PDA

View Full Version : Creating balanced writing



Gilroy Cullen
06-19-2012, 04:01 PM
Okay, so I'm working on my latest failure of a novel. (Likelihood of completion = 0)

I'm realizing that I've swung to the opposite extreme of my normal plot focused writing, trying to build character, character, character... Which got me thinking about how long running serials seem to have a decent balance of character and story.

I'll use the example of a TV show, since it is the best I have. House started with the medical mystery of the week. With the later seasons, it focused more on the characters, as effected by the medical mystery of the week, finally ending with mainly character, ignoring said mystery. That's fine for on screen.

I wanted to see what other writers considered a "balanced attack" when writing character and plot and how they keep both on an even keel -- or if they do.

CJGoff
06-19-2012, 04:22 PM
I actually have the same question. I am new to writing novels and I think I am doing an alright job with the balance, however, if anyone more experienced can chime in on this question it would be greatly appreciated. So far (and I may sound ignorant to a seasoned writer) I have noticed that if you write the story from the perspective of the main character - you inevitably end up focusing on character development more than the plot due to the fact that she/he is the main centerpiece in every scenario.

Maybe I have a misunderstanding of what plot driven vs. character driven is - but this is my two cents regardless. Feel free to disagree as I am very green to this field.

Thanks everyone

Kerosene
06-19-2012, 04:33 PM
Characters = Story = Plot

What's there to balance? If you have characters, prod them with a stick until they try to kill each other. Tada! You've got a story.


Now your example is with sub-plots.
You use a sub-plot to lead the real plot along.
Sub-plot usually include a set of characters related to the main set to carry on the story.

For a series, my guide is that your main story should only be the linked collection of sub-plots. The main story might poke and prod between the sub-plots as if connecting them, but the sub-plots should be the headline of the story. A man is sick with some terrible disease and House is in pain. House's pain leads him to the answer of handing the man upside down, slapping him with the dead bodies of pigs to relieve the cancer that's infecting his eyes. For some reason, House feels better.

For a pure standalone, the plot should be the story. If a man's wife is kidnapped, he'll go save his wife.


I really don't know what to say here, except: Character = Story = Plot.
The plot is a series of planned events within a story.
The story is what happens to the characters within it.

So, put two characters who hate each other together and write what happens. Then you have a story.
If you want to plan this, go ahead. But make no reservations for the plot.


That's all I have to say. I really can't say much more.

Character's steps = Plot

Hope this helps.

lorna_w
06-19-2012, 05:48 PM
It depends partly on the genre, I think. My WIP is an action-thriller, and while I certainly worked at the characters and they all have an arc and are multi-dimensional, it's the plot that drives the thing. My book is closer to...mmm the movie Jaws (not the book, which has all sorts of other character stuff in it). Or the US TV movie about nuclear war, The Day After. Somewhere in between those two.

Category romances have a form (this is not an insult--a good romance is great fun to read, imo), and the ending is a foregone conclusion, so they're mostly about these particular characters. The plot has to be logical, but the writer spends most of her time, I imagine, on the characters.

Every book needs both. Think of Silence of the Lambs, if you've read it. (and if you haven't, why the heck not? It's a terrific book, really well crafted.) We care about the characters (even if it's only that we are repulsed of and afraid of them) but it's a plot-driven book, great at ticking clock and making the reader worry, "will she find him in time?"

If you're fixating on character in first draft, that's cool. Just plot upon revision and plan for a major overhaul to get a plot in there. If you are a plot-driven drafter, you might want to rethink your characters in your break and deepen their backstories/psychological sets and, on revision, weave more of that in there.

all imo, of course.

Jamesaritchie
06-19-2012, 09:01 PM
I think you're worrying about minutia, and turning something simple, just telling a story, into something extremely complicated. New writers read to many how-to books and articles. Well, actually, they read the wrong ones. New writers also spend far too much time on writing forums, reading more minutia that deals with twenty-seven different aspects of writing a novel.

This can be good, but only after you learn to write a story.

Forget balance, forget TV shows, forget building characters, and just tell a story. It comes out the way it comes out, and you learn from it. But only if you finish it.

There's a 100% chance of finishing every novel you start, if you simply keep writing until you reach the end. Doing this is the only way to learn how to write a good novel.

But trying to write one while thinking about balance, and chapter length, and scene construction, and structure, and plot, and characterization, and dialogue tags, and mood, and tone, and pace, and outline, or no outline, or blah, blah, blah will, far more often than not, lead to an unfinished novel.

Sit down, throw a character you like into a nasty situation, and tell the story of how he gets out of the situation. Forget everything but telling a story.

writerjohnb
06-19-2012, 09:36 PM
New writers also spend far too much time on writing forums, reading more minutia that deals with twenty-seven different aspects of writing a novel.



Says the guy with 18,000 posts, ha-ha.

But he's right. I only lurk on forums while I'm eating lunch at my desk and (usually) only post when I feel I can make a positive contribution. (157 posts in 3 1/2 years, even though I check the forums a few times a week.)

When I'm writing, I don't worry about plot, characterization, etc. and just tell a story. Never did, not even as a beginner, just kept putting words down on that yellow legal pad. Didn't haunt forums, because there weren't any.

My forum advice to new writers is to post your work for critique and critique other's work, rather than peruse the threads about "Why do you write?" or "What do you do about writer's block?? or "Which is more important, plot or characterization." Worry about the basics of writing and forget about the touchy-feely advice, which normally comes from someone just as new as you are.

JohnB

dangerousbill
06-19-2012, 10:30 PM
I wanted to see what other writers considered a "balanced attack" when writing character and plot and how they keep both on an even keel -- or if they do.

I think that the best novels are dominated by character, and plot is the forge in which characters are first illuminated, then defined, and finally tested.

gothicangel
06-19-2012, 11:18 PM
I'll use the example of a TV show, since it is the best I have. House started with the medical mystery of the week. With the later seasons, it focused more on the characters, as effected by the medical mystery of the week, finally ending with mainly character, ignoring said mystery. That's fine for on screen.



I'll tell you the secret to House's success [which is basically the formula to any detective story.'

Twisty Medical Mystery + Brilliant, but anti-social MC.

[Of course Robert Sean Leonard is an added bonus :D]

Without either of those it wouldn't have worked. In my own writing: my method is to get the story down in the first draft, then worry about character etc in the subsequent drafts.

Gilroy Cullen
06-19-2012, 11:47 PM
I see there is a misperception that I need to correct before the thread goes further.

New to the forums here, yes.

New to writing -- No. I've been writing for 20 years and I have a folder of rejections thicker than a St James Bible with commentary.

I'm asking this question because my latest rejection mentioned I needed to balance it better.

I've completed stories.

gothicangel
06-20-2012, 01:06 AM
I'm asking this question because my latest rejection mentioned I needed to balance it better.

I've completed stories.

What do you mean by 'balance?' Do you mean character vs plot?

I'm going to assume that maybe the agent/editor thought that more attention and work has gone into the plot, than character? In my work, I've always aimed at great plot, which is character driven. I believe in strong characterization, and that they aren't just something a stock-character, a computer could spit out.

Is there any chance you could post an old piece on SYW, so we could figure out the imbalance?

Susan Littlefield
06-20-2012, 05:37 AM
Forget balance, forget TV shows, forget building characters, and just tell a story. It comes out the way it comes out, and you learn from it. But only if you finish it.

There's a 100% chance of finishing every novel you start, if you simply keep writing until you reach the end. Doing this is the only way to learn how to write a good novel.

But trying to write one while thinking about balance, and chapter length, and scene construction, and structure, and plot, and characterization, and dialogue tags, and mood, and tone, and pace, and outline, or no outline, or blah, blah, blah will, far more often than not, lead to an unfinished novel.

Sit down, throw a character you like into a nasty situation, and tell the story of how he gets out of the situation. Forget everything but telling a story.

This.

bearilou
06-20-2012, 07:28 AM
Have you considered outlining the plot (now that you have a finished ms) and the character arcs, charting them and seeing how they compare in shape? In watching the shape of the curve as the plot progresses to the climax and the character arc progresses, are they keeping fairly close pace to each other visually?

Maybe seeing it visually would help see where one is lagging?

Kerosene
06-20-2012, 07:34 AM
I'm asking this question because my latest rejection mentioned I needed to balance it better.

Maybe they were speaking of characterization?

A lot of writers try to force the conflicts between each character without having already established characters to work with.

Characterization isn't from the first moment the reader meets the character, but all the way through the story.

Midian
06-20-2012, 10:03 AM
Have you considered outlining the plot (now that you have a finished ms) and the character arcs, charting them and seeing how they compare in shape? In watching the shape of the curve as the plot progresses to the climax and the character arc progresses, are they keeping fairly close pace to each other visually?

Maybe seeing it visually would help see where one is lagging?

This. Go back and plot what you have. Outline each chapter, the plots, subplots and label where the your act elements fall (low point, try/fail cycles, etc.)

Seeing an outline of your story after the fact really helps to see where it's thin, shows the pacing, character developments, etc. When I do an analysis, it's one of the first things I do because it tells you so much.

Midian
06-20-2012, 10:58 AM
Characters = Story = Plot

I would disagree. There is a difference between character and plot driven stories. These do not always equal the same thing.



Now your example is with sub-plots.
You use a sub-plot to lead the real plot along.

I disagree here, too. Subplots have a lot more purpose than simply pushing the main plot.



For a series, my guide is that your main story should only be the linked collection of sub-plots. The main story might poke and prod between the sub-plots as if connecting them, but the sub-plots should be the headline of the story. A man is sick with some terrible disease and House is in pain. House's pain leads him to the answer of handing the man upside down, slapping him with the dead bodies of pigs to relieve the cancer that's infecting his eyes. For some reason, House feels better.


That's not a subplot. That's a main plot. A subplot is House's inability to maintain healthy relationships with anyone. 13's inevitable death and need to be free of medicine. Chase's leaving House's shadow. Those are subplots. And none actually contribute to the main plot. They contribute to the story of House as a whole.

House's pain leading to diagnosing the patient is the entire point of House's plot. That's House's unconventional process of discovery, without which a diagnosis would never be made. It IS the plot.




The plot is a series of planned events within a story.
The story is what happens to the characters within it.


No, it's not. The plot is the main goal of the story (to diagnose sick patients that have mysterious illnesses through unconventional means and save a life or two.). It's the purpose of bringing all these characters together giving the reader a compelling reason to pick up the book in the first place. The story is everything, not just what happens to the characters. It's the setting, it's the tone, it's the skill of the writer. The story is WHY you read a book. It's not just what happens. It's how. It's why. It's how well you tell the plot.




So, put two characters who hate each other together and write what happens. Then you have a story.


That story is a cliche. Create conflict to make a story. Don't make a story out of existing conflict. I mean, you can, but that's easy. That's what everyone does. You can't swing a dead cat without finding the "two characters hate each other and must work together to save the day" plot. Or the "girl meets boy, instant hate, overcome their differences and find love" plot. Or the "Evil Overlord and Brave Hero despise each other only to find they have a common thread" plot. Putting two people that hate each other together is easy. Take two people that love each other and make them hate each other without someone having an affair. Take two people that never met and make sure they never fall in love but never hate each other, either - make them affect the other life without sex or lack of it being an issue. These are not necessarily matters of the main plot. These are matters of character development.

Lehcarjt
06-20-2012, 07:16 PM
I agree with Midian, especially with the first point and the last. Characters do not equal story. Characters who hate each other do not equal story. Characters with goals and obstacles equal story.

I like the idea of outlining to see your arcs in progress. I'd also recommend looking at your scene / sequel structure. There's a good chance this is where your problem lies. If you are worried about too much character development then shorten your sequels and lengthen/emphasize/increase tension in your scenes. Also make sure your scenes are goal-oriented with clear obstacles, climaxes, resolutions.

ccarver30
06-20-2012, 07:35 PM
If the reader does not care about the characters, there is no story. *stomps foot*

Lehcarjt
06-22-2012, 06:46 AM
Very true and there are a LOT of other critical pieces into making a successful story as well, but that does not change the basic definition of what a story is. *Bangs balled fist into opposing palm* (~Grin)