, almost every story I've ever planned or written starts with a character and their motivation. That's because it's people and their struggles that interests me, that inspires me, that motivates me. I create a character in my head and I want to explore that character and expose them to the world. That doesn't mean that YOU should start with a character. Some writers are inspired by plot. They have an idea for something that happens and they fill in the people and details that are required to bring those events to pass. Others might be inspired by a setting. They envision a world and want to describe that world and the things that happen inside it. Yet another person might have an idea, such as an invention or a magic system, and want to explore how that idea impacts the world. (This is especially common in various types of speculative fiction.)

Orson Scott Card calls this the MICE quotient - Milieu, Idea, Character, Event. Mary Robinette Kowal has also written extensively on this topic. You can google lots of articles on it if you'd like to dig deeper.

My question to you would be: why do you want to write? What makes you want to sit down and pound on a keyboard to put your thoughts in front of other people? What is the goal - not of the story - but of you as a writer? You may not be able to give a simple, succinct answer to that question but thinking about it will inform how you approach idea generation and story creation. Write about what excites you. Get feedback on what you write and improve your technique so you can communicate that excitement to the reader. The rest will take care of itself.

Offline Yora

Re: "I want to write a story in which..."
« Reply #6 on: November 05, 2019, 06:09:09 PM »
For me, almost every story I've ever planned or written starts with a character and their motivation. That's because it's people and their struggles that interests me, that inspires me, that motivates me. I create a character in my head and I want to explore that character and expose them to the world. That doesn't mean that YOU should start with a character. Some writers are inspired by plot. They have an idea for something that happens and they fill in the people and details that are required to bring those events to pass. Others might be inspired by a setting. They envision a world and want to describe that world and the things that happen inside it. Yet another person might have an idea, such as an invention or a magic system, and want to explore how that idea impacts the world.

I think this is actually really helpful for me. It's something pretty obvious, but phrased like this it made me connect something I had not consciously seen before.
I had approached this idea for a work by starting with the character's motivation, elaborating on a generic plot structure, or looking for conflicts that naturally arise out of the ideas for the setting. But the one thing I really want to get out at the end is "frightening and amazing encounters with strange supernatural entities and phenomenons". My prep work has always been focused on establishing characters and a setting that allow for such moments to happen. I think I actually got a pretty good character and setting for that purpose, but have really been struggling to get this character on her feet and start walking into the adventure. I have not actually spend much thought on what she'll actually run into at the end, setting that aside for later once I get there. But starting with the encounter and the meaning it will have, and then going backwards to establish context and circumstances that will make it really impactful seems like a much better approach to it.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor