I've got a mess. Please give me advice on how to straighten it out.

Bramandin

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I'm probably misusing the word slush pile: I'm talking about stuff that I wrote without direction that may or may not be put back in.

I'll try to be brief, but it's convoluted.

I'm still trying to find the main plot, but I have a feeling that it will probably be a lot like what I remember from The Circle Opens where four young magic people are each dealing with their own problems, except my story will have everyone's problems potentially happening at once or at least overlapping.

It's fanfiction, but I want to get good enough to do a real book someday. It's set in Legacy of Kain; there are nine Pillars of magic and Guardians tied to each one. Guardians are chosen from birth, but in my story, they were restored from a broken state by adults with Balance being the only one chosen from birth... but then they immediately killed the Time Guardian for reasons so the new one was also chosen from birth. When the Time Guardian was nearing adulthood, they removed four of the Restorers because they weren't good Guardians but they were all vampires and able to be resurrected afterwards. The remaining Restorers are mortal except for one vampire that's been nearly comatose for the entire story.

There are three mortal races and vampires. Humans, a race that might as well be winged elves, and a sci-fi race with a caste system.

This part of the story is set when the four new Guardians are reaching adulthood and connecting to their Pillars so they have full access to their powers. They didn't live together as children, but they spent a lot of time together and with the rest of the Guardians.

Sarah: Born on our planet, vampire, restorer of the Mind Pillar. She's either the cause of or part of the solution to a lot of the problems in the story, but not always the focus or even on-screen. She hasn't met the young Guardians until recently because she was deemed a bad influence.

Archimedes: Time Guardian, main mentor to the young Guardians, still adjusting to being turned into a vampire. Slush pile: A conversation about food that reveals that both he and Sarah have some food hang-ups despite being unable to eat.

Jahangir: Conflict Guardian, born into the warrior-caste and raised as a soldier. He's the only one who has assumed his Guardianship so far and he doesn't know what to do with himself. Has a desire to form his own army but understands that everyone else wants things to be peaceful. Slush pile: A warrior-caste girl from his training-group lost her confidence after intruding in Sarah's territory and Sarah screwed it up worse while trying to help. The girl is going to be branded a coward and if she shows up later, it's going to be in service to a Guardian's family member. I could probably reduce her story to someone briefly telling someone else what happened to her.

Birney: Nature Guardian, human. The other young Guardians lived with their families, but he was fostered and visited his father at least monthly. He's the older son of a hereditary baron, but is okay with his younger brother inheriting it. He's currently mad at Sarah because he thinks she wanted to mentally break his father and his brother isn't old enough to handle his father's responsibilities. Slush pile: It's discovered that his father was somewhat besotted with Sarah, but she intentionally provokes him into hating her.

Grigori: Death Guardian, winged elf, their race created the Pillars. Slush pile: Ace but his race views having children as an obligation to prevent later inbreeding depression. His parents are elementalists and view necromancy as unclean magic, so his bigger hangup about that obligation is that no woman would want to bear his children. Also he insisted on dropping out of school but if he isn't distracted until he assumes his Guardianship, he'll get depressed. While being privately tutored alongside the sci-fi girl, he gets very interested in programming. He also accidentally kills a police officer, but he's not in legal trouble. Not yet written down: Time-travel shenanigans about how a necromantic mentor was brought from the past for him, but he arrived too early and died before they could meet. But he has some sort of phylactery so Grigori will meet his ghost.

Tanyanika: Mind Guardian, science-caste. No longer bitter about how she was the only young Guardian who didn't get mentored by the restorer of her Pillar. Because the Pillars were designed by the elflike race and they usually have some telepathic ability, she'll have trouble blocking the thoughts of others at first. Sarah is trying to use her own telepathic powers to pre-train Tanyanika but it's not going well. Even Grigori isn't much help because it's like learning how to walk. Tanyanika thinks that Sarah is amoral and probably crazy even for an alien. Loves that Sarah has a DVD player. She's stubborn, doesn't believe in keeping secrets from her peers, and thinks that science-caste morals are the best. Another Guardian is also science-caste and she spent years pestering him to tell her more about Sarah. Tanyanika also wants to date his son but knows it's not a good idea.
 
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alexvss

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I'm probably misusing the word slush pile: I'm talking about stuff that I wrote without direction that may or may not be put back in.
Yeah you're misusing it. Slush pile are the unsolicited stories/query letters that editors receive. What you have there are drafts. Rough worldbuilding drafts and character sheets, and these are not the plot. You need to figure out the plot by yourself, otherwise you'd be basically asking for other people to write your story for you.

Maybe you want to give each character a POV in alternate chapters like in A Song of Ice and Fire. Or maybe write standalone short-stories in a collection, and some characters will appear in another character's stories.
 

Wayne Mack

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Given that there are some identified characters, I suggest identifying an event that causes them to join together to address it, or an event that puts groups in opposition to each other.
 

Bramandin

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You need to figure out the plot by yourself, otherwise you'd be basically asking for other people to write your story for you.

Well yeah. Someone else handing me a plot for this would only yield slightly better results than using bibliomancy or finding a generator.

I just read this advice to someone else and it fits because I've got something half of the length of the Harry Potter series and if there was a plot to begin with, I lost it pretty early on.

Try starting without a formal plan and see where it goes. For those pantsers among us this is the creative process. Writing and plotting run together, the plot elements are forming as we write. Conceiving a plot and writing the detail appear in parrallel rather than serially.


Maybe you want to give each character a POV in alternate chapters like in A Song of Ice and Fire. Or maybe write standalone short-stories in a collection, and some characters will appear in another character's stories.

I think I've been doing a weird mixture of both. one part was mostly conversations between a person in a cage and the people who came to him, but there were also scenes that happened to other people outside of that cage. For this part, I think I decided last fall to do more of a short story format, but it doesn't seem to be coming.
 

Astro Pen

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Tanyanika
Tanganyika
Your character scans an awful lot like the former East African state.
Was that design or coincidence?
 

Bramandin

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Tanyanika
Tanganyika
Your character scans an awful lot like the former East African state.
Was that design or coincidence?

I think I was going for Russian with her. Tanya and Anika.

I tend to look at Persian name list first for other names from that race.

Afsaneh, Jahangir, Mavedir, Parvaneh, Fravardin, Cyrexes, Princess Farzaneh... Chixiksi was the first and came from a catperson name generator, I think. Mehriban was from TV tropes and I thought it was some east-African state.
 

Toby Frost

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Ok, so you've got four characters, each with their story. Presumably, the four somehow are interconnected, and come together at some point to deal with a greater threat, or something like that.

So, first, what is each character's story?
And, second, what is the overarching story?

Each answer only needs to be one sentence or so ("Bob is a soldier, whose unit is betrayed and left to die. He steals a spacecraft and returns to take revenge" etc). Once you know what each character is doing, roughly, you can work towards that.
 

Bramandin

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Given that there are some identified characters, I suggest identifying an event that causes them to join together to address it, or an event that puts groups in opposition to each other.

That's good advice that doesn't really work for me, sorry.

They're part of a cadre of sorcerers and even though they're not connected enough to their source to use most of the magic, they've known each other for a decade. As for being in opposition, I don't want to introduce anything major. The only real bad guy in the story has been on the ropes since before they were born and is not really their problem. Everyone else can't be much of a threat because of mutually assured destruction... except for the humans who've barely recovered from being enslaved by the vampires.
 

Bramandin

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Ok, so you've got four characters, each with their story. Presumably, the four somehow are interconnected, and come together at some point to deal with a greater threat, or something like that.

So, first, what is each character's story?
And, second, what is the overarching story?

Each answer only needs to be one sentence or so ("Bob is a soldier, whose unit is betrayed and left to die. He steals a spacecraft and returns to take revenge" etc). Once you know what each character is doing, roughly, you can work towards that.

I'll try this:

The four characters are part of a cadre of sorcerers and have known each other since childhood.

Jahangir is the Conflict Guardian and doesn't know what to do with himself because peace is too important for him to be a paladin like his predecessors.

Birney is the Nature Guardian and has daddy issues. He's going to create his own oasis, possibly on another continent, and spend most of his time just existing.

Grigori is the Death Guardian and is not okay with it. He'll come to terms with it later, but he spends his free time programming.

Tanyanika is the Mind Guardian and will have trouble adjusting at first. She will try to be a therapist like her predecessor despite being told that she needs to decide her own path, but then she discovers that her path is to research improvements to how other therapists do things and train them.

I guess the overarching story is that minor things keep interrupting their routine. (Stuff like Sarah's habitual kidnapping causes an international incident this time.) Probably not in this part, but eventually- They're going to realize that killing a thing that was posing as a god is going to screw up the engine of reincarnation, but Grigori can only help the guy who did it to fix it.
 

The Judge

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It looks like you've created a lot of extensive character biographies, with possible multiple short(er) stories embedded in them. To me, your options are:
  1. Write up each of the short stories separately. If you get to, say, 50k words for each one, then you could publish them as individual novellas and create a literary equivalent of a TV series like the original Star Trek where things happen with a beginning, middle and end in each one, but there is little or no character growth and the novellas can be read in any order, since there is no overarching character arc or plot.
  2. Start afresh. Instead of trying to impose a plot on a lot of writing that's going nowhere, just take one of the characters, forget all the detailed stuff you've written to date, and create a new story about him/her, perhaps bringing in one or two of the others, but as minor players. As I mentioned before, it appears that you're not a pantser, at least not yet, since your internal director, who shapes the plot as the story is written, isn't strong enough. So, create an outline of a plot in advance -- it doesn't need to be detailed, just have an idea for an ending, and a few incidents on the way -- and write it.
The thing to remember is that stories are created from conflict. Have someone want something, and put problems in the way -- she wants to have a quiet life, but... or she wants to be the best sorcerer ever, but... Create a character arc. Create situations where the character must achieve something, but fails on the first attempt.

I don't usually suggest that people read How-To books, but I think in your case it might be an idea if you get hold of one or two, so that you can read up on theory to help you.
 

Bramandin

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It looks like you've created a lot of extensive character biographies, with possible multiple short(er) stories embedded in them. To me, your options are:
  1. Write up each of the short stories separately. If you get to, say, 50k words for each one, then you could publish them as individual novellas and create a literary equivalent of a TV series like the original Star Trek where things happen with a beginning, middle and end in each one, but there is little or no character growth and the novellas can be read in any order, since there is no overarching character arc or plot.
  2. Start afresh. Instead of trying to impose a plot on a lot of writing that's going nowhere, just take one of the characters, forget all the detailed stuff you've written to date, and create a new story about him/her, perhaps bringing in one or two of the others, but as minor players. As I mentioned before, it appears that you're not a pantser, at least not yet, since your internal director, who shapes the plot as the story is written, isn't strong enough. So, create an outline of a plot in advance -- it doesn't need to be detailed, just have an idea for an ending, and a few incidents on the way -- and write it.
The thing to remember is that stories are created from conflict. Have someone want something, and put problems in the way -- she wants to have a quiet life, but... or she wants to be the best sorcerer ever, but... Create a character arc. Create situations where the character must achieve something, but fails on the first attempt.

I don't usually suggest that people read How-To books, but I think in your case it might be an idea if you get hold of one or two, so that you can read up on theory to help you.

I would have to 50-shades it to publish it. As for 50k, I only did that once so far and I feel like it's a bit long. The entire series is ten parts so far with a wordcount of 240,542, though some are just 4k stories.

However, making it more episodic might be an idea if I could allow character growth and not have to hit the reset. It seems to me that in Star Trek DS9 they started allowing the characters to evolve and be affected, like Nog suffering from phantom limb.

It would be sad to abandon my fanfiction at this stage, but perhaps it is getting too unweildy. I've got some premises that might be fun to drop into a new setting. It might be especially entertaining to use the characters that would be important in a more realistic setting, but their lives are small against a backdrop of godlike sorcerers and people who pick fights with gods.

Perhaps my whole problem is not the lack of plot, but that the conflict is too small. I hate books where nothing fantastic happens. "No Dragons to Slay" was very disappointing because it's just about a kid with cancer.

Let's see, I was just re-reading one part and I could treat one character's fear of a robot uprising as foreshadowing; I had decided that while one race has technology beyond ours, they're way behind on AI, but I could easily change that. The Mind Guardian is aware that her predecessor caused an apocalyptic event, but she's convinced that he's an idiot and isn't that hung up on how she has the same capability. I really don't want to have a Guardian cause a major conflict, but maybe Conflict does embrace being a paladin and decides to conquer the Hinterlands back from the humans because it used to belong to the sci-fi race. No, the others would stop him even if it means killing him.

Okay, I'm going to do two things... I'm going to start messing with a conflict generator and start finding the conflict in other books. And I'm going to try writing the Death Guardian who is not okay with his birthright trying to not be The Necromancer. It might be hilarious for the other Guardians to be pressuring him to deal with a zombie outbreak and he's more concerned with programming. Three things: I think I might have a how-to book for writers from the 90's around here somewhere.
 

Toby Frost

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The four characters are part of a cadre of sorcerers and have known each other since childhood.

Okay, but these are descriptions of the problems facing the characters, not what they actually do in the story. I'm thinking of something like this:

"Bob, a mercenary, needs money, so he agrees to kidnap Kate, a sorcerer. Bob carries out the mission, but he realises that his employer is actually a demon, so he and Kate go on the run together, gather their allies, come back and banish the demon."

That's basically Bob's whole plotline in a couple of sentences and gives you an idea of the arc of his story. How exactly he does all that is up for debate, but if you stick to that basic idea, you've got a plot made for you. You could add or leave out other complications (Kate's vengeful allies, Bob's unreliable friends, romance, chase scenes etc) but you've got the backbone of a story there. (Incidentally, a basic plot doesn't have to be amazingly original to work.)

I think that when you've got good characters there's sometimes a temptation just to let them do stuff without that narrative drive. My feeling is that they need to be pushing forward with the plot for most of the time, one way or another.
 

Bramandin

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Okay, but these are descriptions of the problems facing the characters, not what they actually do in the story. I'm thinking of something like this:

"Bob, a mercenary, needs money, so he agrees to kidnap Kate, a sorcerer. Bob carries out the mission, but he realises that his employer is actually a demon, so he and Kate go on the run together, gather their allies, come back and banish the demon."

That's basically Bob's whole plotline in a couple of sentences and gives you an idea of the arc of his story. How exactly he does all that is up for debate, but if you stick to that basic idea, you've got a plot made for you. You could add or leave out other complications (Kate's vengeful allies, Bob's unreliable friends, romance, chase scenes etc) but you've got the backbone of a story there. (Incidentally, a basic plot doesn't have to be amazingly original to work.)

I think that when you've got good characters there's sometimes a temptation just to let them do stuff without that narrative drive. My feeling is that they need to be pushing forward with the plot for most of the time, one way or another.

So they need a bit more self-agency? Deciding to do something instead of following "villains act, heroes react"? Instead of "Harry Potter has no faith in adults" I need something more like "Harry Potter decides to rush in himself because he has no faith in adults."

Is this better?

Jahangir: Everyone is the hero of his own story, but not everyone has an interesting one. He decides to ask for Sarah's help with his boot-camp buddy, but other than that his background left him ill-equipped to be the master of his own destiny. Perhaps it is his buddy that is the hero who helps him come to that.

Birney: He could decide that meddling in the affairs of normal people is not part of his obligation, just natural things like the weather and animals. This could cause a complication because he's the only human currently in the Circle and he's good at political games because of what his father taught him.

Grigori: His decision could be whether to embrace being The Necromancer or refuse to use his sorcery.

Tanyanika: She decides to try to follow in her predecessor's footsteps at first, then she relents and finds a better path.
 

Toby Frost

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Yes, I think that's a lot better if you're thinking about it in the same way as me (I'm sure there are other ways to look at this, though).

The other thing I'd say is that even when you've got an ongoing situation that never really changes*, the plot of each story/episode/bit needs to have a clear start and finish. Say you've got a kingdom that's always under threat from goblins. Story 1 might be about the time the goblins dig a tunnel under the castle. The story ends when the goblins either succeed in their plan or their plan is stopped. Story 2 (maybe with the same characters) would be about the time a merchant went missing, and it turned out the goblins had kidnapped him, etc.

So the tunnel story might start when the goblins decide to dig a tunnel (or maybe when the soldiers suspect that something's going on, depending on who the story is focussing on) and would end when the tunnel is blocked off, or when the goblins rush out and either storm the castle or fail to. Once you've got a clear beginning and end - ie you know what has to happen for the story to end - you can add in extra twists and events as required.


*Often in a setup where the characters have to keep turning up, like a school or workplace, or another case for the same expert detective.
 

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