Tag Archives: plot

Life Is a Story

After reading so much or watching so many movies or TV series, real life often seems ordinary and routine. But if you think about it, isn’t life like a story?

When I read, I’m always anticipating what’s going to happen next. I want to keep turning the pages and see what awaits me. I find it’s similar with world events. I’m waiting to see how things unfold, if they’ll get better or worse. Each of these is a story that gets intertwined with other stories making history just one giant story with an immense amount of subplots and story threads that look like an impossible tangle. It’s incredibly complex.

But what about our own personal lives? Everyone has their own stories, and while they usually don’t have an overall plot, there are hundreds or thousands of subplots. Everyone has multiple story arcs.

Do you ever think that way about the world or your own life?

How Many Story Lines Can You Handle?

When you read books like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, you notice that there are actually many different stories going on at once.  The book I’m reading now, The Neutronium Alchemist by Peter F. Hamilton, also has many different story lines going through it. But somehow they all connect in the end.

Do you enjoy reading a complex story with many different story threads? Or do these stories confuse you? How many is too many?

How about writing? If you write books like this, how do you keep the story lines straight? How many can you do?

And finally, can you recommend any books that you think does this very well?

Authors Answer 20 – Writing Is Challenging

Writing doesn’t always come easy.  In fact, it’s a rather lengthy process that is hardly easy at all.  Everyone has something they’re good at and something they find very challenging to do.  This week’s question was asked by Amy Morris-Jones.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 20: What element of writing (setting, characterization, plot development, etc.) do you find most challenging?

H. Anthe Davis

I think creating a coherent and controlled plot is my biggest problem.  My characters are basically people, so I’m rarely concerned about them, and I’ve been working on my setting for more than a decade so could probably detail it down to individual blades of grass if pressed.  But actually figuring out how to push all the characters into one place, keep them there, and make them do something dramatic and purposeful, can take me a long time to get right.  My first book spent a decade being rewritten until I finally figured out its plot, and even now my book 4-6 notes mostly concentrate on focal scenes and character arcs, not any coherent storyline.  I think maybe I’m the sort of writer who puts the plot together on the second draft.

S. R. Carrillo

Apparently, I have a problem with setting. My stories are always very character-focused, and so setting is the last thing that gets polished out of my brain and onto the paper. I’ve been getting better about it in recent months since it was brought to my attention, though.

Amy Morris-Jones

All of them! Maybe that’s why I wrote this question… I tend to focus most on character, so I’d say plot development is toughest. In particular, I HATE endings. They always feel so false, which they have to be. Life goes on beyond the “the end,” but as a writer, I have to decide when I’ve taken the characters as far as I can (or want to). I often think that’s why writers choose to write a book series—they don’t have to write endings as often!

Jean Davis

Setting is my downfall. I think this comes from reading too much fantasy in my teens. Long paragraphs of setting were the things that stood between me and what happened next. I skimmed many a well-described meal, festival, special gown, town history, pastoral portrayal of the surroundings, details of why the magical thing does what it does, and family history. So pretty much all those detailed bits that set the scene and build the world. And that’s still me to this day. Give me some tidbits to go on and my brain will fill in the rest. If only readers were also in my head, I’d be golden, but alas, I’m forced to go back during editing and put those details on the page.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I’m going to have to go with setting. Characterization can have it’s issues, but I usually don’t have too much trouble with that, and plot is something that I generally just figure out as I go along and somehow it manages to work out. Setting, however, is the bane of my existence. I have a bad habit of forgetting where my characters have been and where they’re going. World-building is just something that I can’t seem to wrap my head around – my mind works in terms of “mountains…ocean…forest…” – so I rely on beta-readers and critiques to remind me that it’s impossible for a human character to walk 30 miles in an afternoon, and that the air gets thin on the top of a mountain, so my characters shouldn’t be running any marathons up there.

On a similar note, I find it difficult to describe places, even though I’ve got this perfect image in my head of what it looks like. I’m not sure why that is, exactly, but while I can handle descriptions of people, feelings, events, battles, and psychological incidents, describing a physical place is one of the most frustrating things I ever have to do as a writer.

Elizabeth Rhodes

Worldbuilding, while rewarding is definitely the most challenging part.  Bigger picture aspects are easier to nail down.  Subtleties in the fictional universe are just as important but not often thought about.  Effective worldbuilding is time consuming because worlds aren’t meant to be small.

D. T. Nova

Definitely setting. With real settings, it’s so easy to have a research failure on something I’d never even think about, but a reader would notice. And inventing a setting that actually seems real is very hard work.

Caren Rich

Do I have to pick only one?  Grammar is always a challenge. Even when I do it right, I second guess myself and fret over every comma and apostrophe.  I have flashbacks of middle school, walking to the black board, and having to diagram a sentence.  I hated it and I am now scarred for life.

Paul B. Spence

Dealing with it when I find out halfway through a book that one of my main characters has been lying to me.

Linda G. Hill

Hmm… I think the hardest two things for me are describing facial features and, even worse, fashion. Clothes are a challenge for me in real life, so it’s no wonder.

Jay Dee Archer

I have difficulties with several aspects of writing, but I find that my most challenging thing to write effectively is character descriptions.  I have trouble integrating descriptions into the narrative without it sounding like it sticks out.  I need to work on that a lot more.

How about you?

What do you have the most difficulty writing?  Let us know your answer in the comments below.

Authors Answer 14 – Genesis of a Story

Welcome to February! We have a bit of a change of pace this month.  During this month and March, our questions come from our contributors.  This week’s question comes from Jean Davis.

How does an story begin?  We all start from some idea. Everyone starts from something different.  So let’s find out what our authors do when they begin a story.

character_plotQuestion 14: When coming up with a new story, what comes first, the character or the plot?

H. Anthe Davis

Since I’m working on a (hopefully) long-running series, the characters come first, and the plots are often created by complications from what they’ve done before.  Even in the beginning of this series though, it was rather firmly wrapped around a few well-defined characters, whom I’d been playing for a while either in online roleplaying chat or in MMORPGs.  I always found playing the characters to be insanely useful, especially since other players will interact with your character in ways you might not have been able to imagine yourself.

For short stories though, I often get plot ideas well before I define a character.  But I’m not terribly good at short stories, so those might never see the light of day.

S. R. Carrillo

It varies. Sometimes characters, sometimes plot, sometimes setting, sometimes backstory, sometimes just a single scene or thought or gesture…

Tracey Lynn Tobin

That’s an interesting question, and to be honest, I’ve never really thought about it. The process by which I come up with a new idea goes roughly like this: “Hey, that would be an awesome scene. I should come up with a story so I can write that.”

So you see, I don’t really come up with the character or the plot first. But if you really want to be technical about it, I usually get an idea of the type of character I want first, then I come up with the basic plot, and then I figure out the details of both as I’m writing (a planner, I ain’t).

Paul B. Spence

I think first of the setting, the environment, and then I think of someone existing within that place. Once I have that, plot guides itself, since all I have to do is watch what happens.

Jean Davis

New stories most often come to me as a character and then a situation which leads to the plot. Often it’s just a name and maybe something distinctive or interesting about the character. That detail then leads me to what could go on around them to play up that particular thing and then we’re off into the plot. Or staring at a blank screen.  But generally the words start spilling out from there.

Amy Morris-Jones

For me, it’s all about the characters. I usually get an image in my head of a specific scene and then work to flesh out the character from there. Once I have a sense of the character, I start thinking about where the character is headed and what challenges I want to set before him/her. I tend to “pants” the first 12-15K words, and then I sit down and outline the plot a bit more specifically. The more I try to impose my thoughts on plot on my characters, the harder time I have, so I’ve learned to let the characters lead the way as much as possible.

D. T. Nova

The characters. I haven’t tried plot-first in a long time, and when I did, I failed to actually have any characters that stood out.

Caren Rich

The plot, or at least the idea comes first.  Usually, with that I know a little about the protagonist or antagonist.  By the time I sketch out a flow chart of major events, I have a good idea of the major characters and the basic plot. I’m a total plotter.  People and events may change as I write, but I have the basics before I write the first word.

Linda G. Hill

Tough question. Being one who focuses greatly on human behaviour, which absolutely fascinates me, I want to say my characters come first, but that’s not exactly true. I need a situation to put them in first. So for instance, I come up with a dilemma and then stick someone in it who might have a hard time solving it. Using this method I’m able to come up with countless scenarios for stories – the less the character fits into the situation, the longer the story is bound to be. Complicated, for me, equals novel.

Elizabeth Rhodes

Sitting out this week, as she’s been rather busy recently.

Jay Dee Archer

It really depends for me.  My most recent idea was a character, a singer.  I haven’t even thought of the plot yet, as it’s just an idea for a book far in the future.  My entire premise for Ariadne started out as a setting, actually.  Then I created a group of characters to form a plot around.  I became quite fluid after that, constantly changing as I refined the idea.  My current fantasy idea started out with the world and a basic plot.  So you see, it happens both ways, and other ways, too.

How about you?

When you start a story, do you think of the plot or character first?  Or maybe something else?  What does your story grow from?  Leave your answers in the comments below.

Expect the Unexpected

It’s winter. It’s cold. The leaves are all gone.

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I can see frost on the ground, but the sun provides a little warmth on my back. I think back to summer, how those uncomfortably hot and humid days seemed endless. In the cold winter, I think about how I’d love to have summer back. In summer, I’d go inside a building to avoid the heat and seek an air conditioner. I’d think about winter, how the cold might be nice. Or at least that’s what you’d expect me to say. In fact, I’d prefer to stay in summer.

Everyone expects me to like winter. Why is that? Is it because I’m from Canada? Most likely. But you can’t expect every Canadian to like cold weather or winter.

The same goes for characters or plots in a book. You have to expect the unexpected. Or maybe you expect that unexpected situation? So expected the unexpected that is more unexpected than the unexpected that you expected. I think that’s a goal writers want to achieve. I certainly want to.

One thing we need to be able to do is think like our characters. Don’t put our thoughts in the characters’ minds, but put their thoughts in ours. We need to think and talk like we’ve never thought and talked before. Not just think outside the box, but think outside the polyhedron that envelops that box.

That goes for the plot, as well. Make it totally unexpected and original. But not too bizarre. That could throw off the reader so much that they can’t believe what they’re reading.

While using the unexpected is very important, we have to maintain a balance between the unexpected and realism. We need readers to feel comfortable, yet always on the edge waiting for something incredible to happen.

I may hate winter, but I love hockey. I’m sure you expected that last part.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below with your opinions.

Evolution of the Story While Writing

I had my entire plot planned out for Journey to Ariadne beforehand, and now I have to change things, but just a little.

I had a bit of inspiration earlier this week while washing dishes.  This inspiration made a lot of sense, and in fact, made my story much stronger.  It’ll only be hinted at in Journey to Ariadne, but it features strongly in the book after.  Not only that, it gives future books a greater sense of purpose.  I like this idea.

Of course, I’m not going to say what it is, and you’ll never know what this idea is, even after reading the books.  It’ll appear as if it were something that was originally thought of when developing the story. Nope, not at all.

Curious?  Well, I might tell you long after the books are done.

Anyone have the same thing happen?

Single or Multiple Storylines?

For a writer, multiple storylines can be difficult to pull off successfully.  For a reader, multiple storylines can be confusing or provide an incredible story.  For both readers and writers, single storylines tend to be a bit easier to follow.

When I’m reading a story, I often notice how many storylines there are.  When there are several subplots, it can be more difficult to follow in the beginning, and I wonder what they have to do with each other.  Sometimes, it doesn’t become apparent until near the end of the story how they relate to each other.  I find this creates some mystery.  In Gardens of the Moon, the multiple storylines were confusing in the beginning.  I really had no idea what was going on.  But as time went on, I saw how they were going to meet at one place and time, bringing the overall story to a kind of conclusion.

As for single storyline novels, I find them to be a bit short, quick and easy to read.  This isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t get nearly as involved in the story as I do with multiple storyline novels.  This isn’t always true, though.  It’s quite possible to have longer novels with single storylines, but they’re not very common.  From my experience, single storylines are mainly in young adult novels or children’s books.

I love a complex story with multiple storylines.  They’re intriguing.  I get a lot of satisfaction watching the individual stories come together toward a resolution.  Single storylines don’t give me this kind of feeling.  When they’re done right, multiple storyline novels can be amazing.

What do you think?  Do you like complex multiple storyline tales or simpler single storyline novels?