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On Writing and Plot

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posted on Apr, 18 2010 @ 10:27 AM
This thread isn't a story, just a few HARD-won lessons and observations on literary theory and process. I'm an artist (I'm in the middle of making my first comic book, writing and illustrating), but I always wanted to learn how to write. Most stories just left me bored and I thought I could make a better story. And that still remains to be seen...

Of course, everything is difficult for beginners and if I can spare the newbies out there some of my pain, then it'll be worth sharing some of my observations. My apologies if I state the obvious, I'm not sure that I think like other people and my approach to things may be only useful to me, but let's find out, shall we? Also, I would appreciate your insights into the writing process as well, I don't pretend to be a master at this.

Firstly, I have read so many how to write books, it is not even funny. I have asked writer friends how to write. None of them EVER gave me a satisfactory answer. It is very frustrating listening to writers say that the process is mysterious, mainly intuitive, and if you use "a formula", well, that's just not good writing (not that they could even give you a formula when pressed). I say BS. I'm tired of writers saying that there is no formula, when intuitively, I KNOW there is a formula, I just didn't know the how's and why's of it.
This is a formula, my formula, that I have spent years of my life trying to understand. I think of it like training wheels.
Freedom in formula. Just like life.

Let's get to it. I'm just going to describe a simple story, like a comic book or script for a TV show.
There are 5 plot characters (and yes, I'm coining the term "contragonist", don't worry I'll define it): the protagonist, antagonist (A), contragonist (C), antagonist's contragonist (AC), and contragonist's antagonist (CA). These correspond to 2 ideas.
The contragonist is that part of an idea that the protagonist is initially sympathetic to. The antagonist is that part of an idea that the protagonist is initially antipathetic to. The protagonist IS NOT stable and enduring, but flits from being sympathetic to antipathetic during the course of the story. The protagonist doesn't really exist in plot terms, but exists to witness the actions of the contragonist and antagonists. He/ she may react and act upon the C and the A but the C and the A are the important points. The real plot of the story is the action of the C of the first idea turning into the A of the first idea and the initial A of the 2nd idea turning into the C of the 2nd idea.

Let's use War and Peace (if anybody wants to suggest a story to dissect with this method, let me know). Loosely, the contragonist is "good" (but don't get sucked into this approach as it can be very limiting) and the antagonist is "bad". So, "good" war and "bad" war. "Good" peace and "bad" peace. There are 2 A's and 2 C's. The good war turns into bad war, or vice versa. Same for peace.

Ok, there are 3 acts traditionally. The first and third are sort of book ends. The 2nd act is where the story is. The blurb on the back of the jacket describes the 2nd act. I like to take an 11x17 piece of paper and make 2 thin columns on either side of landscaped oriented paper. The first thin column is the 1st act, the large middle section is the 2nd act, last thin column is the 3rd act. Make a grid of 4 levels and in the 2nd act section divide this into 4 sections, which should give you a 4x4 grid in the 2nd act. In the 1st act column, pick an arrangement you'd like, but bookend the same idea and write say, good war, good peace, bad peace, bad war one over the other. In the 3rd act, write the reverse - because a story is about change and each thing is turning into its opposite. So, in this case, in the 3rd act column, write bad war, bad peace, good peace, good war. Now in the top portion of the 2nd act section each column should have a heading. The heading will be the order of the 3rd act descriptions: thus we have in the 1st section of the 2nd act we'll put bad war, 2nd section bad peace, 3rd section good peace, 4th section of 2nd act - good war. This will be a sort of filter for the events of this section (it could just be a single scene). So, in our 4x4 grid you'll get Bad war/ good war in the 1st square and the reverse in the last square. in the 2nd square going down, we get Bad war/ good peace. 3rd square going down - Bad war/ bad peace etc, etc.

Assign a character to each aspect of war and peace - 4 characters : character tied to good peace, character tied to bad peace, char. tied to bad war, char. tied to good war. So let's say good peace is exemplified by prosperity, so maybe its a good businessman who is very successful (it could literally be anything), bad peace maybe is constant fear- an abused wife too afraid to leave her abusive husband, she accepts peace at any price. Good war just for simplicity's sake, WWII and bad war is Iraq war. Maybe the characters are veterans of each. (It's important to note that this is a simple version - one might just have two characters, in this instance the protagonist would give voice to the contragonist POV.)

Create a protagonist, let's say a little girl, daughter to the abusive wife. It is her interactions with the the plot characters which make the story. In this instance, the plot demands good peace turns to bad peace and good war turns to bad war. This is hard to get across, it is a meditation on the plot structure, the good peace successful business man must turn into the abused wife, bad peace character. You know like in old movies, the bad guy says, "You and I, Captain vigilant, ...we are not so different after all!" Also, the good war, WWII vet must turn into the bad war, Iraq war vet . Please note, this doesn't make the Iraq vet "evil" and it doesn't make the WWII vet "good". It can if you want to play it that way, but I think it makes it more interesting and human to just not think in those terms. Also note, the WWII vet could be the successful business person and the Iraq war vet could be the abused wife! Or any combination thereof. All that needs to happen is that the initial C of the first idea turns into an A and the initial A of the second idea turns into a C. This gives you one antagonist and contragonist at a time in the story. The initial bad (antagonistic) war is by the end a contragonistic "good" war, and the initial good peace has become bad (A) peace.

[edit on 18-4-2010 by jcrash]

posted on Apr, 18 2010 @ 11:57 AM
Brilliant ideas here. Definitely worth studying -- especially if you are looking to construct a plot.

IMO, a good story requires much more than a good plot.

I am a firm believer in the idea that the point of any story is simply their to EVOKE A FEELING in the reader. The measure of the story is how intense that feeling may be.

You want to induce a physical sensation in the reader: love, anger, humor, thoughtfulness, fear, disgust, admiration. The more intensely you induce that feeling, the more successful you have been as a writer.

I agree with you that plot is very important. It is the central determiner of what the feeling is you want to provoke.

But you also have to consider the way the story is told. That is even more important that the plot, in my opinion. Even a mundane thing (such as falling in love, or fearing death) can rip a reader to emotional shards -- if the story is told JUST RIGHT.

What do I mean by "just right"? I dunno. It is a mystery, for sure. Why haven't we ever created a formula that will guarantee a good joke, for example?


I like your post. Thanks.

posted on Apr, 29 2010 @ 03:12 AM
The beauty of writing is always at its zenith when the author gives to the world with passion.
It amazes me how people think and contribute so much detail, because they simply love their love.
Cheers to the OP for shedding light on the mysteries of writing including its construction as opposed to merely its inspiration.

posted on Apr, 29 2010 @ 12:03 PM
There will always be a formula of some sort for good story telling. Just like there's one for good music. If you're good you can go outside of that formula (eg. James Joyce and William Faulkner). The key is believing in what you're doing.

To quote Emerson in his essay on Nature, " man can write anything, who does not think that what he writes is for the time the history of the world; or do anything well, who does not esteem his work to be of importance."

Believe in yourself.

(post by AddysMayers44 removed for a serious terms and conditions violation)

posted on Jul, 4 2019 @ 02:27 PM
Writing a story all boils down to "a person with a problem," and what they do about it. If you can't immediately frame it that way, you need to start over.


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