How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

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purple_pockets
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How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#1 Post by purple_pockets » Wed Dec 07, 2011 9:29 pm

I have been working on a story for several months, but always just have a vague concept. Either that, or I will get caught up in minor details. For example, I might have an idea about a control-freak queen that controls everyone's thoughts, even about what her citizens eat. This could potentially build into a sci-fi thriller with strong political undertones, but I never know how to build on an existing idea.

I am now entertaining an idea that involves an old woman that is contemplating the choices she has made in her life. She wonders "What if?...." and elaborates on this. This provides the basis for a choose-your-own adventure style visual novel. For once I know how it is going to end, but what about the middle? What does she do? What sort of choices is she confronted with as she goes through life? Any tips or plot suggestions are appreciated.

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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#2 Post by Gear » Thu Dec 08, 2011 12:54 am

Start with your basic idea. Then build a character. I don't mean build a randomly generated character, I mean put together a character whose life has been detailed from birth to present. That's a long process, and the audience will see little of it. But if done right, it will give you a very strong base. Then throw things at that character and see how (s)he reacts to everything. Some things (s)he will react well to. Others, not so much. But test the limits of that character, and you may find some parts of your story writing themselves.
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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#3 Post by gekiganwing » Thu Dec 08, 2011 7:24 am

Purple_pockets, it sounds like your story is about things that happened in your character's history. If so, then make sure to decide how you will present them. Will she be accurately relating the events as they happened, or is she an unreliable narrator? Is she just wondering "what if __ had occurred when __?" Does the story skip from past to present and back? Is she able to change things which happened in the past?

The simplest form of a plot is "A character wants something badly, and is having trouble getting it." Your character can want anything, as long as it's appropriate for your story. What's her motivation? After you've thought about that basic question, there's all kinds of plots which might be fitting.

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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#4 Post by Kura » Thu Dec 08, 2011 3:21 pm

So you've got your general idea, but what you're lacking is distinct characters, and specific events, yes? I usually have a hard time "filling in the plot" with specific events myself.

Starting with characters is a good idea. Not just the main characters, but think also about who else has been important in her life. Family (including her family growing up as well as any children she may have had), romantic relationships, friendships, professional relationships?

The best way to come up with ideas for specific events is probably to do a little research. If the character is looking back on her life wondering how things could have been different, she's probably focusing on her regrets. Ask people you know (older people would be useful) about what regrets they have, or about turning points in their lives. Or start by just deciding her most basic life experiences--what kind of schools she went to, what kind of jobs she had, whether she married, things like that.

Setting can be an inspiration, too. Where does she live now and where has she lived before, and how do those places influence her? If she's an old woman now, she grew up quite a while back. Figure out when she was born. If you're keeping it in a realistic setting, what historical events happened over the course of her life?
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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#5 Post by Pugfarts » Thu Dec 08, 2011 4:53 pm

With writing I always have specific scenes I wan to get to, but what gets me is the stuff holding those scenes together. That's why I like film. You can just pan the camera and not worry about it.

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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#6 Post by purple_pockets » Thu Dec 08, 2011 6:33 pm

Thanks so much for all the help! Most of you mentioned starting off with a character's personality first, which is a good idea. Keep the suggestions coming! :D

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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#7 Post by purple_pockets » Thu Dec 08, 2011 7:26 pm

Hey, thank you so much for all the great suggestions :D
I am an aspiring indie game creator, and I love a game with a strong story. Unfortunately, I haven't had much practice in creative writing. I spend most of my writing time of essays for school.
I was just wondering if any of you have a good method for coming up with a character :?:
Should I fill out a character chart? A timeline?

(please tell me if I should move this post to a new topic)
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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#8 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Thu Dec 08, 2011 8:46 pm

Gear wrote:Start with your basic idea. Then build a character. I don't mean build a randomly generated character, I mean put together a character whose life has been detailed from birth to present. That's a long process, and the audience will see little of it. But if done right, it will give you a very strong base. Then throw things at that character and see how (s)he reacts to everything. Some things (s)he will react well to. Others, not so much. But test the limits of that character, and you may find some parts of your story writing themselves.
Gear is right.

It sounds to me like the problem you have isn't fleshing out your story, it is that you don't know your characters. If you truly know your characters, if you have made them real people, then you can place them in a situation and you will know what they would do and say. This is what Gear is talking about when he says some parts of your stories will write themselves at that point.

The advice is generally given as - "Put your character in a tree, then throw rocks at them. Put wolves under the tree. Show a lightning storm coming in the distance. Have them discover the tree is infested with deadly snakes. Put what they want on a tree limb that can't support their weight. After you have done all that - then set the tree on fire."

That all sounds funny and extreme, but the point is that good characters and stories require adversity, and everyone in the story must have something they want more than anything, but other stuff keeps getting in the way. The desired object doesn't have to be physical - it could just be something as simple as "I want to live in peace". Now, this is where KNOWING your characters becomes extremely important. Why does the character want to live in peace more than anything else? How will the character react to having their desired goal out of reach? What does your character think, feel, do, and say when the tree they are in has been set on fire?

Let's consider a bank robber character. Does he steal from banks because he wants the money, or is it the thrill he is after? Maybe he just wants to stick it to "the Man". If so, why? If he robs banks for the money, what does he want the money for? Why is he getting the money this way and not some other way? Let's also say that during his bank robberies he goes out of his way not to shoot or hurt anyone. Why? Is it because he doesn't like hurting others, or is it because he is practical, and knows killing someone will just draw down more heat on himself? If you decide it is because he is practical, you can extend that into other areas of his life and character, because you've just discovered one of his personality traits. Now, take it farther. How is he going to feel and react when he HAS to shoot someone during a robbery? Will he feel bad, or only annoyed that he was forced to complicate his life?

You need to do this kind of brainstorming for all your characters, and take it so far that you know them as well as yourself. Do they smoke? Why? Because they think it makes them look cool? Because they tried cigarettes as a teen due to peer pressure and got addicted? Because their father or mother smoked? What brand do they smoke? Why? Do they smoke those Marlboro's because they like to think of themselves as a rugged cowboy? Or maybe because that's the brand their father smoked, and it reminds them of him?

Gear is right again in saying that most of this - like 80-90% of it, will not be in your story. But it should inform everything you do and write with that character. Your readers will never know WHY your character smokes, but they will see a consistency shining through, and see your character as a real person. It will be easier for you to write, and your characters will naturally differentiate themselves.
purple_pockets wrote:Hey, thank you so much for all the great suggestions :D
I am an aspiring indie game creator, and I love a game with a strong story. Unfortunately, I haven't had much practice in creative writing. I spend most of my writing time of essays for school.
I was just wondering if any of you have a good method for coming up with a character :?:
Should I fill out a character chart? A timeline?
Do what others have suggested, and come up with a story "hook" first. Like our example above - let's say you have an idea for a story about a bank robber who goes on the run from the law.

Then sit down and ask yourself questions about the characters you need. Why does this bank robber rob banks? How does he rob them? Etc. etc. Nearly every answer you come up with should provoke another question for you to investigate, as I demonstrated above. So you decide your bank robber wears a rubber President mask. Why? Don't say - 'to hide his identity' - because that is too obvious. Dig deeper. Is it because your bank robber is political? Is he trying to make a statement? Maybe he just doesn't prepare much and uses what is around him, so he stole a Halloween mask from his kid brother. Maybe he's just a big fan of the movie Pointe Break. Again, if so, why?

Follow the rabbit hole as deep as you can go, then start over on a different aspect of their personality. One suggestion is to write scenes or interviews with the character that have no place in the story, but are only exercises for you to get to know your character. Imagine if you bank robber is captured, and the police have him in interrogation. Conduct that interview with yourself as the detective - pepper your character with questions. Why did you do it? How come you shot that teller? ("I didn't shoot that teller! She tried to grab the gun and it went off! I didn't mean to hurt anybody . . . . etc.)

Get to know your character intimately. Once you know everything about them, your stories will flow much easier, because all you have to do is throw an obstacle or adversity at them and you will KNOW how they would react.

Sometimes you'll discover surprising things - for instance, you may discover that who you thought your main character is, is NOT the main character. Maybe their sidekick or the lawman chasing them has the more interesting story, the most effect on things. Maybe that OTHER character is who the story should be about.

I've often found that when I get stalled in a story, I'm telling it from the wrong point of view. For instance, I once wrote a story about a girl who gets mistakenly shot by a man she was dating. She wakes up after a couple of years from what doctors assumed would be a permanent coma, but she has some amnesia around the incident. Nobody knows who shot her, and she ends up in a position where she is working around the former lover who shot her. He doesn't seem to want anything to do with her now, however, and she is devastated. Slowly her memories are returning though, and it will eventually come out that it was him that shot her.

I thought it was a pretty good little short story, but I kept getting stuck in the middle - until I realized that the girl didn't have the most interesting story. It was her lover, the one who shot her, that has the most at stake, the most drama in the story. Here is a man that believed for two years he had essentially killed the love of his life. He is torn up, but can't confess without ruining his life. He is a wreck, but eventually writes her off for dead, assuming she'll never wake up - only now she has! The panic AND relief he must feel at the same time! But she doesn't remember he shot her, and she is trying to date and love him again. He still has feelings for her, but the guilt is destroying him inside every time she smiles at him. Then he finds out her memory is slowly coming back. Any day now, she'll discover the truth. What does he do? What does he DO?!

You see? It suddenly became a much better story by changing the main character, and the story suddenly started writing itself, with no "blocks" or "stalls".

So, that was super long-winded, but I hope it helped.

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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#9 Post by purple_pockets » Thu Dec 08, 2011 8:58 pm

@LastWhiteRabbit
Thank you so much! That was INCREDIBLY helpful. I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to write a story based on circumstances, and yet I always get stuck. I will definitely try to "interview" the old woman, or try to figure her out starting with the hook. Thank you very much!

Thank you everyone, you have been incredibly helpful.

EDIT DECEMBER 21st, 2011: I just thought of something that might have been stopping me: the character that I want to refine isn't all that interesting to me. I have just noticed that when I daydream, I always think about a guy that I made up that is an actor in Hollywood. I think about him, his romances, his career, his romances ( :lol: ) and even have put him on trial in a murder for killing his best friend. I actually do what all of you suggested a little bit, it is just that the characters that I think I want to write about don't really interest me all that much. Although I will not be writing about George Clooney Jr., I will just try to let any ideas that I have flow a little more naturally. And also, I am reminded of something that I wrote in another forum just a few hours ago, which is if you aren't enjoying yourself when you are doing something that is a hobby, you shouldn't be doing it.
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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#10 Post by Dakishimete » Sun Mar 18, 2012 4:34 pm

If it's not the first story you're writing, Gear's solution is probably the easiest and the best. But if it's the first one, I would recommend to start with something easy, short and less deep. Just to try writing a full, or even a half story. Just to try.
Sometimes wiritng a few first words helps. You can always change the beginning if you wish to and find out about the details during the writing.

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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#11 Post by Cidz » Thu Mar 22, 2012 9:31 pm

purple_pockets wrote:Hey, thank you so much for all the great suggestions :D
I am an aspiring indie game creator, and I love a game with a strong story. Unfortunately, I haven't had much practice in creative writing. I spend most of my writing time of essays for school.
I was just wondering if any of you have a good method for coming up with a character :?:
Should I fill out a character chart? A timeline?

(please tell me if I should move this post to a new topic)
this could help with trying to form your characters. Well and what everyone else has said as well (which had helped me too i was thinking of making a thread on how toflesh out a story myself) I did find that form does help maybe give you some things to think about you wouldnt otherwise, its helped me with my characters (well although im still having trouble with them...i know them just know what to do with them lol)

good luck and I'm glad I'm not the only one that has trouble with this. >_<

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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#12 Post by chocoberrie » Sat Jun 22, 2013 8:18 pm

Cidz wrote:
purple_pockets wrote:Hey, thank you so much for all the great suggestions :D
I am an aspiring indie game creator, and I love a game with a strong story. Unfortunately, I haven't had much practice in creative writing. I spend most of my writing time of essays for school.
I was just wondering if any of you have a good method for coming up with a character :?:
Should I fill out a character chart? A timeline?

(please tell me if I should move this post to a new topic)
this could help with trying to form your characters. Well and what everyone else has said as well (which had helped me too i was thinking of making a thread on how toflesh out a story myself) I did find that form does help maybe give you some things to think about you wouldnt otherwise, its helped me with my characters (well although im still having trouble with them...i know them just know what to do with them lol)

good luck and I'm glad I'm not the only one that has trouble with this. >_<
Wow, that character profile form you linked to is really useful! Thanks so much for sharing it! Great tips from you all, I'll definitely take them into consideration when I'm developing characters! :D

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Re: How Does One Flesh Out a Story?

#13 Post by ktalkimist » Sun Jun 30, 2013 1:55 am

I suggest reading The Art of Fiction by Ayn Rand.

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