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Author Topic: How to start creating a good plot?  (Read 3678 times)

Offline Yora

How to start creating a good plot?
« on: March 05, 2016, 11:41:17 AM »
I've been having some ideas for what kind of fantasy I want to write for quite a while, and I have now reached the point where I feel there is nothing left to research and no more preparatory worldbuilding to be done.

There's nothing left to do but start outlining a plot. And I don't really have any idea at all.

What I want to write about is stores of 30,000 to 60,000 words inspired by Sword & Sorcery and Planetary Romance stories. Set in an "alien world" covered by forests and inhabited entirely by fantastic creatures, with small Bronze Age villages and castles scattered throughout a vast wilderness. I want to write about heroic protagonists who try to do the right thing despite not being super powered and fights being very dangerous for them. (More Indiana Jones than Conan.) Usually they reach their goal, but it's never perfect, and sometimes they have to admit they have been defeated. And there should be a lot of mysterious magic and strange monsters.

Seems like an amazing concept to me, but I just don't have any idea how to begin outlining a plot. I've got three very rough ideas in the past, but then discarded them when I realized they don't really have much of an antagonist and there isn't any real motivation for the protagonist.
Where do I even start with creating an outline for a plot?
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2016, 12:17:50 PM »
I've seen threads you've started describing your world. It's very detailed.
Have you put any thought into what conflicts are happening around the world? It could be something as simple as trade, or some type of corrupt governments, or something massive like huge natural disasters that happen at random. Now, you're antagonist wants to fix one of these in his particular area, no matter the cost.
I hope that makes some sense.

Offline Raptori

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Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2016, 12:19:44 PM »
How much research into plotting have you done? There are so many different approaches that you can take that it can be pretty overwhelming. Ones that have worked best for us are the snowflake method, seven-point structure, and Hague's six stage plot. The Hague one is a little more complicated than the other two, and is arguably better for creating a deeper story, but the other two make it really easy to come up with a solid central plot very quickly.

Also, the snowflake method's approach of starting with a single sentence that sums up your book can be really helpful when it comes to keeping motivated and making sure the story stays on track. Works well as a shorthand to remind you of what inspired you to create the story in the first place!

Once you've got a better picture of how they all work work you can use them together to help you create a more nuanced and interesting plot than you would get by just using one of them, and eventually you should start to be able to use the principles behind them to plot by yourself without worrying that it's not going to hold together well. :)
« Last Edit: March 05, 2016, 12:29:35 PM by Raptori »
I wish the world was flat like the old days, then I could travel just by folding a map.

Offline Yora

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2016, 02:16:41 PM »
Have you put any thought into what conflicts are happening around the world? It could be something as simple as trade, or some type of corrupt governments, or something massive like huge natural disasters that happen at random. Now, you're antagonist wants to fix one of these in his particular area, no matter the cost.
I hope that makes some sense.

It does. And it sounds really good. Having the antagonist trying to improve something sounds like a great way to get interesting conflicts with multiple facets.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Very Tired Writer

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2016, 05:00:33 PM »
For me, when I start on the plot, I tend to think of the main characters first, their personalities and motivations. Then I think about a certain thing I want to see happen in the plot, such as a fight with a giant monster or whatever, and I kind of fill in the blanks of how the characters get from their point A (the starting position of the characters) to point B (that certain thing I want to happen).
I don't even know what to put here yet

Offline Yora

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2016, 05:33:39 PM »
I think I am already failing at motivations. What would make a good motivation other than "save the world" and "gold"?
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Barbara J Webb

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2016, 06:19:50 PM »
I think I am already failing at motivations. What would make a good motivation other than "save the world" and "gold"?

Motivations tie into characters' pasts. I would go so far as to say "save the world" isn't even a motivation. It's a goal. Same as "destroy the world" for a villain. It's the endpoint, but not the why, and it's the why you're looking for.

Example: your bad guy doesn't want to conquer the world because it's about the world. It's because in seventh grade, there was a guy who pushed him into the locker every damn day, and now he's going to get back at that guy. Or because his mother told him over and over again that he'd never amount to anything, and now he's going to show her.

So think about past relationships, experiences, what their family was like, what their home was like growing up.

Think about your heroine, who never had an unbroken toy because her older brother was a jerk, and now all she wants to do is build things that no one can tear down.

Think about your hero, who followed his doctor father around and saw how many sick people had no money, saw how much suffering could be averted if people only had resources, and now wants to make a world where no one has to die from treatable diseases again.

Think about your villain, who lost his father and his brother when they were drafted into war, and now is going to manipulate/assassinate/dominate his way to leader of the world so he can end war and make sure he never loses anyone he loves again.
Breaking the world one character at a time.

Offline ArhiX

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2016, 06:36:56 PM »
Vengeance, duty, fun, love, wisdom, power, anger, fate, hunger, justice, fame, showing off, a thrill of fight, survival, madness and insanity... There is really enough things out there to use as an engine for characters. Use them, but choose wisely.

Search for stuff somewhere else - not only inside of a genre. That's a human-centipede kind of curse.

There is also this stuff called "story's theme". I don't really understand what stands behind that, but I'm guessing it's something like "all men must die" or "there are no monsters - only humans".

Me, personally, I just love driving my characters insane and making them loose everything.
"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."

Offline SugoiMe

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2016, 01:16:58 AM »
Quote
I want to write about heroic protagonists who try to do the right thing

Keeping what you said here in mind, what does your protagonist feel is the "right thing"?  Now what sort of injustice or obstacle comes up when he tries to achieve that?  Who or what is behind that injustice?  How does your protagonist succeed/fail?  Start with those questions and see where they take you.  You should have the beginnings of a plot come into view.  Your outcome, whether your protagonist succeeds or fails, will be your ending and you can formulate a story arc from there.
"And then the time came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

Offline ArhiX

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #9 on: March 06, 2016, 02:15:42 AM »
I want to write about heroic protagonists who try to do the right thing despite not being super powered and fights being very dangerous for them

Wait. If so - they try to do the right thing, or at least, what they feel is a right thing. Our recognition of what is "The Right Thing" evolved over the course of many, many years of development of our cultures. Even now - "good" of one is "evil" for another. Bronze-age societies might not have a complex moral code. Similiar to Hammurabi's code of: "an eye for an eye". Early human societies were primitive, so the laws had to be rudimental, in order for everyone to understand them.

It might be a "good thing" for a druid, to slay an entire village, that was unfortunate enough to be near some random magic-corruption. He might kill them "just in case", and he will even think it is a right thing to do - because he thinks he will save their souls from being corrupted. Just like some people who believed, that by killing a witch, they will save her soul from condemnation. I can bet that villagers from said village, will think differently than druid. A man who tries to save the villagers, might soon enough experience, that sometimes it is better not to interfere in something, he does not understand entirely (villagers are slowly getting corrupted).
Just throwing ideas.
"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."

Offline zmunkz

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #10 on: March 06, 2016, 05:59:24 AM »
I like the "points on a map" approach.  Think up a couple characters, and decide how you want everything to end.  Who gets together, who saves the day, etc.

Once you have the ending, go backwards and think of a few scenes that can lead up to that ending.  So for a romance plot/sub-plot, pick 3 scenes where they get closer, and 3 scenes where something goes wrong (for instance).  For the main conflict plot, think of a few twists that make it change course.  Do the same with each of your arcs.

Now you have the "points" you need to get to, and you can just write your way between those scenes.
"People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." --Isaac Asimov

Offline Yora

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #11 on: March 06, 2016, 11:37:44 AM »
One method for getting ideas what a story is about that I came across and find very interesting, is a kind of "molecular synthesis" approach. One good idea does not make a story. If you write about one good idea you usually end up with a bland plot with a single gimick. Things get much more interesting if you take three or four separate good ideas and then start wondering how they are all fitting together. Like Jim Butcher's "Lost Roman Legion + Pokemon". That's actually not even two good ideas, that's just two completely random and simplistic ideas. It's when you arrange them into a more complex structure that you get something interesting that the story can be about.

I think that's also exactly where you're actually going to be creative and original. Even if every single idea has been done before a thousand times, there are always new interesting ways to combine them into something much more complex.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline K.S. Crooks

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #12 on: March 06, 2016, 02:52:42 PM »
For myself there are five key things I have found that help me create an outline.

1) What is the goal. Am I creating a new world, new scenario. What about the situation I’m writing about needs to be explained.
2) Describing characters appearances, showing their personalities, the relationships they have with each other, what do they do for a living, etc. Comparable to a how a real person gets introduced to a different family or the first few times.
3) Where are the characters mentally, emotionally and physically (their location) at the beginning of the story. Where do you want to be in all of these areas at the end of the story? How will they make it to where you want them to go and how long should it take?
4) What are the obstacles you want the characters to have, whether they be physical, mental or emotional.
5) Using a map. When I create a new fantasy world, I need to know where places are located. For this I make my own map of that world. If my story is set in the real world then I would use a real map. If a character lives in Paris France and is travelling by horse or car to Madrid Spain then the map tells you what to write in terms of the route they take, places they may visit or places to have encounters. A map helps the story write itself.

I set these up in one or two tables. I then state what I want to happen in the first 4 or 5 chapters to start. As needed I add what I want the following chapters to involve. To begin my story I write what the characters are doing the day before what leads to their adventure takes place. I like to think of what the characters are like in their everyday life. They may be students or firefighters or in the military. I may not include this in the novel by the time it's finished, but I want to know who the characters are before the story changes them.

I see writing a story like going on a road trip. I need to know where I'm (or my characters) are starting, where they will end up and some things they will do during the trip. I like to know the major events of my story, but the times between or what happens while the characters go from one location to another are written in the moment. Writing this way for me prevents writer's block. There is still the occasion where I don't know what to write for a section of the story, but I have the option to leave it and write the next section and go back after because I know where the story is going.
K.S. Crooks- Author
www.kscrooks.com

Offline Yora

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #13 on: August 06, 2017, 09:42:57 PM »
Progress has been made!

I think. Not actual progress, but I think I've finally get unstuck.

I was recently thinking about preparing adventures for a Star Wars RPG and as part of it tried to identify the essential elements of a great Star Wars story. And I realized that intricate plots are not among them. The plot of the first movie is famous for being straight paint by numbers and The Empire Strikes Back, which is my favorite movie of all time and I consider to be perfect, does not even have a plot in the conventional way it is understood in storytelling. Star Wars stories are not tales of protagonists and antagonists making moves and counter moves or about investigating mysteries, which really are the meat and bones of most fantastic adventure stories. Star Wars is all about entertaining characters in magical locations and exciting situations.
And continuing this line of thought I  came to the conclusion that I don't really care much about plot in the sense of solving the mystery and defeating the villain in general. None of my favorite books, movies, and videogames are about that. It's always the characters and the environments that are drawing me into fantastic worlds. (Can't really think of any stories I like that are not set in fantastic worlds.) These also are the two things I never had problems with when sitting down to do some creative heavy work.

Unfortunately I don't remember the source that I found, but when I was looking into advice on character motivation I came upon the idea that stories are not really about conflict. Stories are about protagonists having a goal and other characters or circumstances getting into the way, and as such causing a conflict. This conflict is what leads to the sequence of events that make up the plot, but it's not what the story is really about. A story is about the goal.
I think my long experience with creating stories for RPGs was getting in the way a bit (as it requires plots that work without knowing who the heroes will be), but I also think that a lot of writing advice in the fantasy adventure niche comes down to picking something to fight over and then picking a hero and a villain to do that fighting. But that's a way to make stories that are exactly of the type that is doing so little for me. Stories to defeat the villain and save the world, or something to that effect.
Starting with a protagonist who wants something and then coming up with a reason why it can not be had strikes me as a much more fitting approach for the types of stories that are compelling to me.

I don't have anything concrete yet, but I do have a pretty clear image for a protagonist who I really want to see having adventurs and a general understanding on what causes her restlessness that makes her roam the world in search of stupidly dangerous places and beings. And the great thing with such an abstract goal is that it's very much compatible with my ideal of having a body of loosely connected but mostly self contained stories of moderate length rather than one big tale with beginning, middle, and end. Abatract goals of personal fulfilment can be pursued forever without ever reaching them and still making each part meaningful.

It's only one more week until my summer break and my vacation to Greece.  I am very much motivated to dive into this again.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: How to start creating a good plot?
« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2017, 04:51:26 PM »
It kind of sounds like comics, but in a broader sense.

Welcome back! I forgot about this thread.