Ideas + ??? = book

Tower75

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Hi, all.

Happy New Year to you all.

I was wondering if I may ask for the metaphorical life ring to be thrown to me. I appear to be to have missed the sign that read: Deep Water, and I find myself in a pond.

I'm really, really trying to sort my thoughts out so that I can write. I've been wanting to for ages, and I have so many ideas in my head it hurts. These need to be written down and I genuinely believe that we a bit of structure I can write a story, however founded that thought may be.

I'm liking the idea of the "4 box" Literature Architecture "pattern." That makes sense to me, however, what I know I'll struggle on is trying to structure my ideas.

I've got a "theme" so to speak, I know roughly the world I'm setting it in and I know roughly what I want to happen. Where do I go from there?

Do I have to sit down and chisel in stone exactly what my character is going to do and what conflict he'll get thrown and him, etc.?

What I don't want to happen is to be sitting with an empty pad and a tapping pen really struggling to come up with structure.

I refuse to believe this notion of: If you can't write you're not a writer.

All I've got is ideas and a will to try... surely all novels started like that?
 

TheDustyZebra

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I will beat Brian to the punch and suggest you take a look at Save the Cat. It's for screenwriting, nominally, but very useful for structuring any kind of story. :)
 

J Riff

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It's hard to know what problems you may have, without a few thousand words to look at, so just try and get as much of a draft together as you can. Rather than thinking interminably about structure that is. Pick one or two ideas and get them down. All novels started with the first sentence and the following thousands n' thousands of words.
 

Brian G Turner

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Do I have to sit down and chisel in stone exactly what my character is going to do and what conflict he'll get thrown and him, etc.?

Not at all. Just start writing. No matter how well you plan, expect your story to throw curve-balls at you, so that your first draft will need re-writing, regardless. And once you do have that first draft, at least you can get a better idea of how everything fits together.

And, indeed, I was going to recommend that book. :)

Might also be worth looking at Storyteller Tools by M Harold Page, and one of Donald Maas' ebooks for Kindle.
 

Toby Frost

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Hi, and Happy New Year to you too!

I've got no idea what the "4 box" Literature Architecture pattern is, I'm afraid, but if it works for you, you probably ought to use it.

A while ago, I tried to write down some advice on novel writing and it's here if you're interested: http://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/546438/ The bit I'm thinking of is towards the bottom of the page. In summary: will you be able to write 70,000 words about this without getting sick of it? What sort of story is this? Is it based around intrigue (spying, detective work etc), "amateur"/civilian adventure, crime, war stories, romance, etc. Use of Weapons, for instance, is a story about a spy, although it's set in a space empire. That will probably have a lot of effect on the sorts of people in it. What are the important moments in the story?

You need a story. You really need this. So many people (not necessarily yourself) have this idea of massive galactic empires, dragons, space battles, magical clashes of good and evil and all that epic stuff, and no actual individuals doing things. Instead of backstory, it's best to get going with one person and try to get as many words down as possible. Don't worry about getting them all right. That comes much later. At the moment, you need something that you can work with. It's worth pointing out that some people need much more planning than others, but you will need something to be getting on with, and the sooner you can start writing this story, the better.
 

tinkerdan

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Well, I can't answer for everyone else; including you.

For me once I have the bits that you mentioned I then find the character that will fit into the story. Then I decide the narrator, which could be the character and that's why I chose to look for the character first.

After that I might write a few pages that may never show up in the work. I might call that finding the voice. Basically it's trying to establish some things about the character and what types of conflict and strengths they might have. But it is also useful in helping to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the Narrator and the POV. That eventually leads to establishing when and where the whole thing begins, which can be anywhere as long as it can entice the reader into the story. Eventually there is research, but for me; until I've established that there is a character I care about I don't have enough enthusiasm to waste time with pointless research.

But this is just me and I've never been conventional.

It is a good idea to learn about the tools of writing somewhere early rather than to jump feet first into the fever.
There is a toolbox thread in the forum for starters.
 

Tower75

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Thanks, all.

Here's the thing, I want to write a story, who says I can't? Trouble is... structure. I've got a main character, and as I say, I know roughly what I want to happen, but.. I mean, how do you get all the rest? What if I don't know the exact conflict I want thrown at my character, what if I don't know exactly what will happen in my story?

Do you just write and write and see what happens, knowing that you may or may not be writing stuff that'll either thrown away or rewritten?

Hi, and Happy New Year to you too!

I've got no idea what the "4 box" Literature Architecture pattern is, I'm afraid, but if it works for you, you probably ought to use it.

Ah, apologies, I wasn't intending to use slang, It seems helpful, I got it from here:

http://storyfix.com/category/story-structure-series/page/3
 

Kerrybuchanan

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I can only speak for myself, but I started out from a similar place to you, but without the research on technique. I had a story I had to tell. I dithered for 30 plus years and had a couple of false starts, but then one day I just sat down and started writing.

After the first chapter or two I decided I needed a plan so I roughed out the chapters to give me a beginning, a middle and an end, then I sat back down and typed like a demon. Before long I became possessed by my characters who (figuratively speaking) took the pen off me and started to write themselves. They wrote me into a few unexpected places, some of which worked and some of which didn't, but when I got stuck I went back to the plan and then I was off again.

After a couple of months I had a 130k word draft and now I'm rewriting and editing in the hope that one day I'll have something other people might enjoy reading. Even though my first attempt was, in retrospect, pretty rough I still took huge pride in finishing it. The more I write the better I'm getting, although there is still a long way to go, but I wouldn't have got anywhere if it wasn't for sitting down and starting to type.

As the advert says: Just do it!
 

Jo Zebedee

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Thanks, all.

Here's the thing, I want to write a story, who says I can't? Trouble is... structure. I've got a main character, and as I say, I know roughly what I want to happen, but.. I mean, how do you get all the rest? What if I don't know the exact conflict I want thrown at my character, what if I don't know exactly what will happen in my story?

Do you just write and write and see what happens, knowing that you may or may not be writing stuff that'll either thrown away or rewritten?



Ah, apologies, I wasn't intending to use slang, It seems helpful, I got it from here:

http://storyfix.com/category/story-structure-series/page/3

For me, it's the last (mostly, I'm a little more disciplined now). Structure and niceties come later, when I have a story and a character I know. Others like to plan but there seems to be a danger of always planning and never writing. Basically, to write the book you have to write. I'd start with that - start with some scenes you've already planned, for instance, and see how they come together. But, yes, write something even if it's cack (and your first draft always will be.)
 

tinkerdan

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Definitely sit down and write. As I said much of the stuff I write at the beginning only stays in my head and computer.

Eventually you might want to formalize an outline, but if you don't start writing you won't have as clear an idea of what the outline needs.

As for conflict--a part of that is predicated on the strength and weaknesses of your character. If you write your story as plot driven we might never know the character and if you get too character driven then we may miss the plot. The happy marriage is when the plot and the character twist and pull at each other; each trying to dominate in a seemingly ceaseless struggle. In the end they may decide to cooperate in a effort to give the reader a satisfactory conclusion.

Also some of the questions you ask have answers that can only come from you, because this is your baby and only you know those answers. Knowing your character helps because what many writers do is imagine the thing that character would least like to face and be sure that it ends up as the thing they have to face in the story.

Indiana Jones hated snakes.
His father hated rats.
 
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Toby Frost

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Thanks for the link: that was very interesting. I think quite a lot of what I'm about to say fits in with that.

The first time I seriously tried to write a book, I actually made a graph of when plot points would happen. They happened, in order, at 1/3, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8 and 15/16 of the way through. I stole that structure from a lot of films and adventure stories, and its effectively an exponential curve.

A lot of stories seem to work like this: the hero is sent to investigate a mystery. The hero has some strange and threatening experiences that hint at future danger. Something dramatic happens. The characters try to solve the problem that the dramatic thing poses. The stakes steadily rise, and they take increasingly drastic steps to solve the problem. Often, a subplot is resolved or lesser villain defeated as a sort of appetiser for the main issue. Then, at the end, the main problem is solved, and the hero is either happier, wiser or at least safe. There's nothing wrong with this structure at all: it seems to be something that humans naturally like. So what you're doing is delaying a solution to a problem by either hiding the solution, or having different attempts at finding a solution failing as the tension rises. (Alien fits this and the four-point structure really well, by the way).

I think quite often, when you think about what could happen in a story, there's one way that the story could go that seems better than the others. I don't quite know how to explain this, but it just seems more natural or less awkward for the story to flow that way. I find that I have to be quite honest with myself and be willing to accept that something won't work as well as the alternative.
 

Cli-Fi

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Not at all. Just start writing. No matter how well you plan, expect your story to throw curve-balls at you, so that your first draft will need re-writing, regardless. And once you do have that first draft, at least you can get a better idea of how everything fits together.

And, indeed, I was going to recommend that book. :)

Might also be worth looking at Storyteller Tools by M Harold Page, and one of Donald Maas' ebooks for Kindle.

So true, all along I thought my main character would remain single throughout his reign, but as I am writing chapter 2, he meets a girl...
 

The Judge

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Well, my advice is very simple. Just write. Don't worry about structure or even POV or character arc or themes or any of the big stuff. Just write about the people you've created and the things they do/the worlds they inhabit. I personally think it's a mistake to read a lot about the theory before having written a word of the story -- writing isn't an academic exercise, it's something that's learned by doing.

As to how to write, it might help if you think of writing a story as a journey. Some people like to spend weeks planning a route down to the exact "Turn left in 25 yards" kind of direction, which is efficient, certainly, but also a bit joyless I'd have thought. Others just get in the car and start driving without any kind of map, which can lead to a lot of fun, but also some wasted miles. Me, I like to know where I'm starting from and where I'm going, and I usually have an idea for one or two places I want to see en route, but I'm relaxed about the details, as those come as I write.

Anyway, good luck with the writing.

And speaking about knowing where things are going, this thread is moving from GBD to GWD, since it's a writing matter not a book one!
 

goldhawk

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I agree with The Judge: just write. It's easier to remove material than it is to add more later; so don't be concerned about your first draft meandering all over the place. Just get your ideas on paper (OK, the computer screen). Worry about making a story out of them later.
 

Brian G Turner

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goldhawk

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Yeah, Hollywood has become fixated on the Three-Act Structure. Books like Save The Cat and The Writer's Journey are all about it. It's not a bad plot to follow if you are writing high fantasy, space opera, or even an action-adventure. But it doesn't fit very well with other genres like murder mysteries and love romances. Be wary when using it outside of the genre it was derived from.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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As you have already realized, ideas are not stories. That is where a lot of new writers bog down, believing that the two are one.

The most basic story structure is: 1)This happens and as a result That happens.

In order to engage readers, there usually has to be a specific somebody (or set of somebodies), who either does the thing that starts the story or has it happen to them.

So: 2) Somebody (a person or a group of persons -- note, in SFF a person doesn't have to be a human being) Does Something and there are Consequences.

Or: 3) Something Happens and Somebody then Does Something Else as a result, which leads to Consequences.

In a novel length story our Somebody will probably do a series of things, each based on the consequences of the former thing they've done.

So 4): Somebody Does Something, but the Consequences lead them to Do Something Else (willingly or unwillingly) and there are Consequences to that ... and so forth.

But readers are not likely to stick with the story for long if there is not some compelling reason for our Somebody to act, as well as obstacles along the way.

So: 5) Somebody finds out that they must Take Action (usually a specific action), otherwise Something Most Undesirable (at least for them) will happen, or (alternatively) Something Greatly Desired will not happen. But as they take on that Challenge, Circumstances and/or their Task become worse, harder, or more dangerous (or all three) forcing them to Do Things they had not expected or had hoped not to do.

Or: 6) Something Happens, compelling Somebody to Take Action (the compulsion may be pressure from without, or it might be something inward like a lust for revenge), and as they take on that Challenge circumstances become worse, harder, more dangerous ... and so forth as above.

Note that with any of these plots good things might happen now and again to offer some respite or help your characters along the way, but most of the time it will be dealing with obstacles or sticky consequences. The more urgent and irresistible the circumstances surrounding the main characters, the more likely the story is to grip the readers.

Any one of these is all the story structure you need to be getting started with. Everything else can develop as you work on your story outline or just start writing. So the answer to your ??? is: a character that you really want to write about + a goal or challenge that sparks your imagination + consequences. But you might not figure out the consequences until you start writing. If that is the case, don't worry about it. Sometimes that is the best way.

Almost every novel, no matter how long and complex, can be described in a single sentence: Frodo the Hobbit and a fellowship representing the free peoples of Middle Earth set out on a perilous journey to destroy the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord, Sauron; however, members of the fellowship are lost or separated, so that each must fight Sauron in his own way. If you can't sum up what you have already in a similar fashion then you don't have a story yet. On the other hand, if you try this you might discover that you have a plot after all, which emerges in the writing of the sentence.


This thread might also be of use to you: http://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/5228/
 

Toby Frost

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Good post Teresa.

Just one very small and obvious point: the vast majority of the text in the vast majority of books is there to tell you what is happening at that point in the story. Man goes into room, woman is sitting behind desk, man gives woman letter and says "I quit". I think that's why I'm wary of those people who talk about the magic of storytelling and so on. You line the ideas up into a form that you want to follow, and then you describe what happens in the story so that it reaches the checkpoints you have in your mind. The magic, if there is any, comes in the way that the events are described. But it's still describing what happened. It's a narration of events following a structure. That's essentially it.
 

Phyrebrat

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Nearly everything I would have said has been offered here and would particularly recommend TJ, TF and TE's posts.

As a voice of dissent about Save the Cat (shock, horror!) I picked up the book after seeing it recommended on here and it didn't work for me. When I read it, I found it far too prescriptive for novel writers but is incredible for screenwriting. And the early chapters about knowing your tag line/theme/pitch wer quite useful but... well... I've had far better advice from listening to podcasts such as 'Writing Excuses' and 'Helping Writers Become Authors'.

The one thing I would add to what has been said is that many people have a fabulous concept or story that they wish to write and it is what gets them writing. But they fuss and fiddle with it, trying to make it The Perfect Novel and...well, your first novel is highly unlikely to be your best seller is it...

If the world you created is so important to you, you could consider writing a series of connected or non-connected stories set in that universe. As you don't have a story yet, this may represent a good exercise to your writing. I guess what I'm saying is let your first stories be your learning curve, so don't get hung up on producing your dream first time around.

I know I always bang on about this (and apologise to regulars), but I would recommend participating in the 75 Word and quarterly 300 Word challenges here. This site offers one of the most invested communities for writers, expertise on a variety of subjects, and the monthly challenge will really, really, hone your writing skills if you pay attention to others' style and tricks - and comments! Plus you get instant feedback in the form of votes and shortlists - or lack thereof - so it is an amazing resource for objective measuring.

pH
 

psychotick

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Hi,

Like everyone else best advice I can give is just write.

Look if you're looking for methods to write / plan etc, don't. Just write. And if you're worried that it'll be crap. Don't be. It may well be crap, it doesn't matter. Nothing will make you a better writer or get your work closer to completion than actually writing. As for all the guide books people mention, the best guide book you can have is the one you're writing. It will teach you more than any other you can read.

And as for the rest, worrying about what the best way to go about it is - there isn't one. There are as many ways to write a book as there are writers. What works for some doesn't work for others.

My way of writing is as a pantster. I have no plot at all when I start. No plan. No character bio's or world builds. I just start with a scene and move from there. So try that. Think of one scene that captures you. Doesn't matter what it is. In "Thief" the first book I pubbed, it was an image of a jewel thief hanging upside down from a high wire strung between buildings, making his way across the span when an angel appeared. And from then I simply expanded by asking questions. Who was the thief? What was he stealing? Why? Why was an angel floating around up there with him? Each question added to the picture.

(Actually to be fair there were two scenes but the book started out as two books which at some point became one. But that's another story.)

Cheers, Greg.
 

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