Except for some select experimental works, every piece of fiction requires a story, or plot. The complexity of this plot is determined by both the writer and the genre. For example, a thriller is always plot-driven, requiring an intricate story with twists and unexpected complications, while a literary novel can center on a much more straightforward plot that is subservient to character, language, and theme. No matter the genre, however, the story is what draws the reader into the writer’s fictional world. I’ve provided a few guidelines to help you succeed with your story.
littleawkwardwriter asked you:Do you have any tips for writing development? I have trouble putting in “filler” I just want to jump straight to the action! And then I don’t provide a clear enough background on the characters and it just gets messy.
Here’s why I don’t like the word “filler”: it’s filler.
Okay, here, let me explain. The term “filler” has this connotation of “unnecessary fluff”, or any scene that’s added in just for the sake of padding your important events. If you’re looking to add more filler, then you’re probably putting too much emphasis on the story arc over the character arcs.
Largely, most of the time, usually, a scene should do one of two things: develop the plot arc or develop a character arc.
- Plot Arc: the inciting incident, rising action, climax, and denouement of the story.
- Character Arc: the inciting incident, rising action, climax, and denouement of the character. More than one of these can exist in a story.
Character arcs happen within the story, which means your characters are developing at an arc separate from the plot. When an event takes place, it will ripple through the plot, but it will also ripple separately through your character(s).
This means that, while your story develops, your characters do, too.
In a sense, action is simply when stuff happens, which means development is action, and action should (largely, most of the time, usually) be happening without pause throughout your entire story. This is also why “aftermath” scenes should often be cut, because nothing furthers development in aftermath scenes (largely, most of the time, usually). Stephen King recommends you trim all the unnecessary fat of your story, which constitutes all unnecessary fluff, or anything that has zero development.
If you’re struggling with putting more of your characters in the story and making it interesting, think about these things:
- How is your story reflecting in your characters? Characters are reflections of real people, and when events happen, we tend to take them in and orient ourselves around what happened. That event becomes a part of us, influences the decisions we make, and changes us. How are the events of your story showing in your characters?
- Conversely, how are your characters reflecting the story? How are your characters’ decisions impacting what happens? How are they driving the plot? Think about how active their role is in regards to what’s happening, or how passive.
- What is your character like in the beginning, and how do they change by the end? How do they evolve and what triggers it throughout the story? How are you showing this?
- What characters stick with you and why? What are the most memorable characters in all of fiction for you? What makes them memorable?
Your plot is important, but action isn’t only when people are crossing swords or showing up for the court hearing or standing up in front of ten-thousand pairs of eyes. It’s what happens in-between, the stuff that brings us to these moments, the build or escalation, that only the characters can show us.
For more stuff on how to fatten your story, look at bulking up that word count and when a plot isn’t strong enough to make a whole story.
Hope that helps! Good luck!
As in a game, it is crucial we know what is to be gained or lost in the battle or during the journey. Literally, what is at stake? Life? Love? Money? A precious plot of land? The loyalty of an old friend? A wish? A curse? The whole world? Galaxy? Universe? All of time itself trapped in a magic snowglobe held in in the paws of a jaunty hedgehog? Further, what are the conditions of victory? What will mean loss? These don’t need to be perfectly clear (nor must they be correct), but both reader and character should be able to guess at them, even if the guess is wrong.
Not long ago, I pulled out a piece of writing I’d started over a year ago that I’d abandoned shortly after realizing it just didn’t work. I thought maybe taking another look at it, so long after I’d actually written it, would help me see it in a different light.
I started to read and quickly realized what the problem was. I didn’t start the story in the right place.
Plot develops out of conflict, either external, such as a person or an event that precipitates a series of actions the main character undertakes, or internal, driven by the protagonist’s wants and/or needs. How that character, and others, makes choices and otherwise responds to stimuli determines the course of events.
The traditional structure of a plot is linear, in which the protagonist’s actions are charted in a more or less straight line, although many stories shift from that person’s point of view to that of one or more other characters as the tale progresses. Others involve one or more flashbacks, introducing new elements to the overarching plot.
In one sense, there are innumerable stories; looking at storytelling another way, various analysts have discovered variable finite numbers of basic plots (such as the quest, which is ubiquitous in all genres), though these types have a seemingly infinite number of variations, as a visit to any large bookstore or library will attest. But stories almost invariably follow a simple pattern, in which rising action propels the protagonist through a series of complications that result in a climax, followed by the falling action of the resolution.
At this point, the character, or at least the character’s circumstances, have changed, though most readers (and writers) find it most satisfying if the character has experienced significant growth or change and has accomplished a palpable goal, such as a physical journey that has allowed the character to achieve some reward, or an intangible goal that still satisfies the reader’s desire for the protagonist to undergo a metamorphosis of some kind.
Writer Annie Lamott created a helpful mnemonic catechism, ABCDE, to help writers remember the basics. Here are the elements:
Seriously, click the link and go read the article. Seriously.
Also, check out our post on the Hero’s Journey and monomyth!
Do it for a reason! Progress your plot, make people cry, show loss of innocence ect.
I don’t really like the ‘Not much is happening here, DIE’ thing.
I answered an ask yesterday about killing characters [HERE]
The general consensus is: make the death matter.
No redshirts please!
When people are looking for plot ideas or new events to sprinkle into their roleplays, the first place I am going to point them is to this article.
Published first in a french book of the same title in the 19th century, this list has been of a massive aid to writers ever since. Written by french writer Georges Polti, it was meant to categorize every possible situation which might occur in anything from a poem to a play. The list came about after extensive studies of Greek texts, french literature, as well as non-french literature. Polti claimed to continue the work of Carlo Gozzi, who had also, himself, found these thirty-six situations.
Required Elements : a Persecutor; a Suppliant; a Power in authority whose decision is doubtful
The Persecutor accuses the Suppliant of wrongdoing, and the Power makes a judgement against the Suppliant.
Required Elements : an Unfortunate; a Threatener; a Rescuer
The Unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the Threatener is to carry out justice, but the Rescuer saves the Unfortunate.
Required Elements : a Criminal; an Avenger
The Criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the Avenger seeks justice by punishing the Criminal.
4. Vengeance Taken for Kin upon Kin
Required Elements : Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both
Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both.
Required Elements : Punishment; a Fugitive
The Fugitive flees Punishment for a misunderstood conflict.
Required Elements : a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger
The Power falls from their place after being defeated by the Victorious Enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the Messenger
7. Falling Prey to Cruelty/Misfortune
Required Elements : an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune
The Unfortunate suffers from Misfortune and/or at the hands of the Master
Required Elements : a Tyrant; a Conspirator
The Tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the Conspirator.
9. Daring Enterprise
Required Elements : a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary
The Bold Leader takes the Object from the Adversary by overpowering the Adversary
Required Elements : an Abductor; the Abducted; a Guardian
The Abductor takes the Abducted from the Guardian.
11. The Enigma
Required Elements : a Problem; an Interrogator; a Seeker
The Interrogator poses a Problem to the Seeker and gives a Seeker better ability to reach the Seeker’s goals.
Required Elements : [a Solicitor & an Adversary who is refusing] or [an Arbitrator & Opposing Parties] + an Object
[The Solicitor is at odds with the Adversary who refuses to give the Solicitor the Object in the possession of the Adversary] or [The Arbitrator decides who gets the Object desired by Opposing Parties]
13. Enmity of Kin
Required Elements : a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hatred or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together
14. Rivalry of Kin
Required Elements : the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman
15. Murderous Adultery
Required Elements : two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse
Two Adulterers conspire to killed the Betrayed Spouse
Required Elements : a Madman; a Victim
The Madman goes insane and wrongs the Victim
17. Fatal Imprudence
Required Elements : the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim
18. Involuntary Crimes of Love
Required Elements : a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
The Revealer betrays the trust of either the Lover or the Beloved
19. Slaying of Kin Unrecognized
Required Elements : the Slayer; and Unrecognized Victim
The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim
20. Self-sacrifice for an Ideal
Required Elements : a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
The Hero sacrifices the Person or Thing for their Ideal, which is then taken by the Creditor
21. Self-sacrifice for Kin
Required Elements : a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor
22. All Sacrificed for Passion
Required Elements : a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.
23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
Required Elements : a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for their Sacrifice
The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice
24. Rivalry of Superior vs. Inferior
Required Elements : a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry
Required Elements : two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.
26. Crimes of Love
Required Elements : a Lover; the Beloved
A Lover and the Beloved enter a conflict.
27. Discovery of the Dishonour of a loved one
Required Elements : a Discoverer; the Guilty One
The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.
28. Obstacles to Love
Required Elements : two Lovers; an Obstacle
Two Lovers face an Obstacle together.
29. An Enemy Loved
Required Elements : a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.
Required Elements : an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary.
31. Conflict with a God
Required Elements : a Mortal; an Immortal
The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.
32. Mistaken Jealousy
Required Elements : a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.
33. Erroneous Judgement
Required Elements : a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and passes judgement against the Victim of the Mistake, when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.
Required Elements : a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.
35. Recovery of a Lost One
Required Elements : a Seeker; the One Found
The Seeker finds the One Found.
36. Loss of Loved On
Required Elements : a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner
The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman Spectator.
This is awesome!
Here’s another great resource for Georges Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations, including the elements, the variants, and a dicussion of each situation: