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A whole slew of things I need advice with (1 Viewer)

WasatchWind

Senior Member
So I am new to this site, and currently writing a draft for my fantasy novel. I've got a lot of things I can ask for help with - is my hard magic system fleshed out enough to facilitate solving problems, are my characters developed enough yet, etc -

But I think I need help with the lynchpin problem: I am at a loss for where to take the story now. I have a pretty good first act or so I think (24 or so chapters averaging 1500 - 2500 words, which will be added to in subsequent drafts) but in my second act I have stalled. I have an idea for how I want the story to end, and I have an idea of certain plotlines I could follow - but I don't feel like my MC wants to get to those plotlines.

I am feeling the loss of when I had another author reading everything I was writing, and giving feedback on it. I do not have anyone reading my stuff online or IRL right now, so I am kind of flying blind.

I would provide a synopsis, but annoyingly, I feel like this is a problem that people only familiar with my story on a surface level can help me with. I do not seek to pester people to read my draft.... but I just feel like the only way forward for me is someone giving me suggestions on where it could go.
 

SteveTheAviator

Senior Member
I suggest to lay your story out on a 3/4-act structure. This will help you identify your holes. Research and learn act structure and the 3-act structure. There are lots of them out there and some are more confusing than others. It's commonly broken down as Act 1, Act 2 (pt1), Act 2 (pt2), Act 3. But I prefer to view it as 4 even acts: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4. Four, being the final act.

The most important parts are the Act-1 decision point, each break into the next act, the midpoint, and the climax moment. The first act is easiest to fill because there's so much setup, that it generates several points that get addressed. It can be most simply broken into 3 parts: introduction/setup, inciting incident, then the debate, followed by the decision that pushes to the next act.

To check your work, you have to know what a midpoint does. It is the point where the character achieves what they want, or hits a thematic milestone related to the story. Story, not the plot. In Batman Begins, its when "Batman" in final uniform takes down his target, Falcone. In Cars, its when Lightning finds out Doc is the celebrated racer "Hudson Hornet," something his racer brain loves. In Avatar, its when Jake officially becomes one of the tribe and gives himself to Neytiri. In The Last Samurai, its when Algren defends the town against Ninjas.

If you do not have a midpoint, you will have to manufacture one and see how it fits in the story. It may take a minute to find the right one. And it is linked to the climax subject matter.

You also must know the climax. It's the thematic moment that sums up the journey of the protagonist in one action. It is a choice made by the protagonist. If well done, it's the moment that makes you cry, the moment when you feel a release of justification, the moment when you say to you self "wow, what a choice." In Batman Begins, it was when Batman chooses to let Ras Al Ghul die, which was okay. In Cars, it was when Lightning sacrifices first place and instead pushes his injured rival across the finish line. In Avatar, there were a few that could fit, but thematically I think it was when Jake fights Quaritch hand to hand like a Navi. In The Last Samurai, it's when Algren presents Katsumoto's sword to the emperor, which defeats the main antagonist in shame.

Find those, then you can fill the point of no return/ break into act 2. You could also fill Act 2 (pt2), which is a consequence of things done and learned in Act 2 (pt1), so is usually very interesting and darker until the break into the final act. In Batman Begins, its when a new threat arrives and when Batman first fails against Scarecrow. In Cars, it was when Doc tells Lighting he's being selfish and unable to change. It's pixar, so sometimes it doesn't get too dark, but Toy Story went further with Sid's house. In The Last Samurai, it was when the Samurai were betrayed and Katsumoto's Son was humiliated and captured, and when Algren was attacked in the street. In Avatar, it was when Jake was outed as a traitor to both sides and in the "place the eye does not see."

From here you can place the setup for these events in Act 1. You've seen enough movies and read enough stories to know if the structure you've filled feels like the story you want to tell. If not, change the first thing you don't like and see how it will affect the other points. It's a constant process. But the more you do it, the easier it will be to let go of ideas that don't fit.
 
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WasatchWind

Senior Member
I suggest to lay your story out on a 3/4-act structure. This will help you identify your holes. Research and learn act structure and the 3-act structure. There are lots of them out there and some are more confusing than others. It's commonly broken down as Act 1, Act 2 (pt1), Act 2 (pt2), Act 3. But I prefer to view it as 4 even acts: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4. Four, being the final act.

The most important parts are the Act-1 decision point, each break into the next act, the midpoint, and the climax moment. The first act is easiest to fill because there's so much setup, that it generates several points that get addressed. It can be most simply broken into 3 parts: introduction/setup, inciting incident, then the debate, followed by the decision that pushes to the next act.

To check your work, you have to know what a midpoint does. It is the point where the character achieves what they want, or hits a thematic milestone related to the story. Story, not the plot. In Batman Begins, its when "Batman" in final uniform takes down his target, Falcone. In Cars, its when Lightning finds out Doc is the celebrated racer "Hudson Hornet," something his racer brain loves. In Avatar, its when Jake officially becomes one of the tribe and gives himself to Neytiri. In The Last Samurai, its when Algren defends the town against Ninjas.

If you do not have a midpoint, you will have to manufacture one and see how it fits in the story. It may take a minute to find the right one. And it is linked to the climax subject matter.

You also must know the climax. It's the thematic moment that sums up the journey of the protagonist in one action. It is a choice made by the protagonist. If well done, it's the moment that makes you cry, the moment when you feel a release of justification, the moment when you say to you self "wow, what a choice." In Batman Begins, it was when Batman chooses to let Ras Al Ghul die, which was okay. In Cars, it was when Lightning sacrifices first place and instead pushes his injured rival across the finish line. In Avatar, there were a few that could fit, but thematically I think it was when Jake fights Quaritch hand to hand like a Navi. In The Last Samurai, it's when Algren presents Katsumoto's sword to the emperor, which defeats the main antagonist in shame.

Find those, then you can fill the point of no return/ break into act 2. You could also fill Act 2 (pt2), which is a consequence of things done and learned in Act 2 (pt1), so is usually very interesting and darker until the break into the final act. In Batman Begins, its when a new threat arrives and when Batman first fails against Scarecrow. In Cars, it was when Doc tells Lighting he's being selfish and unable to change. It's pixar, so sometimes it doesn't get too dark, but Toy Story went further with Sid's house. In The Last Samurai, it was when the Samurai were betrayed and Katsumoto's Son was humiliated and captured, and when Algren was attacked in the street. In Avatar, it was when Jake was outed as a traitor to both sides and in the "place the eye does not see."

From here you can place the setup for these events in Act 1. You've seen enough movies and read enough stories to know if the structure you've filled feels like the story you want to tell. If not, change the first thing you don't like and see how it will affect the other points. It's a constant process. But the more you do it, the easier it will be to let go of ideas that don't fit.
I think I have some idea of both of those. I know how I want the climax to go down, and I know the major shift in character I want, and kind of the plot line that will take place in -

But I just am having a really hard time getting there. My MC is not particularly inclined to help this character that they don't like (which would get us to the new plotline), as well as another glaring issue.

Now I shall give some background on my story. My story is about an industrial human society fighting several city states of merpeople in the nearby ocean in a nearly century long war. Neither can really make much headway in the war, because they cannot directly attack each other...

But that same problem for the people in my world is a problem for me - I have difficult logistics to overcome because of my setting. My main character is a young boy named Irian - he has a unique job in this world - due to the war and merpeople being captured, some realized they could periodically harvest the colorful scales of merpeople and sell them as jewelry, and the MC is involved in this.

The story centers around his moral dilemma as he is confronted with the opposing views of the conflict and what he's done. My problem is that I cannot get him and certain characters in places to interact with each other, and so it makes things difficult.
 

SteveTheAviator

Senior Member
I see. I'm in a similar issue with an idea I have. I'll explain the problem and then my solution so far in the process. It should be helpful.

I wanted alien robots to invade earth a hundred years ago. They have a physiological ability to inhabit human bodies (they're aliens, who cares). This thematically allows humans to interact with an alien with a human face and is an analogue for prejudice and hate. This interaction is the core moral element. It must remain.

I realized that the story would be better if the robots were instead human-made from a hundred years ago. It allows more mystery, more clues to be placed, deeper relationship between the two sides, and secrets. It makes so much sense to do this. And there's less "mumbo jumbo" as Blake Snyder put it in his Save The Cat book. My big problem now is how to explain that physiological ability to inhabit a brain. There is now no need for that ability, ever. I still can't have the main character have a metal body. They need to be human, thematically. I can't make that work as it is.

So, what if the main robot team was frozen for whatever reason while the robot species evolve for a millennia. Then our main robot team awakens with new tech. This make the drastic change in tech a mystery even to the frozen robots, but now they can use it. This is different. And now the humans surely won't be using surplus firearms and ammo at this point, so that has changed.

I tried to keep it short. My point is this is not the original idea I had. But if I keep the core moral elements, does it matter?

Consider a drastic change that may permanently alter your world. Or perhaps an event during the story so drastic, it can give you your connection point. And explore the ripple effect that causes.
 

WasatchWind

Senior Member
I see. I'm in a similar issue with an idea I have. I'll explain the problem and then my solution so far in the process. It should be helpful.

I wanted alien robots to invade earth a hundred years ago. They have a physiological ability to inhabit human bodies (they're aliens, who cares). This thematically allows humans to interact with an alien with a human face and is an analogue for prejudice and hate. This interaction is the core moral element. It must remain.

I realized that the story would be better if the robots were instead human-made from a hundred years ago. It allows more mystery, more clues to be placed, deeper relationship between the two sides, and secrets. It makes so much sense to do this. And there's less "mumbo jumbo" as Blake Snyder put it in his Save The Cat book. My big problem now is how to explain that physiological ability to inhabit a brain. There is now no need for that ability, ever. I still can't have the main character have a metal body. They need to be human, thematically. I can't make that work as it is.

So, what if the main robot team was frozen for whatever reason while the robot species evolve for a millennia. Then our main robot team awakens with new tech. This make the drastic change in tech a mystery even to the frozen robots, but now they can use it. This is different. And now the humans surely won't be using surplus firearms and ammo at this point, so that has changed.

I tried to keep it short. My point is this is not the original idea I had. But if I keep the core moral elements, does it matter?

Consider a drastic change that may permanently alter your world. Or perhaps an event during the story so drastic, it can give you your connection point. And explore the ripple effect that causes.
I don't have a really good idea of what could make that change - I need to give the merfolk characters a reason to go to land, when there is very little reason for them to, so they can interact with the human characters. I have written myself into a corner pretty badly.
 

SteveTheAviator

Senior Member
Yes! That's apart of the job people don't talk about. Problem-solving. It is better with another brain to bounce off of for sure. I had that briefly before I had to move for a job. My work partner and I would read various story writing books and compare notes, talk theory and critique each others' ideas.

Why do humans dive in the ocean? We have no need to be there. It could be a curiosity for some merfolk. And when they get into trouble or don't return, the rest of the crowd pursue their footsteps.

Or perhaps humans found a mer-artifact, a trident, or other object that the merfolk need to return. Perhaps humans found a merfolk individual and took them, either as a specimen or some lonely sod who thought the mer-girl was cute, but she doesn't know how to get back.

Whatever it is, it can't feel detached from the theme, so maybe you can find a mechanic that fits your theme, or adjust your theme a bit to include reasoning for this.
 

WasatchWind

Senior Member
Yes! That's apart of the job people don't talk about. Problem-solving. It is better with another brain to bounce off of for sure. I had that briefly before I had to move for a job. My work partner and I would read various story writing books and compare notes, talk theory and critique each others' ideas.

Why do humans dive in the ocean? We have no need to be there. It could be a curiosity for some merfolk. And when they get into trouble or don't return, the rest of the crowd pursue their footsteps.

Or perhaps humans found a mer-artifact, a trident, or other object that the merfolk need to return. Perhaps humans found a merfolk individual and took them, either as a specimen or some lonely sod who thought the mer-girl was cute, but she doesn't know how to get back.

Whatever it is, it can't feel detached from the theme, so maybe you can find a mechanic that fits your theme, or adjust your theme a bit to include reasoning for this.
Going more into detail -

My MC Irian, as afore mentioned, is a scale farmer. His fellow apprentice, a younger boy named Tarn, becomes far more sensitive to the suffering of the merfolk. Irian catches Tarn one night in the act of liberating the merfolk, and stops him after he succeeds in freeing four of them. As Irian tries to stop them from escaping, the merfolk subdue him, and transform him and Tarn into merpeople.

A bunch of stuff happens - now Irian and Tarn are merpeople. Tarn does not have much interest in returning to land. Irian wants nothing more than to return to land, but one of the mermaids Tarn rescued, Ceridi, refuses to change Irian back.

Irian wants to get back, and blinded himself to the act of scaling the merfolk, because he was trying to feed his impoverished family living far inland from the coast. He especially was concerned about his sister Nalrie who has an incurable illness (that they don't know is Tuberculosis.)

So Irian is trapped. Dunno what to do. In very early drafts, I had Irian in a master apprentice plot with Ceridi, where he learns he has the ability to use the power of Channeling the merfolk can use - but that version was crap because he changed unnaturally quickly.

I just don't know what do in the current situation.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
The story centers around his moral dilemma as he is confronted with the opposing views of the conflict and what he's done. My problem is that I cannot get him and certain characters in places to interact with each other, and so it makes things difficult.
This is where I like to relate an Isaac Asimov quote. In an interview he was asked how he came up with such interesting stories. He replied, "I think, and I think, and I think".

Examine it like a logic problem. Lay out all the facts you know about your story, then figure out the missing pieces to make your story meet your goal. This is what you MUST do as a writer. I run into a situation like that once or twice in every novel. I have to get my MC from A to C. What's B?

I'll bet you've watched movies where you thought the plotting didn't work. You're thinking, that didn't make sense, they should have done this! Do that for your own story. What makes sense? If you think of a continuation and you're not comfortable it makes sense, it won't to readers, either. Make it make sense. To do that, you have to sit down and specifically THINK your way through the process. Sometimes inspiration strikes and your fingers type. When that doesn't happen, you sit and think until you come up with something that works. Big part of writing.
 

SteveTheAviator

Senior Member
Well this is what I was talking about earlier. You may have to change events to allow your story to work. Your story is a moral interaction with others and an inner lesson your MC goes through. It can be placed in any genre, setting, action, drama, romance. So as long as that moral journey is kept, you can change locations or events to fit the plot. It's like the plot is a wrapper for the story.

So you have a midpoint and ending, but you can't set plot events in stone while trying to develop the rest of your story. It'll feel like you're stuck. Like I said, once you get use to making those kinds of changes, it'll get easier. My friend from work used to say, "kill your babies." His metaphor for self-editing.
 

WasatchWind

Senior Member
Well this is what I was talking about earlier. You may have to change events to allow your story to work. Your story is a moral interaction with others and an inner lesson your MC goes through. It can be placed in any genre, setting, action, drama, romance. So as long as that moral journey is kept, you can change locations or events to fit the plot. It's like the plot is a wrapper for the story.

So you have a midpoint and ending, but you can't set plot events in stone while trying to develop the rest of your story. It'll feel like you're stuck. Like I said, once you get use to making those kinds of changes, it'll get easier. My friend from work used to say, "kill your babies." His metaphor for self-editing.
I think my feeling right now isn't so much that I am afraid to kill potential plotlines, but that I am unsatisfied with the future ones I have to pick from. I also have the thing weighing on my mind: "is enough stuff happening in this chapter?" and related "is the reader getting tired of all these character development chapters with little action, where they're in the same place?"

I've come up with a few possibilities since starting this thread as I've thought about things.

One is that Irian, now that he is having a bit more freedom in the underwater city state they're currently in, he tries to find someone other than Ceridi who can change him back. It could go in that maybe he does succeed in this, and escapes, then Ceridi and some of the others go after him, or maybe he doesn't, and is found out by Ceridi, which prompts them to have to talk out differences.

I've made this first draft more difficult for myself, because at the same time that I am trying to write Irian's arc, I am also writing a second viewpoint for Ceridi, and I really don't know who she is yet.
 

WasatchWind

Senior Member
This is where I like to relate an Isaac Asimov quote. In an interview he was asked how he came up with such interesting stories. He replied, "I think, and I think, and I think".

Examine it like a logic problem. Lay out all the facts you know about your story, then figure out the missing pieces to make your story meet your goal. This is what you MUST do as a writer. I run into a situation like that once or twice in every novel. I have to get my MC from A to C. What's B?

I'll bet you've watched movies where you thought the plotting didn't work. You're thinking, that didn't make sense, they should have done this! Do that for your own story. What makes sense? If you think of a continuation and you're not comfortable it makes sense, it won't to readers, either. Make it make sense. To do that, you have to sit down and specifically THINK your way through the process. Sometimes inspiration strikes and your fingers type. When that doesn't happen, you sit and think until you come up with something that works. Big part of writing.
I think one of my big problems is a lack of personal organization for my story. I've looked into how other authors do their organization - apparently Brandon Sanderson has word doc that is just World, Characters, and Plot divided into three columns. That seems not nearly organized enough for me.

Right now I have Campfire and have a lot of stuff written in there, but most of my thinking out ideas happens when I'm out and about, so I have copious notes on my phone spread across different apps, where I'm just throwing around ideas.

I know that if I laid character arc moments out better and stuff like that it would improve my ability to decide plot stuff significantly, but I never find myself really in the mood to go into campfire and do nothing but organize stuff.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I think one of my big problems is a lack of personal organization for my story. I've looked into how other authors do their organization - apparently Brandon Sanderson has word doc that is just World, Characters, and Plot divided into three columns. That seems not nearly organized enough for me.

Right now I have Campfire and have a lot of stuff written in there, but most of my thinking out ideas happens when I'm out and about, so I have copious notes on my phone spread across different apps, where I'm just throwing around ideas.

I know that if I laid character arc moments out better and stuff like that it would improve my ability to decide plot stuff significantly, but I never find myself really in the mood to go into campfire and do nothing but organize stuff.
Maybe you're overcomplicating. The only plotting I'm doing that sounds anywhere near that complex is my murder mystery. I might be thinking about a major plot problem away from typing, but nothing I need to make notes about. These suggestions are typically general, because they lack the context of firm knowledge of other people's experience and the work in progress. If this project needs the complexity, possibly write a simpler plot first, just to get it done and get the experience.
 

WasatchWind

Senior Member
Maybe you're overcomplicating. The only plotting I'm doing that sounds anywhere near that complex is my murder mystery. I might be thinking about a major plot problem away from typing, but nothing I need to make notes about. These suggestions are typically general, because they lack the context of firm knowledge of other people's experience and the work in progress. If this project needs the complexity, possibly write a simpler plot first, just to get it done and get the experience.
Overcomplication is a fact of my life... it frustrates me.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Very few of us are pure plotters or pantsers - the gap between are filled with hybrids.

So, as a plotter, I suggest that you try using a flow diagram to help straighten things out. A flow diagram is a organizing tool used when designing a consumer or industrial product. It's a tool that gives a high altitude view of how everything goes together. So, try making a diagram of how your characters interact with each other during the course of the story - doing that will take you away from sweating minute details at the beginning of the writing process, and you can add more detail after you have the big items organized properly.

As you have a bunch of your novel already written, but are struggling with smaller issues, I suggest you diagram each smaller issue and look at how they move through your story.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
So I am new to this site, and currently writing a draft for my fantasy novel.
As a fellow fantasy writer I feel honour bound to help. My advice - and I had this exact same problem - is to consider that many fantasy plots are quite generic - the evil guys want to take over the world - so the rest of it is where the fantasy really comes in; world building, characters, races, magic systems and other arcana, journeys and quests, etc. I think your telling point is this:
but I don't feel like my MC wants to get to those plotlines.
You can either listen to your MC - or you can mess with them. Think about your MC. What does he, she or they want? If not those plotlines, then what? Ask them, in your head, as you might a real person, what they want to do. Is their deepest desire to lounge about looking elegant? Or do they have some questy type thing bugging them? Is it some other desire like an unquenchable thirst to experience the sensatiuisms at Harriken*? Whatever it is, go & make them try and achieve that. And meanwhile, privately (!) consider a secondary scheme that you might secretly want to see them in, and see if you can thwart their plans with it.

For me, I started with the raw materials - scenes, lines of dialogue, character names, things best described as internal video clips, phrases. None of it had anything to do with anything, not each other, let alone any sort of plot. My job was to journey through this environment, and unravel mystery that does link them together. Maybe one of those scenes transpires while going from A to B via C.

Good luck. Curious to see what develops here:)



* I just made this up
 
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