PDA

View Full Version : Creating new plots



Kali-blacke
06-23-2005, 02:16 AM
Hello there...I just joined so i'm new here. Anyways I thought i would ask this question on behalf of all those who, like me, have trouble comming up with new plotlines for your novels. Every story has mutiple plotlines, if they don't, most novels are very boring and usually rejected by publishers.

But what if you have your characters, their backgrounds, ideas for side plots in your story...but no major plot line, the basic one that makes your story have a point. What is the best way to create yourself a story line?

Thank you,

Kali Blacke

Pthom
06-23-2005, 02:55 AM
Welcome, Kali.

... to both Absolute Write and to our Science Fiction and Fantasy forum.

I'm sure you will get lots of answers to your query here. Even I have some ideas on the matter...;) But you will undoubtably get a broader range of answers if you ask this same question on the Writing Novels forum.

Personally, I think a story (especially SF or Fantasy) must have a main plot line. Something is wanted, someone is at risk...and your characters overcome (or don't) these difficulties. The more powerful the danger to your main character, the more powerful the story. This is only my view on the matter, and is very general. But I think you'll find something along this line in everyone's response.

sunandshadow
06-23-2005, 02:59 AM
Ah, this is exactly the problem I have been wrestling with. Let me guess, are there any romances between your characters?

I'm not completely done creating my plot outline, but I can tell you the techniques I used to get as far as I have. What I did was make an outline based on thematic change rather than plot change. I used Dramatica to assist with this because it has two nice lists of opposing thematic elements and some madlib-like reports where you can plug these into descriptions of each character and descriptions of the relationship between each two characters.

In addition to that I made a chart of how each character changes at several point in the plot (8 for my novel - 2 backstory and 2 per act of the 3-act structure.)

Using these two things I came up with synopsis for my story which described the theme and character changes but not the details of plot that caused the changes.

I worked backwards, making guesses at what kind of plot events and character actions caused the various changes. Also I had a list of scene ideas I have thought of, and used these to add details to what's happening. The result of all this is a chapter outline. I'm still working on polishing it, but I think it succeeds at sketching out the major plot line. :)

azbikergirl
06-23-2005, 03:12 AM
Hi Kali, welcome! :hi:

It helps me to imagine what the MC wants most of all, then set him on the path to get it. Could be the thing he wants is not a physical thing, but knowledge or to stop something from happening. The subplots I write are related to plot in that the people he meets along the way help or hinder him, and they have their own goals.

For instance, one character wants a promotion. She aids the MC because she sees that their success could make her look good to her superiors. Unfortunately, during their journey someone frames her for murder. That's not related to the main plot, but it's an outgrowth of it. It also helps make life miserable for the MC (which is my goal as the author!).

Of course, this novel hasn't been published, so I may be barking up the wrong tree entirely!

katiemac
06-23-2005, 07:50 AM
Kali, I have a feeling that if you have your "subplots," then your main plot already exists. In fact, it could be one of those subplots and you just aren't paying enough attention to it. While not everyone writes the same, I'm a believer that the story will unflow naturally. The subplots stem from the main plot, the main goal and direction of your characters. Like what a few others have said, what does your character want the most? What's the driving force? How did these subplots come to be in the first place? Give yourself a little more thinking time -- try freewriting for ten minutes -- and see if you can figure out what's missing.

Cathy C
06-23-2005, 06:19 PM
Why do you think you DON'T have a plot? If you have characters and subplots (or side plots) and they are going from beginning to end (as in each of the side plots gets resolved at the end), then you have a book with multiple arcs. There's nothing wrong with that so long as they all have satisfying endings and they have some connection to each other.You're not necessarily required to follow the "rules" that there be only one plot. A braided plot might be more your style and if you can do it successfully, the book will be a really strong one.

HConn
06-24-2005, 05:56 AM
Hello there...I just joined so i'm new here. Anyways I thought i would ask this question on behalf of all those who, like me, have trouble comming up with new plotlines for your novels. Every story has mutiple plotlines, if they don't, most novels are very boring and usually rejected by publishers.

Not every story has multiple plotlines. Red Harvest doesn't.

All you need is a story that people want to read, multiple plot lines or not.


But what if you have your characters, their backgrounds, ideas for side plots in your story...but no major plot line, the basic one that makes your story have a point. What is the best way to create yourself a story line?

If you have your characters and some of their conflicts, you're well on your way to a plot. Try thinking about it this way:

What major personal problem does your main protagonist have? What's their big issue? Do they feel trapped in a social role they hate? Do they dream of high adventure in exotic places? Do they love someone they can't have?

Let's pick one to use as an example: Let's say you have a character who hated the way his father treated his mother. Dad was a womanizer and an abuser. The happiest times of this kid's life was when Dad was away. He thinks marriage and love is a sham, and that men are pigs. And let's say this is going to be a fantasy.

This doesn't limit you to any particular character type. This sort of problem could belong to a squire about to be knighted, a princess of the realm, a tavern maid, or a farmboy whose father is a bowman for the King's army when he's not bringing in the harvest.

But what's important is that problem: Our Hero thinks marriage is a sham.

Now you take that essential idea and create a plot problem that touches on it. The important thing at this point is coolness. You want an idea that strikes you as being deeply, deeply cool.

Obviously, this part comes from your own tastes. Do you like political intrigue? Outnumbered warriors marching off to a fight they (supposedly) can't win? Humans defying the gods? Shadowy criminal figures planning big heists? Duels between sorcerer-kings?

So you combine the hero's problem with an idea you find unspeakably cool. Let's imagine that, maybe, the hero is enlisted by the country's high priests to find a missing god. Hera has fled Mt. Olympus, and Zeus expects the hero and her people to bring her back.

Or the King East Nordlinger has many consorts, and the protagonist happens to see his favorite meeting secretly with the Autarch of West Nordlinger. Is she a spy? Who else is in on it? Who can the hero trust?

Or maybe the head of a Mafia-like group of sorcerer thieves is in love with a married woman, and blackmails the hero into assassinating the husband.

Or she must accompany a delegation to the lands of warlike ogres to negotiate a truce, and the only person the ogres will deal with is the heroine's despicable, hated father.

Or whatever. The point is that the hero has a serious twist to his head, and the plot problem he encounters will force him to face that twist in the most difficult way imaginable. In fact, the hero will try to do everything in his or her power to both solve the plot problem and not give up their skewed perspective. But their every attempt to fix things will make things worse, or more complicated. It's not until they find a new, better perspective that they can begin to solve their plot problems for real.

You also need a crucible, (credit for the term goes to Sol Stein (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0312254210/qid=1119573687/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_ur_1/104-3932727-7639969?v=glance&s=books&n=507846)). This is a thing that forces the protagonist to deal with this particular problem. When things get bad, the crucible keeps the character from saying "This sucks!" and quitting.

So, no matter how bad things get with the ogres, the hero can't leave because she's sworn a solemn oath to kill her father. No matter how much the protag hates the idea of murder, if he doesn't do it, the crime boss will kill his mother.

You get the idea.

You may find that you need to change the character to fit the cool plot youíre concocting. Donít let that bother. Anything can be changed until everything works. Character shapes plot, and plot shapes character.

But what if you have multiple POVs? Several heros?

That's not a big deal. The supporting cast (who may be so important that they don't seem like supporting characters all explore different aspects of the hero's central problem.

In our example, you could fill out the cast with a happily married couple whose bond will be tested over the course of the story, a confirmed bachelor who falls in love against his will, a pair of lovers sharing some kind of forbidden love, a widow or two, an abused wife and her abuser, the celibate holy man who thinks he knows all about what makes a marriage work, a passel of kids suffering in different types of families, and so on. Maybe the ogre will sign the treaty if the hero et al can find the rare herb that will help him impregnate his mate. Maybe the treacherous consort to the king is an abused woman herself, and the hero pities her. Maybe that runaway God-wife is dying, and wants to die in peace, far from her despicable husband.

I think this brings dramatic unity to the story, although you have to be careful not to make things too obvious.

Anyway, that's what I do. It's character-oriented, but not slavishly so. It lends itself to dramatic unity and lets me explore an idea fully.

Hope that's useful. Good luck.

zornhau
06-24-2005, 01:03 PM
But what if you have your characters, their backgrounds, ideas for side plots in your story...but no major plot line, the basic one that makes your story have a point. What is the best way to create yourself a story line?


Plunge them into a bigger conflict - a war, invasion, or disaster.

Diana Hignutt
06-24-2005, 02:21 PM
Some great answers here, already, but I'll throw in my opinion into the mix.

Fantasy (which is what I write) is like every other form of story. The central theme is almost always a quest of some type, be it a quest for a magick sword, a quest for the truth, a quest for liberation, a quest for self-acceptance, or, well you get the idea. Most novels involve a conflict of some type (even if it's internal), a main character involved in the conflict, and a state of disequilibrium--the resolution of which is the theme of the book. Now, take a book about a quest for a magick sword. In most cases, the real theme or plot, is about the changes to the main character as he or she quests for the sword, and about how finding the sword changes the character in some fundamental way. Sometimes, your plot is how an event (or something that causes disequilibrium to the status quo) changes multiple characters, sometimes it's just about changing one.

All that said, you probably have that already. You're probably good to go.

Best of luck!

Diana Hignutt
Author of Empress of Clouds (Behler), a 2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Finalist for Science Fiction, a 2005 IPPY Award Semi-Finalist for Science Fiction/Fantasy, and a 2005 Spectrum Award Nominee. "Commendably brisk...superior fantasy fiction...(a) workmanlike effort--Publishers Weekly.

Kali-blacke
06-29-2005, 02:34 AM
Thank you very much everyone. I didn't really think i would get such good advice. I really apreciate all of you giving me your thoughts. I am starting to get a better idea of what i want to do. I am very sorry for the late responce, my computer crashed and i just got it back this morning. I will definantly be comming back to ask for more advice so watch out for me!!


Kali

Saanen
06-29-2005, 06:05 AM
This is a great thread. It's really making me think about how I come up with my plots. I know I always start with a character I like, usually the main character (or one of the main characters). As I think about the character, the world sort of builds around him/her, and once I have the world I have some idea of what could happen in the story. Generally I find that the MC's personality will lead directly to the plot, or will at least make the plot more complicated.

The most important thing I try and remember is to keep making things worse for the MC. When things are looking bad, it's time to throw something even worse at him/her. I hate doing it since I get very fond of my characters, but it's all for the sake of story. :)

In the Novel Writing forum, there's a big huge thread called Learn Writing with Uncle Jim (I think that's the title--something similar, anyway). It's a great resource; one of the best things I've gotten from it is James D. Macdonald's advice to get your characters into position, just like chess, where they have the greatest potential to act/react (I'm putting it badly--you really need to read the original thread!). I'm trying that in my latest WIP and it's working like a charm. I started my MC out in her home town, but I immediately got her into the big city where she's never visited before. Now she's in the right place for lots of interesting things to potentially happen. At the same time I've maneuvered some of the supporting characters into position, where they can either do the greatest harm to the MC or be the greatest help to her. The story is really taking shape and I'm having a lot of fun getting the MC into worse and worse trouble (it's okay--she's tough and feisty). If nothing else, it's a fun exercise in strategy and it does seem to be making plotting feel more natural.

icerose
06-29-2005, 06:06 AM
Hi Kali,
I would suggest talking in person or over IM to someone you know, either a friend who shows interest in your writing, or a fellow writer. Use them as a sounding board. If you can bounce your ideas off them, chances are you already have it, you just need to evolve it a little more and it will become a clear and solid thought. That is what I do, I talk about it and my ideas develop from there.

Good luck.

Sara

trebuchet
06-30-2005, 12:06 AM
I'm probably the lamest one here when it comes to plot. It's said to be the most important thing, what moves the story along, what keeps the reader interested, yada yada yada . . .

Well, I started out with a tormented character and a theme. Coming up with a plot was an exercise in self-torture. Why? Because I find plot to be nothing more than a necessary evil to support the all-important theme. Yuck.

It's said there are only a limited number of plots in the universe, and all plots we come up with are merely variations on one of those. So it's impossible to come up with a truly original one. And, boy, do you have to have a good twist on one to keep an agent from saying, "we're sorry, but we receive so many submissions we can accept only a few that truly excite us."

Crap, I'm feeling snarky (is that the correct use of this weird slang term?).
Sorry for this useless post but it feels good.

sunandshadow
06-30-2005, 12:30 AM
Trebuchet, I'm like that too. I started with a theme and a character dynamic, and have gone through agonies trying to figure out what plot would be the best vehicle to explore the theme and characters' relationship thoroughly. But if you think about it, something has to happen in the story to show the torment of the character and the theme from all their various angles. And that's a plot, no matter how loosely constructed. That's why I made a theme arc for the book, and then asked myself what sort of plot event could result in each change from one angle of the theme to the next. Just this week, I've discovered the program StoryBase to be quite helpful in helping me generate plot ideas.

Perhaps there are a limited number of plots in the universe, but the great thing about writing sff is that creative worldbuilding can make old plots seem new. Yeah, there are a million coming of age stories out there... but how about coming of age as an alien? Love stories, millions and millions, but do any of them involve two minds which have been magically trapped in the same body? If the source of your character's torment and the obstacle keeping the torment from being ended are unique, that ought to make your story seem original enough to an agent's first glance.

HConn
06-30-2005, 01:33 AM
Well, I started out with a tormented character and a theme. Coming up with a plot was an exercise in self-torture. Why? Because I find plot to be nothing more than a necessary evil to support the all-important theme. Yuck.

The plot is what the tormented character is doing in all those pages. It's not a necessary evil; it's an opportunity to fill your book with cool stuff.


... And, boy, do you have to have a good twist on one to keep an agent from saying, "we're sorry, but we receive so many submissions we can accept only a few that truly excite us."

You don't need a cool plot twist (he said, as though he was an expert). You could have a cool character, cool setting, cool take on a subject. Maybe you're annoyed by a certain cliche that you want to stand on its head. Plot isn't easy, but it isn't evil, either.

arodriguez
06-30-2005, 02:22 AM
just use your imagination and enjoy what you are writing, the story will work itself out.

trebuchet
06-30-2005, 02:53 AM
But if you think about it, something has to happen in the story to show the torment of the character and the theme from all their various angles. And that's a plot, no matter how loosely constructed.

sunandshadow - how true! this I have discovered by turning the poor guy loose and letting him go the right (wrong?) places. He and other characters made things happen and constructed the (loose) plot themselves.

Maybe I'm trying too hard. :)

DragonHeart
07-16-2005, 05:14 PM
But what if you have your characters, their backgrounds, ideas for side plots in your story...but no major plot line, the basic one that makes your story have a point. What is the best way to create yourself a story line?

If I have ideas for subplots or even just random events that aren't full plots in themselves, I write them down, put them side by side and figure out how to get from one to the other (and knowing which one happens first helps too). The result is usually a plot in itself, so that's my basic main plot.

I also find that writing out one subplot usually generates questions like why is this character at this place at this point in time, how did they get there, where did they come from, what were they doing, etc. This helps me expose the elusive Main Plot and capture it before it flees back into the depths of the Plot Jungle. :D

~DragonHeart~

preyer
07-16-2005, 06:56 PM
'Now you take that essential idea and create a plot problem that touches on it. The important thing at this point is coolness. You want an idea that strikes you as being deeply, deeply cool.' ~ ghosts and pirates are the coolest things ever. what interests probably only me is those inbetween scenes and aftermaths. one thing i was working on had the girl approach a battlefield as war was in the progress. she didn't see anything, didn't need to. the reader doesn't need to read ten pages of strategies and struggle when the point was the girl was forced into the aftermath to pull teeth with pliers. it didn't even matter who won the battle. now, i ask you, what's cooler? the battle or that girl yanking teeth out of dead men's gaping maws as they stare up at her with blank gazes, slipping on guts and trying to ignore the pleas of the dying? no contest for me. who cares to read side A blew side B's cannon up unless that guy is a cannoneer?

but, jeez, why does someone need to come up with a new term like 'crucible' when it's a little basic thing called MOTIVATION? lol. i am, however, glad to see someone else who spells 'magic' with a 'k.'

'...the real theme or plot...' is this saying theme and plot are the same. i can't disagree more. i'm sure i just misinterpreted that. then again, i'm not sure i agree with the theme being the resolution to the book, but i'd have to think about that.

'I'm probably the lamest one here when it comes to plot. It's said to be the most important thing, what moves the story along, what keeps the reader interested, yada yada yada . . . ' really? i'd say the character are the most important thing. indeed, i find few people who actually say the plot is the most important thing over characters.

'Well, I started out with a tormented character and a theme. Coming up with a plot was an exercise in self-torture. Why? Because I find plot to be nothing more than a necessary evil to support the all-important theme. Yuck.' why is the theme so all-important? personally, i could care less about themes and no one has criticized me for not consciously having one. i'm more interested in being entertaining than trying to impose a theme, which i reckon ideally emerges as a matter of course if it's a strong theme to begin with. those things like Dramatica sounds completely awful, removing any vestige of the creative process. hell, why not just pick something random from column A and column B and just go ahead and overlay that with the genre's rules, hit a button and have the computer write it for you? if you can't fill in the blanks then maybe writing isn't your game. not saying something like that can't be used, but not exclusively. gee, maybe this is why most books and movies are predictable from page five, ya think? and then there's Storybase. jeez, s&s, do you have any creativity at all, or whenever you have a creative problem you can resolve it with a computer programme? sorry, don't mean to upset ya there, but i'm just trying to hold onto the idea of being creative over having a computer do my work because i'm kidding myself into pretending i'm creative. like i said, it can be a tool, hell, it can probably even start a story or two, but i just can't support crutches like that without qualm, and certainly not used indefinitely. approaching stories theme first, then coming in with an outline, then running to the computer, i don't know, that's all pretty by-the-numbers to me. personally, i don't think i'd find much to feel proud of in my own 'workmanship' there. at the same time, i'm sure those stories are better than mine. well, maybe. maybe not. at least i wrote them, lol. i'll go to these sites and take things with a grain of salt, but i'll be damned if i'm going to start stories like that. i mean, damn, where's your pride? or do you just not have much talent? hey, i know that's harsh, and i'm sorry, but if anyone has to rely on these things to make up for their own lackings as a writer, i say just give it up. and i'm not saying you *do*, i'm just saying *if*. that goes for any untalented schmuck out there thinking they're doing quality work like this. how can a reader have any confidence in a writer who approaches stories as were they blanks to be filled in? where's the heart?

i've found that characters and setting show me the main plot if it's not there to begin with. obviously, there are a ton of ways to arrive at a plot and no one can say how to beat writer's block. i wholly agree with chosing what interests you. interest leads to enjoyment, which transfers hopefully into the story, which will be picked up on by the reader. i'm sure we've all picked up books by great authors only to find out the thing is laboured as if the writer was fulfilling a contractual obligation.

a lot of people suggest writing the ending first. i think that can work out really well. when i've had trouble starting, i just start anywhere where i've got a scene, however trivial it may be, and do it up. i typically have a whole slew of scenes i have to arrange in order and rewrite parts of, but i also tend to work backwards. were i able to start from page one, i'd do that, but it doesn't happen very often. as i write a random scene, things usually pop into my head and i'll make a note of it. i take tons of notes.

i think the reason there are only so many 'plots' (which i'm using in its broadest, most generic term here) is because there are only so many human emotions. if you discover a new one, write about that, lol. i approach things with the knowledge that there are only three umbrellas, man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. himself. most stories involve more than just one of these at least on some level, i'd say. the setting can be as a result of the genre you're writing. i'd venture to say that most writers have characters before any theme. characters, man vs. ?, the setting and the genre suggest a theme to me, even if i bother concocting one (which i don't normally). with a theme, characters, man vs. ?, what turns you on story-wise, setting and genre *should* suggest a plot. i mean, good gravy, what more do you need? lol. i agree with those who said you've already got the answer, just you haven't asked the right question, which is usually the case. what i've found starting off with a theme is i invariably get bored with it, but if you use one to help you get started, that's at least a jumping block. i find that task a hard one to stay interested in, though.

and if all else fails, pirates and ghosts kick asss. :)

preyer
07-16-2005, 07:29 PM
a question from a Dramatica user:

'Question: I have tried 3 different runs at storyforming and am noticing on this latest, which is coming together very well, that the program didn't automatically "assign" archetypal roles to the characters. This makes me think I didn't open up a Structure Template when I started this time. As a fiction novice I assume I would be well served to have that running as I build the story. Is there a way to take the story file I have developed and somehow add on/overlay a Structure Template even though I am half way through the queries?'

it's hard to consider some people writers.... think about what shakespeare would say about this, lol.

hey, wanna be creative? then DON'T use plot generators! nothing wrong with lists of character traits and such, but, jeez, have these people no shame? because, yeah, *all* great stories have archetypes assigned to it by soulless boxes. i mean, aren't all great stories mathematically generated? aren't all great plots derived from matrixes computating an outline?

'i'm a fiction novice...' just about says it all. i wonder the future of this guy's writing and how much of a corrupting influence Dramatica will have on his 'creative' outlet. if extensive madlibbing is anyone's definition of writing, good luck. i'm pretty sure my own stories will be able to compete even if there isn't all that 'depth.' depth is pretty meaningless without soul, eh? like bragging, '*my* grave is one foot deeper than *yours*.'

or am i just being too harsh here?

preyer
07-16-2005, 07:58 PM
storybase has this to say about inspiration (which can be purchased for a mere $99- whadda deal):

'Inspiration

'Use Storybase to discover ideas that already exist in your mind. You will project the contents of your subconscious onto the Situations. This will illuminate the rich minefield of your own personal psyche -- the ultimate source of great stories.'

who writes this junk, susan 'stop the insanity!' powter? i expected to see weight loss pills being advertised on the same page, but, alas, that would have been just too perfect. you know, i think i'll keep my money and eat my cheeseball at x-mas, thanks.

the scary thing here is i bet a lot of people use this stuff not as a method for improving their writing, but as a replacement for thinking. i just don't see ever being inspired by one of these things to do anything other than puking out the same old garbage people have been complaining about for years. is it feasible, realistically, to withdraw 'grapes of wrath' out of one of these programmes, or LOTR? sure, you might extract a terry brooks rip-off, which are rip-offs themselves, but is that something to be proud of and strive for?

on the flip-side, some stories come about organically and are *still* cliche hack jobbies. at least that's the fault of the writer. it's a growth process. the more you write, the better you hopefully become. at least these sites are honest and admits to their stories being very linear, and Dramatica advises that if you want something more, then save your money.

i'd advise shooting for 'more.' 'how to write' books do enough damage, but at least those aren't 'plug 'n write'-type fiascos, which by their own admission only promises genericism in a round about way.

sunandshadow
07-17-2005, 02:36 AM
Preyer - You are just being too harsh here. Or rather, I don't think you understand how Dramatica and Storybase work - neither of them tells a story for you, you still have to tell it yourself, so there's no reason to assume a story created with the aid of one or both of these programs would be soulless. (Although, since I think the theme is the soul of a story, and you said you disagree in the Theme thread, I don't know what would make a story soulless in your opinion. But the point is that stories created with the aid of a program are still written by the author just like any other story, because we don't yet have AI capable of generating a half-decent story.)

Let me give you an example of how Storybase works, since it's much simpler than Dramatica. Storybase contains a list of 850 conflicts. You enter the name of your protagonist and their love interest (among other choices) and it helpfully plugs the names into the conflicts for you. You can then either read through them all, or ask it to select ones which demonstrate a particular character mindset (confident, guilty, jealous) or type of action (alliance, journey, revelation). This results in a list of vague entries like: "Investigating wrongdoing, Ravennin discovers evidence pointing toward Lieann." You look at the resulting list, imagine how they might be specifically instantiated in your story, copy any you like to an rtf document, and use it as a prompt to write a scene. You still have to choose both your content and your approach to presenting it yourself. What wrongdoing? What evidence? Why is Ravennin investigating? Is the evidence true, false, or misleading? What does Ravennin think about his discovery?

Saanen
07-17-2005, 03:24 AM
or am i just being too harsh here?

Yes, I think you are. You left the constructive out of your criticism.

Being a new/inexperienced/young/naive/whatever writer is not a bad thing. We all started at the same place. And I don't see a problem with any tool that will help a writer--of any caliber or skill--spark ideas. As sunandshadow points out, those programs don't write stories for you, they just give plots; I haven't used any plot programs, but I think they'd make an interesting jumping-off point.

Incidentally, Shakespeare ripped off a lot of his plots from other writers--not something I'd suggest a beginning writer do. :)

preyer
07-17-2005, 03:37 AM
maybe i'm being harsh like you said. the Dramatica site mentioned clearly that it spits out an outline and admitted it was 'linear'. the site suggested (and probably said explicity, but i didn't see it) that there were hundreds of options to choose from.

in contrast to the apparent complexity of Dramatica, there's the kiddie version called StoryBase. not only does SB have a drastically reduced set of inticing material, but what's there to entice a potential customer is incredibly obvious to the point of insulting, not to mention all the 'workout room' spouting ('pump zee envelop! you cahn do eet! you are mahster of your dominion! you go, girlie-mahn!') you find if you ever apply for a 'writing course' requiring a submission (which are actually quite brilliantly constructed).

these two sites couldn't be further apart in terms of quality, though even Dramatica's free material shouldn't have been included unless they're trying to snag the basest of clueless writers. what i'm afraid of with these programmes is we'll get a lot of people who have no real talent, yet suddenly are 'writers' by virtue of point-and-click 'creation' and are minimally able to flesh out a scene (which they probably couldn't do unless they read it in a 'how-to' anyway). obviously this stuff isn't for me any more than anyone who takes a modicum of pride in calling themselves a musician might use a pop-music generator (pop music typically appealing to the lowest common denomonator... oh, wait, that's country music). far be it from me to suggest these couldn't be good tools, i'm just saying if someone can't write, they can't write, and all the computer programmes and how-to's in the world won't correct that.

i can see it making liars out of people (well, people who *need* these things are liars to begin with, eh?). imagine if someone wrote the next 'da vinci code' and an interviewer asked them where they got their idea. what's the 'author' (hereby referred to in quotes for obvious reasons) going to say? 'oh, i inserted the criteria into Dramatica and got an outline. it took, like, a lot of hours, too! but it was pure me who fleshed out the rest. and it was pure me and a name generator who came up with those awesome names like crowburst and magnadon and serpentclese.' while Dramatica might get on its knees and fellate the 'author' for suddenly making them a lot of money, that 'author's' career would (hopefully) die a squealing death (people without talent squeal a lot-- they also never get mad at anyone because they know they're lucky to be considered a writer and they better not push it else get exposed for the hack they truly are). alternately, if that 'author' hopes to keep their book deal with the publisher, will lie through his teeth. are we so lacking in stories that we need this? i don't know, that's why i'm asking: educate my ignorant arse, lol.

i've never said it once, but i'll say it now: no amount of lists and matrixes or prompts or suggestions will usurp talent as reason why an author can write an effective story. i won't go as far as labeling it 'cheating,' but it broaches that. i wonder why, in the example you provided about ravennin, can not a writer simply arrive at that without a computer's aid? we all get stuck, sure, and there're no ends to what we'll do to pull ourselves out of a temporary mire. in that these might get someone over the hump. that's a far cry from letting a list essentially write your novel in a day's time. it may not be AI, but if it were, people would use it.

look at what they're already doing? :)

you're right, i don't think the soul of a story is its theme. i think the soul of a story comes out in its ideas, characters, plot, drama, effectiveness, humour, humanity (or lack thereof if that's the point), arrangement, composition, intelligence, its literary quality, just to name a few. sure, i'll throw theme in the mix. most effective stories have a theme even if the writer doesn't specifically start off with one, but that's still just an aspect. starting off with a theme is okay, but i would never say that's all you need. people don't read themes, they read characters, plot and often genre. sure, you illustrate your theme using this stuff, assuming you approach it from a thematic standpoint (which a lot of writers who i've never heard of suggest doing based on the fact they may have used this method to sell what few stories they did, which is less than impressive to me, and certainly not evidence in itself to radically alter my opinion). without a thematic approach, which is not better, necessarily, a theme develops.

i'd never say either way is right or wrong. i will say that using themes as propaganda (as i did in the other thread) will turn me off faster than a hairy 300 lb. bellydancer in a pool of creamed corn. what is and isn't a theme is slippery: an idea for a plot doesn't make it a theme, and plots don't necessarily spring from a true theme. i'd say more people on this board write linearly, but probably most of the professionals don't sit down and consciously come up with a theme at the beginning. maybe their stories would be better for it, maybe it wouldn't make a lick of difference, maybe adhering to the rules would ruin it.

i'd be very interested in hearing professional writers' opinion about Dramatica and StoryBase. real people, not just the testimonials of a select few from the websites themselves.

whitehound
07-17-2005, 06:16 AM
('pump zee envelop! you cahn do eet! you are mahster of your dominion! you go, girlie-mahn!')Preyer is back after a long silence, and almost the first thing he does is start making homophobic remarks and going on about what makes a real man, again. There's such a thing as "protesting too much" - it makes people think you're probably overcompensating because you're really not at all sure about your own masculinity/gender orientation. If you don't want people to think you're a screaming closet case, set yourself a goal - try to go two weeks without making an offensive remark about women or gay men, and without telling other men that they can't be considered to be real men unless they are exact carbon-copies of preyer.


what i'm afraid of with these programmes is we'll get a lot of people who have no real talent, yet suddenly are 'writers' by virtue of point-and-click 'creation' and are minimally able to flesh out a scene (which they probably couldn't do unless they read it in a 'how-to' anyway).That's not such a big deal, because if they can't flesh out a story well they are unlikely to be taken up by a publisher, unless it was one like Mills & Boon which *already* takes sub-standard writers.

What it might do is, as you say, increase the number of would-be pseudo-writers, and thereby increase the size of slush-piles and slow down the processing-rate for real writers. On the other hand, if almost anybody can produce a reasonable plot-line it may downgrade the importance of plotting when selecting books for publication, in favour of good characterization and fluent technique - and that would tend to improve the overall quality of published works.


obviously this stuff isn't for me any more than anyone who takes a modicum of pride in calling themselves a musician might use a pop-music generatorFrom one p.o.v. I sympathize with you on this, because it does sound like a dangerously lazy way of working which might lead to people churning out very same-ey plots instead of thinking up something original. Also I have a similarly puritanical attitude towards people who use a web-page-creation package such as Dreamweaver, instead of writing their web stuff in raw HTML the way we *real* programmers do it.

On the other hand, modern fantasy seems to be already so full of lazy, same-ey plots that a bit of computerized intervention might actually make them *more* original, not less. And Andre Norton once stated that she got all her plots out of Aarne and Thompson's Types of the Folk Tale, and she nevertheless managed to make most of them seem boundingly fresh and lively.


i'm just saying if someone can't write, they can't write, and all the computer programmes and how-to's in the world won't correct that.Absolutely. By the same token, a puritanical refusal to seek advice also won't make a good writer out of a bad one.

Although how-tos won't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, they can sometimes help a good writer become better. Yesterday there was an article in The Daily Mail about JK Rowling, generally praising her but complaining about her long-windedness and her over-use of adverbs. I'd never really registered this before, but I had a look at one of her books and it's true, her characters rarely just say something - at least three-quarters of the time they are specified as saying it grimly, thoughtfully, beadily, anxiously etc. even where the context makes that obvious.

Once you start to notice it it gets on your nerves so much it makes you want to scream and throw the book across the room. A few words in a decent how-to book, or a bit of helpful advice from her editor in the early days, would have cured this infuriating fault in an otherwise fine writer.

Sharon Mock
07-17-2005, 11:25 AM
I can't speak to StoryBase, but Dramatica isn't a plot generator. At most it's a thematic structure generator. I've always used it for structural analysis, myself -- applying it to an existing idea or WIP and seeing what it has to say. (I've never used it to describe characters or generate outlines, though it can do both -- but only with significant user input.)

Sadly, it seems to have reached the end of its usefulness to me (now that there's a version that runs native on my system). It's something of a parlor trick, and I don't honestly believe there's a meaningful difference between, for example, the subjective throughline issue being Truth or Falsehood. Nonetheless, the underlying idea -- that the structural and thematic decisions you make in certain areas of your story dictate decisions in other areas -- is powerful and sound. And certain concepts will probably stick with me forever:

-- The differentiation between the objective story (bird's eye view) and subjective story (through the eyes of the main viewpoint character); that the two things can be very different.

-- Stories having Success or Failure outcomes, and Good or Bad judgements. (Success-Good = happy ending, Failure-Bad = tragedy) It gets especially interesting when you consider exactly how harrowing a Success-Good story can be. Perdido Street Station, anyone?

... hmm. I think that's about it.

I'd say it's worth downloading and playing with the demo version. It runs off a complicated theory and isn't really for beginning writers. Many, many people find it of no use whatsoever.

preyer
07-19-2005, 06:54 AM
yeah, you're right, wh, i'm a closet homosexual with no sense of sarcasm. oscar wilde said, 'Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.' oh-oh, i made an oscar wilde reference, i must be gay! you know what, i saw a musical once, too. that seals it. i'll divorce my wife and follow your ideals blindly because obviously you've got it all figured out, eh? lol. i mean, it's not hypocritical to say i'm saying men aren't real men unless they're like me, but suggesting i'm less than something because i'm not more like you? with all these 'improvements' you're suggesting, i'm beginning to believe you're casually in love with me. if you didn't care, why bother? by putting out the idea i'm gay, aren't you really trying to drive the women away to keep me all for yourself? i'm sure some chart or study proves this to be true even if you do have to read between the lines and take things out of context.

i'll reiterate -- again -- i'm not saying this couldn't be a tool. i don't think a young writer should involve themselves in it, however. everything a new writer can do to lessen their involvement in 'their' own story potentially threatens its quality, i feel. 'their' is in quotes because now it's not really your story, but one you have to share. i've written plenty of stories i thought were original and turned out it wasn't. these prgrammes only guarantee the story has been done so often that a matrix has been made from it. it might be that you arrive at the exact same conclusion as the computer, but at least it's yours. my thoughts on it, of course.

how-to's are another tool, one that seriously needs to be taken with a grain of salt. imagine if all writers followed the exact same rules all the time. i've picked up a few things out of these books, but use them when and where i feel appropriate. i've read a lot of stories, too, that *feel* as if they were cross-referenced with a how-to to the point where every new setting is a carbon-copy of the last just with different details. while it may be effective writing by-and-large, it loses most of its heart.

would i ever use one of these programmes? why? i'm already a hack as it is, and proud of it. all i'm saying is if you want to be a hack, too, then go ahead and rely heavily on these things. hopefully you'll be able to sugar-coat it with good writing enough to fool an editor. this isn't to say old plots can't be refreshed, though, or that everything has to be completely brilliant in terms of newness. i almost said 'uniqueness,' but a little of that can go a long way.

by shakespeare i take that to mean edward de vere? ;) i think there's a great difference between collecting influences and using highly refined polymath skillz and a rich sense of humour and dialogue than entering criteria into a computer. the mind *is* the computer here, and you derive all you need to out of that for your creativity. if it helps give you direction until you can stand on your own, that's one thing, but to continually follow the outline as it's presented to you, that's another. it amounts to the degree which you rely on these.

in conclusion, no, i don't think i can go two weeks without insulting women, children, 'real' men, hippies, democrats, republicans, the talentless, the humourless, CEO's, managerial types, over-achievers, single people, teenagers, homosexuals, homophobes, the self-righteous, the over-indulged, people who liked 'the phantom menace,' lousy parents, know-it-alls, people who can't substantiate their opinion, people with superiority complexes because they've read all the classics, over-educated dumbasses, the french, 'christians', crappy drivers, the american population, people who think their bland books are better than they really are (which is really self-criticising myself), people who claim to be oh-so-perfect and sin and negative emotion free online, or those who defend globalization, to name a few. i don't think i can avoid that. i don't think i'm even going to try. :)