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View Full Version : If making your plot consistent is hard, does that mean you're doing it wrong?



GiantRampagingPencil
10-05-2012, 11:13 PM
I'm constantly struggling with plot issues.

Here is an example:

A human fleet has arrived at an alien world looking for a few missing colony ships.
The aliens tell them that, since their world was obviously taken, they pointed them to another world. This is a lie; they were destroyed by the alien government in secret. Now the problems begin.

1) Why don't the aliens simple destroy the human fleet? Solution: The fleet is too powerful, the ships too numerous, that it can be done immediately (they need to gather their forces), or in secret.

2) The admiral of the alien fleet actually refused to destroy the colony ships and was relieved of command and forcibly retired. So why didn't she blow the whistle on her government's immoral actions? Solution: She had no proof.

But

3) The suspense in the chapter turns on the humans being given a cryptic warning that things are not as they appear and they are given a hint of where they can find evidence of their ship's destruction. So I have a contradiction. Solution: All that is really there is some mysterious debris that the alien admiral can't point to as proof until it is identified as belonging to the humans.

But

4) Why didn't they give them more than a cryptic hint? Solution: communications are being monitored, and the actual physical messenger didn't have more of a chance.

And the problems and solutions go on . . . frequently the solutions cause problems of their own.

I think I finally have a consistent plot to this part of the book that preserves drama. But it was so hard.

Here are my questions: Is this par for the course, or does it mean my story is too complex, too flawed? Or is it a positive? Maybe I'm just a meticulous plotter? Is it this hard for all writers? :cry::cry::cry::cry::cry: :Headbang::Headbang::Headbang::Headbang::Headbang:

backslashbaby
10-05-2012, 11:20 PM
I think it's hard! I'm certainly not the world's best at plotting, so my plots will take more work to come up with than those who have a million plots. But it's OK that it's hard, I think. It's kind of fun that way, no? :)

Chris P
10-05-2012, 11:31 PM
Yeah, it can be hard, but it isn't always. A fix to a plot hole suddenly popping into my head is the greatest feeling I've had as a writer (so far :)). I run back to my computer excited to get to work, smiling the whole time. I'm struggling with some plot holes in my WIP, and I've decided to just keep writing anyway otherwise I'll be stuck forever.

Kerosene
10-05-2012, 11:32 PM
I think it's too complicated, thus making it more flawed. You don't have to change it, but the more story, more plotting there is, the more flaws will show.

Have you finished writing this? Finish it, with the mistakes and at the end, you'll figure out where to go--this has always happened to me.

First Draft blues.


I've never thought about plotting. I just roll with the blows and sort it out as it comes.
Maybe it's me, but I can balance quite a few character goals and motivations, and set up a sequence of events that everything meets and the worse can result (that's plotting Will!) and I somehow just click it all together IN THE END, after the first draft.

GiantRampagingPencil
10-05-2012, 11:32 PM
To be more precise: While a consistent plot is easy. ("I didn't like him, and no one was looking, so I kicked him in the nuts.") What really ties me in knots is trying to be consistent while preserving suspense, drama, tension, plausibility etc.

bearilou
10-05-2012, 11:49 PM
And the problems and solutions go on . . . frequently the solutions cause problems of their own.

Huh. I thought that was how it was supposed to work.


I think I finally have a consistent plot to this part of the book that preserves drama. But it was so hard.

Here are my questions: Is this par for the course, or does it mean my story is too complex, too flawed? Or is it a positive? Maybe I'm just a meticulous plotter? Is it this hard for all writers? :cry::cry::cry::cry::cry: :Headbang::Headbang::Headbang::Headbang::Headbang:

[pats on Pencil] There there.

It can be hard for some writers. It's easier for others. If it's working for you, go with it, even though it's hard now. There's not a thing wrong with being a plotter. It may save you some heartache at the end, even though you feel like you're beating your head against the wall now.

jaksen
10-06-2012, 12:42 AM
Are these aliens humans or humanoids or human-like? If not, why make their motives so humanistic? Perhaps they're driven by forces and factors that, to us, would make little sense. (Or appear to make no sense.) Maybe destroying ships on one day, but not another, is completely normal to them. Maybe there are special times or days when the destruction of 'others' is taken for granted, so for humans to even question where the ships are or if they are destroyed - well the aliens don't understand the question, so how can they even answer it?

It's hard to get outside a human perspective as that's what we are, but take the novel, 'Footfall' by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The aliens in this story operate under quite different morals, values and perspectives than humans, (which is a fairly common theme in science fiction.)

Anyhow, just my opinion ...

GiantRampagingPencil
10-06-2012, 12:49 AM
[pats on Pencil]


Whoa there, bearilou. I love your posts and all, but I'm a married man!

@ WS. I'm exploring two options. Simplifying, and what I call the "Duck Principle"--as in the plot is paddling like mad under the water, but the story is floating smoothly above. For example, I don't explain that the alien who give a cryptic hint can't say more, I just show it by having the villain in the room. Moreover, the ominousness of his presence, and the secrecy of the source kinda suggests communications are monitored, even if it isn't stated.

Dreity
10-06-2012, 01:22 AM
Dude. This is me almost every day. I have this crippling fear of making my characters come across as TSTL. Having an intelligent, if somewhat naive POV character be manipulated by one of the masters of the art is easily one of the hardest things for me to "show". Something is constantly popping up that makes the little critique circle in my head go, "Well, why wouldn't they just do this?"

Along with simplifying, I think you're on the right track by creating an environment that will let the reader answer those pesky "Why not" questions on their own. In fact, the more I addressed those concerns by "telling", the more questions I came up with. It's just like real life self-doubt. Giving it too much attention just means it will clamor for more.

bearilou
10-06-2012, 01:44 AM
Whoa there, bearilou. I love your posts and all, but I'm a married man!

My hand slipped! I swear!

Mr Flibble
10-06-2012, 01:52 AM
Here are my questions: Is this par for the course, or does it mean my story is too complex, too flawed?

Sounds par for the course for me (I often think Why the heck do I do this to myself? mid book, but it works out in the end). Working out the knots is the fun bit :D Solutions causing more problems just means you haven;t figured it all the way out just yet. You will if you work at it.

But maybe you're a plotter. If so, no biggie - use the experience to help find a way that works for you.

Diver
10-06-2012, 02:19 AM
Just want to say I feel for you. Been there too many times. :Shrug:

BTW I know its just an example, but I think your questions 1 to 4 could be answered if there is a secret cadre of aliens who wants something from the colony ships.

GiantRampagingPencil
10-06-2012, 05:32 AM
The alien government is motivated by paranoia. 400 years ago their civilization was all but exterminated by a ruthless foe. So when an alien ship shows up at their last, secret refuge unannounced, it was shoot first, don't bother with asking questions.

They cover it up because it would embarrass the government.

But when a whole pile 'o humans with nasty guns show up, matters are more complicated. Their leader is fanatically dedicated to Kheva's (their world) security and determines that no word of their existence shall leave the system, and so they move in for the kill.

The aliens as a whole are a decent, humane sort, but they can't really do anything to stop him except protest. He is their elected leader, he controls a majority in the legislature, and he is breaking no laws--humans aren't, after all, even mentioned in their legal code. It'll crush his political future--this murder in all but name--but he thinks it is a noble sacrifice.

It's up to the female MC to stop it.

GiantRampagingPencil
10-06-2012, 05:36 AM
TSTL?

Dreity
10-06-2012, 09:23 AM
Too Stupid To Live. Sorry. :tongue I'll even be merciful and spare you the TV Tropes link. :D

Niniva
10-06-2012, 10:13 AM
Too stupid to live. I can't tell you how often I've said that.

Bufty
10-06-2012, 01:07 PM
Colony ships are surely only sent to colonise what has been assessed as being a suitable place to colonise -no?

What is the reaction of the Fleet's commanders to discovering there is alien life on this planet?

I may be thick, but why send a whole fleet to trace missing colony ships and why to this particular planet?

What is the protagonist's goal? Simply to find the ships? If the missing ships and colonists have been destroyed the story seems to end in a pffft!

Who is the protagonist? A female MC is mentioned earlier.

Is the story about the aliens and their leader or the search for the missing ships?

Happy hunting as your story unfolds. Walking through treacle is a wonderful experience. :Hug2:

GiantRampagingPencil
10-06-2012, 06:53 PM
Colony ships are surely only sent to colonise what has been assessed as being a suitable place to colonise -no?

Long range scans could tell it was habitable, but not that it was inhabited.


What is the reaction of the Fleet's commanders to discovering there is alien life on this planet?

Surprise. They think they will just open diplomatic relations and head home.


I may be thick, but why send a whole fleet to trace missing colony ships and why to this particular planet?


Technically, it's two fleets. Humanity is now at war with the same foe that destroyed the isirie, but is unable to find their worlds. They've lost ships at this world, so they gamble. In a sense it doesn't cost them any of their combat capability: with cheap fusion energy, the resources of entire solar systems at their fingertips, and advanced industrial techniques, they can build ships faster than they can crew them. So they fill a bunch of newly built ships with half-trained boys and girls and send them out as a floating school, counting on a year-long training voyage to have them ready by arrival.



What is the protagonist's goal? Simply to find the ships? If the missing ships and colonists have been destroyed the story seems to end in a pffft!

The FMC signed up for the 2 year mission to get away from MMC after having her heart-broken. Her goal after they discover the aliens is complex.

Background: She herself is one of the aliens. When the alien (the isirie) homeworld, Chomossa fell, a bunch of ships made a run for it. All were destroyed except hers, and hers was badly damaged and left drifting in space for 400 years, slowly dying until found by the humans. No one aboard was aware of the secret refuge prepared for the isirie by their government.

The male MC is human and she is ashamed of her romantic feelings for him, thinking them unnatural.

She is thrilled with the discovery, naturally. Then horrified as the truth slowly comes to light. Her goal becomes to stop the impeding slaughter. In pursuing it, it she has to break the hold of the Lead Speaker on his party and does so by impassioned arguments about the human's essential "isirie-ness". In doing so, she begins to question her own hangups and her own automatic assumption she would be staying with the isirie.

In the end, she chooses to return with her friends and shipmates and die fighting beside them. Whatever their race, they are the people she knows. Fade to black and return to the MMC's perspective and the war.


At the very end, when humanity's defenses are broken, the hyper gates are destroyed, and all is lost, the FMC returns--with two battle fleets and every single warship the isirie could bring. Their government's actions had shamed them, the FMC's choice had inspired them.

Bufty
10-06-2012, 07:03 PM
Well, I did ask. Good luck. :Hug2:

GiantRampagingPencil
10-06-2012, 07:25 PM
Well, I did ask. Good luck. :Hug2:

That'll teach ya. Never get involved in a land war in Asia, and never give me an opening to talk about my book.

Tirjasdyn
10-06-2012, 10:39 PM
Plot is never easy. Even when you outline, plot changes, causes problems, makes you create excel sheets detailing which delegate voted which way and plot out the story changes by vote.

But I digress.

When plot is easy, you probably missed something. Otherwise it wouldn't be so fun when you solved a plot issue.

I'm pretty sure writer is just a stealth term for masochist.

Jamesaritchie
10-06-2012, 10:53 PM
Long range scans could tell it was habitable, but not that it was inhabited.





I find this extremely unlikely, and even unbelievable. Any long range scans capable of telling whether a planet was habitable would almost certainly pick up the signature of an advanced civilization.

But even if they didn't, you would never send colony ships until after you made certain no other race lived there. You would send a probe, or even a single scout ship, but not colony ships.

I think the plot gets even more problematic as it goes along.

GiantRampagingPencil
10-06-2012, 11:18 PM
I find this extremely unlikely, and even unbelievable. Any long range scans capable of telling whether a planet was habitable would almost certainly pick up the signature of an advanced civilization.

But even if they didn't, you would never send colony ships until after you made certain no other race lived there. You would send a probe, or even a single scout ship, but not colony ships.

I think the plot gets even more problematic as it goes along.

The scan thing is something that tormented me at first, but then I made an arbitrary and executive decision that the scans do exactly what I want them to do. *snaps fingers* Actually, come to think of it, humanity would be getting info from the planet before it was inhabited, given light speed lag. (In my world, there is hyperspace travel, but no hyperspace communications or sensors.)

Nobody really thinks in terms of another race. Four hundred years of space travel without first contact until now, has made humanity think they are alone.

With regards to the probe thing, I do think this is somewhat of a weakness. Given the distance to the world, however. It would have taken a probe 24 years to make the round trip. The funding appropriation for the colony ship would not have been in place then.

(Later travel times given are inconsistent with these figures, because hyperspace drives have improved rough 15 fold in the interim.)

chicgeek
10-07-2012, 03:13 AM
And the problems and solutions go on . . . frequently the solutions cause problems of their own.

I think I finally have a consistent plot to this part of the book that preserves drama. But it was so hard.

Here are my questions: Is this par for the course, or does it mean my story is too complex, too flawed? Or is it a positive? Maybe I'm just a meticulous plotter? Is it this hard for all writers? :cry::cry::cry::cry::cry: :Headbang::Headbang::Headbang::Headbang::Headbang:

Welcome to the hell that is writing Science Fiction. LOL. Your experience definitely mirrors my own. Someone (in some other AW thread) quoted someone else, who put it brilliantly: it's easier for readers to believe the impossible than the improbable.

Even in Fantasy, all you have to do is create your own world with consistent rules. Not that that's easy, but I feel like it becomes even harder in Sci-Fi, when you're technically (or perhaps, loosely) basing your universe in reality (I guess some could argue that this is done in Fantasy, too, just based in the past. This does happen, but I feel like it's easier to create a universe totally seperate from ours in fantasy).

The rules of our reality have to apply in Sci-Fi. That your setting is in the future can change those rules, but the task then becomes making them believable. Worldbuilding can be the bane of my existence sometimes! I know that if I can't tolerate my own plot holes, no one else is going to.

What I find really interesting is that in the course of fleshing out/filling in my plot, I've had to ditch certain things (to make it plausible) only for those things to re-emerge in some different way, later on. It's like your plot is really just a reflection of the things you meditate on, and the elements of your chosen genre that have always captivated your interest. It can be helpful to identify what those themes are, and then to parse out how your own work reflects those themes/tropes. Some of it might fall away, if it doesn't fit into the overall theme(s) you're exploring.

Another good thing I learned in a writing class is that a good rule of thumb is for a book to have 3 major plot elements, woven together throughout the entirety of the book (each with it's own arc and resolution). Obviously, this doesn't encompass sub plots. But if there are more than 3 major plot elements, your story runs the risk of becoming convoluted.

So it might help you to look at your opening chapters and make some executive decisions. What are your 3 most important plot elements? Can the others be downgraded to sub plots or be stripped away entirely? Try to be objective here -- don't look at this through the lens of emotional attachment to them. Try to imagine your story without certain aspects, and see if it could still play. Maybe it's not an ideal scenario, but it's not the only thing you're ever going to write. And at some point the work is no longer a part of you, it becomes its own thing. You have to figure out what it needs, and sometimes that means letting go of your initial expectations, and not trying to force it down one path or another.

(I sound like I'm talking about child rearing. LOL)

Now, that being said, I'm pretty sure my book has 4 major plot elements, although 2 are intrinsically tied together. I know this because it takes me 3 chapters to launch them all/have the inciting incident occur. This isn't a bad thing, but it means it's going to be tougher to key the reader into everything going on without losing them somewhere along the way.

It's like stitching a quilt -- the threads need to be woven together just right, or you won't be able to process what you're looking at. And there's definitely a tendency in genre fiction to create enormous, ridiculously intricate tapestries (to have a complex plot/involved meta-plot). In fact, that's what I love so much about it.

I know it's frustrating, but one thing I've learned is that when I'm the most frustrated with my plot -- when I'm hitting the wall the hardest, that's when I tend to have the biggest break throughs. You shouldn't be too hard on yourself. You've set yourself a very hard task, and nobody can teach you how to do it. The process is largely trial and error for a good long while. You have to learn to listen to your gut. If something is consistently not working, just not fitting into your plot, maybe it's time to change it or let it go.

This can feel devastating and rock the very foundations beneath your feet, but that's okay. Give yourself a day or two away from the writing, to let the dust settle and see where you stand. I've had this happen in my story more times than I can count. Trying to plot out a trilogy boggles my mind at times. But every time I have a break through, I get one step closer, and that keeps me going, because I must be doing something right.

Good luck, man.

GiantRampagingPencil
10-07-2012, 04:00 AM
Welcome to the hell that is writing Science Fiction. LOL. Your experience definitely mirrors my own. Someone (in some other AW thread) quoted someone else, who put it brilliantly: it's easier for readers to believe the impossible than the improbable.

I don't know if I'll ever write another sci-fi again for the reasons you cite. Fantasy after this, definitely. Either that or romance.

chicgeek
10-07-2012, 05:09 AM
I don't know if I'll ever write another sci-fi again for the reasons you cite. Fantasy after this, definitely. Either that or romance.

SERIOUSLY. What is my problem?? I'm great with characters/relationships. Worldbuilding is where I'm weakest (although I'm getting better at a painfully slow rate). So why the heck do I torture myself with ridiculously involved sci-fi stories?

I've had several people ask me why I bother (when I'm complaining to them about worldbuilding and plot consistency). It makes me think of another thing my favorite teacher said: write the story you'd want someone to tell you. I realized that that's exactly what I'm doing. For better or worse, lol.

buz
10-07-2012, 11:31 PM
Here are my questions: Is this par for the course, or does it mean my story is too complex, too flawed? Or is it a positive? Maybe I'm just a meticulous plotter? Is it this hard for all writers?

I dunno. It's hard for me. But I tend to just write and make it up as I go. Then, when I have a draft, only then can I see where the threads of coherent plot might be. I have to add things, weave the threads together, cut out some dead ends--it's annoying and it's difficult and there are a lot of problems to be solved that often require several more revisions before I happen to think of an appropriate solution.

However, I don't know if the result is um...good. :D

Everyone has different ways of doing things. Are you outlining or writing? I've tried outlining, but I find that I...outline myself into a corner? Does that make sense? Like what you're doing, I guess, except I can't seem to actually tie things together or come up with answers until it's written out. So I don't try anymore...:P

But yeah. Find what works for you, and do that. (Sometimes "what works" is still "frustrating as hell", though.)

I don't know if it's too complicated until I read it....;)

GiantRampagingPencil
10-08-2012, 12:00 AM
I'm a bit of a pantser, but when there are too many variables--the limits of technology, light speed lag, the enemy's reaction to the hero's actions and the hero's counter-reaction, the counter-counter, the counter-counter-counter, and complex issues of the relative timing of actions, etc--then I have to sit down and outline sections.

Timing is an excellent example of the "duck principle" that I mentioned upthread. I don't go through explaining why things happen in a particular order, I just have them happen in that order, but I have to plot it out to see if they can happen in that order.

GiantRampagingPencil
10-08-2012, 12:17 AM
write the story you'd want someone to tell you. I realized that that's exactly what I'm doing. For better or worse, lol.

That's exactly what I'm doing. I remember getting frustrated with Battlestar Galactica because the dramatic structure is backwards. The giant climax begins the story, then they sort of run away. That was the genesis of the story. "That was awesome--if only they did it right. Hey, why can't I do it?"

I wanted certain things in my story that I love. Ancient ruins where the only sound is the wind whispering through the grass, people struggling to survive on a lost and ancient derelict space ship, a mysterious prophecy, hideous monsters that only come out at night, a hidden world, an epic battle for the survival of mankind, a hot, green alien chick, true love, killer robots, gritty ship to ship actions a la the age of sail, space marines, secret weapons, a bad ass chick with a robot arm, a slippery hero always getting out of trouble with his brains, planet destroying weapons, and, last of al,l an epic "ride of the Rohirrim" moment.

I tweaked and plotted and world-built until I got what I wanted. Hell, I created a whole geo-political back-story because I wanted my ships to have the "HMS" prefix to their names!

I call this the "Princess Bride" theory of story-telling. No pirates, I'm afraid, but I never liked pirates.

victoriastrauss
10-08-2012, 12:24 AM
Don't imagine that fantasy is any easier (unless you want to write bad fantasy, that is). Building an internally consistent world, and making your characters act in that world, involves every bit as much work and question. Just because you've made up the rules yourself doesn't mean that you are any less obliged to rigorously adhere to them.

I've often found myself in a situation where the principles I've established in worldbuilding make it impossible for my characters to do the things I originally wanted them to do. If you're doing hackwork, you can just come up with some sort of magical hand-waving that enables you to violate your own rules (this happens in hack SF all the time, by the way). Otherwise, you are bound by the rules of your made-up world, just as, in good SF, you are stuck with the laws of real physics.

- Victoria

GiantRampagingPencil
10-09-2012, 07:32 AM
Oh you sneaky little plot--shifting around while I'm not looking. The creative process is such mysterious alchemy.