A Reddit discussion from 7/4/2021
14 hours ago
How to connect ideas into a plotline?
As I am right now, I'm in a position where I'll have one or two ideas for main characters, or a setting, or a plot twist, but I can never seem to make a plot outline that would connect them. How do I go about connecting ideas into a plot line? Or just using the ideas in general?
Create a well thought out character
Give them a goal
Create obstacles for them
To summarize, create obstacles that your character must overcome to reach their goal.
Edit: I'm not being snarky. Most storytelling is that basic. Even if it's a simple goal to start, it will help create conflict in a story, which is good. It may help you develop larger conflicts that are not only enjoyable to write, but also for an audience to read.
Can't help but second this. Most new writers think too linearly. If you do what FrolickingAlone said, you can't go wrong. No matter what the obstacle, you will ALWAYS know what your character is going to do (or try to do) if you use that goal as a guiding light.
I would like to add most people in real life have multiple goals and the best characters also have multiple goals and when those goals come into conflict it can be veeery interesting! An obstacle for one goal can be a benefit to another goal. How people balance priorities is how we live in real life, if you just have one goal you can easily fall into linear storytelling.
Not to sound like a contrarian, but I've seen this be done and still go wrong. Obstacles turn into filler, well thought out characters end up being too esoteric for their role, and their goal ends up having nothing to do with the plot.
I guess what's missing in the example is how they all connect, because some people don't know how to connect them with themes and a dynamic structure. We do need a point A to point B and we need obstacles in the way to prevent instant achievement, but I guess what people forget are thing like conflict, tension, other things that make it a story.
Not saying it's wrong, just saying that I've sadly seen people take such advice and still fail lol but it is a great start for most writers to get the right idea.
Great advice. Know your ending and work towards the beginning from there.
Let's say your character has to recover the stolen plans so the bad guys won't win. You come up with the ending - say, your hero escaping from the mountaintop chalet in a helicopter just before the bomb he planted explodes. That can be your last chapter, the hero's dramatic escape.
So, how do you get there? Come up with a way for the hero to get to the chalet that will be difficult. Now you've got your last two chapters.
How did the hero know to go the the chalet? Maybe there was someone from the bad guys who decided to switch teams. They told the good guys, but the bad guys were able to kill them before they said everything. So the good guys had to figure things out. There's a few chapters there, a secret meeting, a murder, the hero believing the defector but the others don't, so the hero has to find the evidence to prove it...
That's how well the technique works. I've already got a huge fantasy series I'm working on at the moment. No time to write anything else, I'm afraid.
Larry Brooks has a chapter on concept in "Story engineering", it explains how the pieces of your story are supposed to fit together. If you Google "premise" you'll find some articles discussing the same topic. There are several methods and philosiphies so make sure to find the one that makes sense to you. It's a method to organize things, not hard and fast rules.
The basic one I use is conflict + character + setting = premise. The premise defines the nature of the protagonists journey. It poses the famous "What if?" question.
Premise + theme + structure = plot. The theme, defined by Larry Brooks as the real world lesson the story teaches, together with the premise and the dramatic structure defines the plot.
The premise should always have an irony, the protagonists situation should be completely turned on it's head when the story kicks of and stir the imagination if the reader.
Boy with supernatural abilities is kidnapped (conflict) + Bookworm older sister follows him (character) + enters gunslingers tournamnet in outer space to get him back (setting) = What if there was a tournament in outer space where the prices were people with supernatuaral abilities, and a girl had to enter to get her brother back? (premise.) It's not a good premise, but it's the best I can do in five minutes.
This isn't situational irony, just an extreme change for the protagonist, but irony is kind of hard to come up with and I can't think if one right now. If you have trouble making the story come together, see if you can fix it by making a change here.
The theme defines a lot of the plot. If the story teaches the importance of self-reliance the plot is going ot be very different than if it teaches the value of friendship.
Anti-social junior NRA member enters gunfighter tournament in space to rescue younger brother with superpowers. (premise) + the importance of making friends (this theme together with the character change introduces irony, in the tournament making allies is much more important than being a good shot.) + dramatic structure = plot
I'll use Dan Harmon's story circle as a structure, there are others more involved, but I like this one. It's summed up: you - need - go - search - find - take - return - change.
Jane is home, shoots guns with kid brother, spiky personality is presented, brother shows her he has telekinetic ability, knocks down target with mind. (you) - Spaceship shows up, kidnaps brother, Jane runs after (need) - She stoves away aboard the ship, comes to outer space, she finds clues, meets people, (search) - Enters gunfighter tournament, does well with the aid of friend (find) - Complications, has to meet friend in tournament, but ultimately wins. (take), has to fight final boss in order to get home (return) - Back home, having learned a valuable lesson of trusting others, makes amends with former best friend, kid brother manifests even more powers (change.) The end.
I find it much easier to make things come together when you use methods like this. It's hard to figure out where exactly the problem is otherwise. And these well established structures remove a lot of bad choices for you and so makes it easier to think.
Kill your darlings is a thing for a reason, the effort to make a plot work often stalls because you have to favorite things that don't go together in the same story, the only real way of making the story work is to discard one of them and save it for another time. Pick your favorite thing and let everything else reinforce it. If you have a cool character ask what situation would bring that cool out to maximum effect.