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Thread: Trying to figure out the *thing*

  1. #1
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Trying to figure out the *thing*

    So, I got an interesting character in an interesting situation, etc - I've gotten him from the status quo into something strange - I'm at the point where some kind of milestone problem has to occur which will add complications for the hero. Ok, good so far. I'm tripping up because (here's the situation) my hero has hidden something - I know he's forgotten that he's hid it - but I don't know why he hid it, I don't know what it is - I don't know what his adversary wants this thing for either. So in concrete visual terms (like - Frodo has to put a ring in a volcano) - I don't know what the thing is - nor the action my hero has to take to solve the story problem (like throwing a ring into a volcano...) I know that the adversary wants to control a resource and believes that the thing (and perhaps the hero's relationship with the thing) will let him do that.

    so, how do I figure out what the thing is - because without more idea of that, I'll just end up spinning pages & pages of 'putting things off' text.
    Last edited by Layla Nahar; 11-14-2017 at 10:05 PM.
    すべての武器を楽器に
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  2. #2
    Swan in Process Siri Kirpal's Avatar
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    Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

    Something that's helped me is to write a soliloquy for the character, reminiscing about this and that.

    Blessings,

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  3. #3
    Moderator AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    Another approach--and who knows which one might work?--is to figure out what your character most fears and what physical item in his possession might make those fears come true. An easy example is the guy from "the neighborhood" who's afraid of the local mobster and hides the love note the mobster's daughter wrote to the character.

    Does he fear for his personal safety? That of his family? That their house might be burned down or their crops ruined? That he might lose his job? That the woman he loves from afar will marry her current suitor? That someone will find out he's sexually interested in horses? That he will be laughed at? That he won't be chosen to attend the Academy of Special Knowledge? That he will be banished?

    Know your guy better and you might figure out what's at stake for him. Get that down, and you can understand something that puts it at risk unless he hides it.

    Maryn, who unintentionally hides things from herself lately
    "I've never had to fake sarcasm."

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  4. #4
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    I feel like the scope of this question is potentially vast.
    "Though one evil spirit may drive a woman out of Eden, all the devils in hell cannot drive Heaven out of a woman."

    -- George MacDonald

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    What kind of setting are you working with? What scale of stakes are you thinking of -- an existential threat to Life, the Universe and Everything, or looking bad in front of the cute new kid at school? If the stakes are large-scale, what's the personal angle -- what would your character lose if Enemy gets hold of the Thing? Is the Missing Thing a discrete physical object or not? What opportunities for hiding a Thing has your character ever had? Will they have hidden it alone, or would they have needed help? Is the Thing instantly recognizable to anyone, or only to a select few, or is it disguised in some way?

    So many questions...

  6. #6
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Hey, thanks everyone for your ideas.

    The MC finds an object - just randomly, something small, pretty... he picks it up. He just likes it but doesn't know what it is - because ... I don't know(!)

    The stakes are kind of - world in balance. It seems like the fate of a lot of people hang on what the MC does.

    The setting is SF, (mining colony, deserted settlement) that kind of SF that's got a bit of a fantasy - or maybe magical/mysterious feel.

    I don't know if the Thing is disguised or not - or if it's a physical thing or an abstraction..

    Thank you for these questions to chew on:

    *If the stakes are large-scale, what's the personal angle -- what would your character lose if Enemy gets hold of the Thing?
    *What opportunities for hiding a Thing has your character ever had?
    *Will they have hidden it alone, or would they have needed help?
    すべての武器を楽器に
    Of all instruments of war, make instruments of music

  7. #7
    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Layla Nahar View Post
    Hey, thanks everyone for your ideas.

    The MC finds an object - just randomly, something small, pretty... he picks it up. He just likes it but doesn't know what it is - because ... I don't know(!)

    The stakes are kind of - world in balance. It seems like the fate of a lot of people hang on what the MC does.

    The setting is SF, (mining colony, deserted settlement) that kind of SF that's got a bit of a fantasy - or maybe magical/mysterious feel.

    I don't know if the Thing is disguised or not - or if it's a physical thing or an abstraction..

    Thank you for these questions to chew on:

    *If the stakes are large-scale, what's the personal angle -- what would your character lose if Enemy gets hold of the Thing?
    *What opportunities for hiding a Thing has your character ever had?
    *Will they have hidden it alone, or would they have needed help?
    This sounds like you're still feeling your your characters, world, and story, so I honestly don't know what help answers from us will be, because if you don't know, how can we? A person finds a thing, the thing is important, other people want the thing, and the MC either protects or fails to protect the thing... This could describe just about any Macguffin-based story.

    But I'll take a swipe at it. Random spitballing:

    The colony world used to be home to an extinct (or thought to be extinct) race that left behind mysterious artifacts that may be "magical" (or sufficiently advanced tech to essentially be magic), though most colonists don't really know or care: it's a hard life, mining, and that doesn't leave a lot of time or mental energy to play with toys that don't even work for humans 90% of the time. At best they're shiny trinkets to hawk, at worst they're bulky, weird, and in the way. So the MC finds one of these things, which turns out to work for him - but it taps into a deep stash of lost alien tech in the heart of the planet, which is potentially unstable after millennia of neglect (maybe run by an imbalanced AI), so the world might literally self-destruct if it's misused.
    What does it do for him? Here's where you have to know your guy (or gal.) Figure out what would tempt him or terrify him - or both. Figure out what he loves, and make it a threat to that. Figure out what he fears or hates, and make it a gateway to that. Figure out what he secretly wants but won't admit, and offer that apple. Give the thing a cost that the MC doesn't understand until it's almost too late. Make the MC's enemies seem like friends until it's almost too late.

    Hope that helps...
    - Brightdreamer
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  8. #8
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Agree with brightdreamer, it could be anything.

    It all comes down to what you want to explore in your character or story.
    "Though one evil spirit may drive a woman out of Eden, all the devils in hell cannot drive Heaven out of a woman."

    -- George MacDonald

  9. #9
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brightdreamer View Post
    This sounds like you're still feeling your your characters, world, and story, so I honestly don't know what help answers from us will be, because if you don't know, how can we?
    I'm more hoping to hear how think about the problem...


    Quote Originally Posted by Brightdreamer View Post
    Figure out what he loves, and make it a threat to that. Figure out what he fears or hates, and make it a gateway to that. Figure out what he secretly wants but won't admit, and offer that apple. Give the thing a cost that the MC doesn't understand until it's almost too late. Make the MC's enemies seem like friends until it's almost too late.

    Hope that helps...
    yeah, it does. Those are all interesting things I can chew on.
    すべての武器を楽器に
    Of all instruments of war, make instruments of music

  10. #10
    figuring it all out
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    Quote Originally Posted by Layla Nahar View Post
    The setting is SF
    OK, that's what we needed. How about a memory crystal? He found it has a kid and put it in his secret hiding place because it just looks cool, but it turns out that it holds Very Important Data.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    A couple of ideas to throw into the salad:
    1) the Thing is an alien artifact that (a) is standalone but not obviously functional, or (b) is a key component of some larger alien Thing that Enemy is in the process of reassembling. What does the Alien Thing do? dunno, it's your universe...
    2) the Thing is a McGuffin -- it doesn't necessarily matter what it actually does or what it's actually worth, it only matters that people think it's important or valuable, & shape their actions accordingly. Its importance/value may be different for different people. What matters is not the Thing itself, but what people do because of it.

    These are pretty generic tropes that have been used to good effect in a lot of stories, no reason you can't too if either of them fit. A book I read recently that has elements of both (1) and (2) is Michael Flynn's January Dancer.

  12. #12
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Hey - thanks, beri & everyone -

    Those questions - 'what does he care about?' etc - those were really good things for me to think about. Maybe the cracks are loosening....

    & beri - oh, an artifact that is part of some larger construction...

    layla takes of tin foil hat (and spagetti strainer) to receive all the signals...
    すべての武器を楽器に
    Of all instruments of war, make instruments of music

  13. #13
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    > I know he's forgotten that he's hid it

    This can get complicated. Bad tropes come to mind. You can simplify things a bit by just saying the thing has been misplaced. By the maid. By the merge of a ton of things - maybe the parents died and his house is now full of his parents' stuff all the way to the ceiling. By a sudden need to make a huge shuffle - like water damage in a storage room and things end up all over the place in a hurry.


    > I don't know what it is

    Make it small (thus easily misplaced and hard to locate) and not the object itself but an intermediary - a map, a key, a password, a postcard, a memory stick, a camera roll. You can figure out what the ultimate object is. Or maybe that's not even needed - like a MacGuffin.


    > I don't know what his adversary wants this thing for either.

    Ideas:
    a) Don't make it "the Ultimate thing". Make it "the thing that looks like the Ultimate thing" instead. The Opponent is just confused.
    b) It's part of the Ultimate thing or its intermediary. Like a torn part of a treasure map / picture / postcard / etc.
    c) It's not about the thing per se, it's about the Hero not having it. Like a mutual exclusion clause. Like it will cause great harm in the hands of the Hero, not that the thing is itself dangerous. This makes for a lot of surprise moves from the Opponent and a climactic reversal.


    Hope this helps a bit.

    -cb

  14. #14
    King of the Kitties Quentin Nokov's Avatar
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    Brightdreamer's comment made me think about how archaeologists get ridiculously excited when they find buttons, or a sewing needles or broken pottery. Sometimes I wonder what archaeologists thousands of years from now are going to think about all the crap we have now a days. "Look at this strange cylinder object; it must have been used as a flour grinder or something. Let's put it in a museum!" And we'd be like, "Um, dude, that's the handle to a lint roller."

    Maybe your MC is interested in archeology and collects random bits of everything. They don't mean much to him; he collects things from the past; broken pottery; flint arrowheads; old coins. He could come across a rubix cube and just think it's cool, but the cube actually belongs to Pandora or something. Ever watch The Mummy movie? Jonathan finds a 'trinket box' which is actually the key to Imotep's coffin and inside is the map to the lost treasure city. I guess what you need to do is sort out the villain's motive; how does he intend to achieve that motive. Once you know that, then you can decide on the *thing*. The character can just stumble across the treasure; he doesn't have to put a lot of love or obsession into it. It's a trinket from the past and that's all he cares about. He could simply put it in a box with the rest of his archaeological collections and eventually 'misplace' it; or forget that he found it because he didn't invest a lot of interest in the item. It could be something like a bolt or a nut or a washer that the villain needs in order to finish his evil mechanical contraption. The world could be limited in tools and parts and the villain has to build his evil machine from parts from the past, or something like that.
    Last edited by Quentin Nokov; 11-17-2017 at 07:29 PM.
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  15. #15
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I read this and immediately thought, "Ah the world of pantsers!" As a dyed-in-the-wool outliner, I can't even imagine this. Sorry, no help.

    Although, it could be his stash of porn that his ex-girlfriend knows about (she's in the pictures!). He forgets he even had it, or hid it. His nemesis knows about it, via the ex-girlfriend, and wants to locate it, to control the future of your hero (his nemesis is his bride-to-be's manipulative older brother). Guess that kinda shows it depends upon your world and your characters.

    But, thanks for sharing the dilemma... I think I have the kernel of my next romantic suspense!

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