I love worldbuilding. As soon as I got my idea for my story I cranked out 30 pages about the world in two weeks. Cities, cultures, races, food, religions, governments, a magic system, etc. But then I hit a roadbloack on the story. It's like I've built an elaborate stage, but I can't write a script or characters for actors to fill. It's frustrating because this has been a pattern since high school that I want to break. I come up with this elaborate world that I really love, only to be unable to do anything with it.
I've got the main leads/couple, I think. I know I want to write a romance, because I love romance. I know I want strong character development, because watching how characters interact and change each other is one of my favorite things in fiction. I just can't figure out the ABC of what actually happens. I'm not even sure what kind of villain I want for this story.
I'm not asking to be given a plot, I'm asking what process do you guys do when you're coming up with a plot? What questions do you ask yourself?
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1. Brainstorm scenes I really want to write using flash cards or the digital equivalent (assuming I'll need 1 card for a scene, with scenes being an approximate wordcount length, and a certain number of scenes being required for each act).
2. Rearrange the plot cards so they start to make narrative sense.
3. Come up with some kind of theme or premise to tie all that together and revise the cards accordingly, if necessary
4. Write an outline, fitting the scenes into the context of the theme using whatever structure you're using. I like three, four, and five act structures, (because I like plays, ok?)
If you're at a loss as to what kind of scenes you need, then look at your genre. If you want to write an adventure story with a bit of romance, then look at that kind of story - blockbusters like Titanic are a good example of this kind of plotting - and figure out what goes where using the three act structure ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-act_structure ). There are certain scenes that show up time and time again - darkest hour stuff, introduce-your-characters-stuff, the stolen moment, and all that.
There's a plot structure for romance. They all have that moment where the reader is supposed to be on the edge of their seat wondering if the two lovebirds are going to make it, then at last they overcome their problems and reconcile, the end. I'm definitely not an expert on romance but the information on this overall structure is out there, and it will tell you approximately where to put things in your plot, and what kinds of scenes you'll need. If you want to come up with your own guidelines, you can sit down with an outline of the three act structure, grab a few of your favorite romance stories, and figure out what is approximately going where on the overall plot line.
Not saying everything should end up being formulaic, but it's probably better to learn the rules before you break them. And I say this as someone who habitually makes All The Mistakes trying to reinvent wheels. The wheel works! Improve on it later.
As for why act structure, I have an analogy in mind. I know that when I'm drawing, it's easier to come up with a composition if I'm breaking things down into halves or thirds. Even someone who can't draw can usually find the middle of line pretty accurately, and most can cut a slice of bread in two evenly. I think using structure in the writing context is a bit like that, and I think that's why four acts may be even better than three acts, particularly for beginners. Cutting things down into even parts can make a daunting task more approachable. Although personally I lean toward the idea that the three act structure is a bit like the Rule of Thirds for visual artists: it's pretty and it just works.
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1. First think of what the protagonist wants (that she/he doesn't have)
2. Figure out what the protagonist has to do to get it
3. Then figure out what happens if he/she fails
Following that, string together what the protagonist needs to do on each step of the way and show how they're linked. (e.g. it doesn't make a lot of sense if Hiro Protagonist wants to become an astronaut, but then promptly spends 100 pages reading the Completed Works of Shakespeare. While it *might* makes sense for Hiro to study engineering/apply for an astronaut training program/test his ability to survive a whirly ride without throwing up/etc.)
An example plot might be...
Cinderella wants to go to the ball --> so she asks her stepmother if she can go --> stepmom agrees if Cinderella finishes her chores + finds something presentable to wear --> Cinderella spends all her time finishing chores + sewing in the evenings --> BUT when she presents her dress, evil step sisters tear it to pieces --> Cinderella is very upset (because her goal is still not met) and cries --> fairy godmother saves her and she goes to the ball (yay!)...although she is told she can only stay into midnight. --> there she meets the handsome prince and falls in love. She decides she wants to spend time with him (new goal!) --> BUT, at midnight, she has to flee --> (POV shift to prince) Prince wants to meet the lovely girl he fell in love with, but all he has is a shoe --> he tries it on every eligible maiden in the kingdom, but it fits no one until... --> Cinderella hears of her step sisters trying on a shoe, so sneaks over to try it on herself --> the shoe fits and Cinderella and prince are reunited
This is a VERY simple story, but as you can see, it has all the elements listed above. (The protagonists *want* something and they *do* something to achieve their goal. Also, everything they do in pursuit of the goal is casually connected.)
Here is a simple character development example:
MC acts and this has consequences. He then becomes thoughtful and decides either for his action or against it, or maybe there is a compromise.
This pattern can be continued at will, so a hero can also become a villain.
(Action -> Reaction -> Thesis -> Antithesis ~ Synthesis)
Maybe you try it out?
I sometimes add a time jump to spice things up. Maybe see how the choices the first generation made affected their descendants and at that point the next era usually feel a lot more fleshed out since you have more to build on.
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You don't build a plot, you grow it. You're basically running a tabletop RPG adventure all in your head, being both GM and every other player at the same time.
(That's why writing is hard, by the way.)
So start with one character, in one place. Let us get to know them. Bring the place to life. Make the audience care about both. Now you can start introducing the rest of the cast. If you did this step right, they should come to life in your mind and start telling their own story. Simply ride along and write it down. It can still bog down after a while. Sometimes you can get it going again, and sometimes not. But if it doesn't acquire a life of its own in the first place, then you'll be going nowhere fast.
Which brings me to worldbuilding: if you do any of it upfront (and that can be a lot of fun) most will at best end up being a colorful backdrop. Why? See above: your characters will go where their own story takes them, not to the locales you had fun detailing. So maybe save most of that work for when you actually need it. Keep in mind that audiences don't care about a pretty pile of rocks, they care about the people living on that mountain, in that castle, and what happens to them. If you can make them care.
The one thing you shouldn't do is force your characters into situations or plot points you planned in advance. If you can slot them in somewhere along the way, great, otherwise don't force the issue, because you'll only going to end up with a disjoint story where stuff happens because it's supposed to, and nothing follows from anything else.
A few more thoughts:
- Listen to the story telling you when it wants to end. When there's nothing more to be said.
- There's no point moving the action to another place unless it's meaningful. Theater often makes do with just one set, at most two or three.
- Edit: there are entire novels taking place over the course of a few days. Sometimes less.
- Edit: the most mundane setting and situations can appear fantastical and exotic, and the other way around.
- Edit: juxtaposition creates context; it's how film editing turns a pile of disjoint scenes into a story. That arguably contradicts what I wrote above, but in my defense life is complicated.
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