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Ed
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« on: November 13, 2005, 10:50:57 AM »

It seems like us writers have to go through stages, from beginner, to intermediate, to, well, the sky's the limit, innit?  Something I've become more aware of, lately, is the common themes/plots that we choose.  None of us set out to write a cliched story, but I'm sure most of us have written one, not knowing it's considered cliche, at some point or other.

I spotted this thread, over at EotW, and found the links useful, so I thought I would share them here, in the hope we can get some discussion going on about it, and other craft issues afro

http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common-horror.shtml

http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml

Thoughts?  Opinions? huh
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« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2005, 12:48:57 PM »

I just ordered a couple of books from Amazon about plots and characters. I can't remember what they're called now, but I will look them up later and let you know. There are not many original ideas are there? It's the way we treat them, I suppose, that makes them different.

Just read that fiction guidelines thing. It doesn't leave us with much does it!
My stories always get the comment that nothing happened. That's the bit I'm trying to address. (And to be able to write anything at all at the moment.)

 
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« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2005, 01:28:18 PM »

In 1921 George Polti published his 36 Dramatic Situations, in which he declares that there are no new plots, merely variations on these themes. Initial revulsion at the notion settles down to a modified acceptance. Luckily it is often not so much the originality of a plot that matters but how you tell the story, bring alive the characters, and keep the reader eager!

The headings of Polti's "situations" are:


1.   Supplication
2.   Deliverance
3.   Vengeance of a crime
4.   Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
5.   Pursuit
6.   Disaster
7.   Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune
8.   Revolt
9.   Daring enterprise
10.   Abduction
11.   The Enigma
12.   Obtaining
13.   Enmity of kinsmen
14.   Rivalry of kinsmen
15.   Murderous adultery
16.   Madness
17.   Fatal imprudence
18.   Involuntary crimes of love
19.   Slaying of a kinsman unrecognised
20.   Self-sacrificing for an ideal
21.   Self-sacrifice for kindred
22.   All sacrificed for a passion
23.   Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
24.   Rivalry of superior and inferior
25.   Adultery
26.   Crimes of love
27.   Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
28.   Obstacles to love
29.   An enemy loved
30.   Ambition
31.   Conflict with a god
32.   Mistaken jealousy
33.   Erroneous judgement
34.   Remorse
35.   Recovery of a lost one
36.   Loss of loved ones

You could say that some are so encompassing that no wonder it is difficult to be inventive.

Geoff
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« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2005, 01:54:31 PM »

Thanks for Polti's list, Geoff. As a devoted fan & struggling writer of flash fiction, I'd summarize these dramatic situations thusly:

PAIN

AGONY

DEFEAT


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« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2005, 04:03:26 PM »

Well, we all know that THE key element in any fiction is a threat.
The threat could manifest itself as stress, conflict, jealosy, etc even in the imagination of the protagonist. The soppiest love stories are best with some threat lurking.

Geoff   - looking over his shoulder

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« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2005, 04:15:59 PM »

I went looking for the first quote and found a few other great ones about writing (link to website below):

A plot is two dogs and one bone. (Robert Newton Peck)

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. (Ernest Hemingway)

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. (Jack London)

The appeal of writing is primarily the investigation of mystery. (Joyce Carol Oates)

http://homepage.mac.com/mseffie/quotes/quotes.html#sectP
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www.sharonbuchbinder.com
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« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2005, 04:31:22 PM »

I just ordered a couple of books from Amazon about plots and characters. I can't remember what they're called now, but I will look them up later and let you know. There are not many original ideas are there? It's the way we treat them, I suppose, that makes them different.

Just read that fiction guidelines thing. It doesn't leave us with much does it!
My stories always get the comment that nothing happened. That's the bit I'm trying to address. (And to be able to write anything at all at the moment.)

 

I think those lists, like most other 'rules', have to be filtered through our own sense of reason and where we want to go with our writing.  A good writer could take one of those 'forbidden' plots and write a damn good story with it.  A plot, like any other part of a story, is just one part of the whole.  The thing that sets one story apart from another is what effect it has on the reader.  Build them a dream world to live in, and they'll be only too pleased to inhabit it.  However, the message seems to be that only the most exceptional of these stories will make the cut anywhere.

I notice quite a few times they mention stories being submitted that describe a world, or a scene, or a character, and leave it at that - basically, not a story, just a slice of life.  I think those can be engaging, but come the end you feel dissatisfied, because you have nothing to get your teeth into.

Backalong, I started writing a 'short' story rolleyes that rambled on for over five thousand words, about a guy that discovered a patch of his land that had been isolated from the rest for possibly hundreds of years, as well as being a microclimate.  It rambled on, and on, and on, without ever showing signs of coming to a meaningful conclusion.  In the end, I ditched it, because I couldn't work out what the point of it was.  It had five or six half decent characters, conflict, both personal and interpersonal, problems that needed solving, a theme - you name it, but it just refused to go anywhere.  

More recently, I've had the same problem again, and I found that mind maps helped me understand what I was trying to say with the connections I was making.  Perhaps it's worth a try, Jan?
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Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]
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« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2005, 05:09:48 PM »

Thanks for the list, Geoff - I've looked for it before, but didn't know who it was by. 

The best of stories probably contain a mix of at least three of those headings, I would guess.  Plus the essentials of well described characters and a vivid setting from them to play out the action in afro

Sharon - I like those quotes.  Hemingway had an astonishing ability to condense words into exactly what he wanted to say, didn't he? grin  I wish I had a better shit detector when I'm trying to edit my own work.

The two dogs and one bone (conflict), investigation of a mystery - both make for good stories.  I think it's because those types of things make us think and feel.
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Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]
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« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2005, 05:25:22 PM »

Interestingly, Hemmingway also said that Education was (or should be) all about teaching kids to be good crap detectors.
He seemed to have a bit of an obsession with sewerage  grin


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« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2005, 05:30:50 PM »

As people are apparently finding lists useful, here are some others, besides Polti, I picked up while doing the playwriting part of my Master's.  Very bad of me - I didn't at the time write down where I got them, but they're pretty much prompts that are in the public domain (proverbs or common sense), so I don't see any harm in quoting them

1. A bad penny always comes back.
2. A bad workman quarrels with his tools.
3. A beggar can never be bankrupt.
4. A blind man cannot judge colours.
5. A bow long bent grows weak.
6. A bully is always a coward.
7. A child may have too much of its mother's blessing.
8. A drowning man will clutch at a straw.
9. A dwarf on a giant's shoulders sees further of the two.
10. A fair exchange is no robbery.
11. A fool and his money are soon parted.
12. A fool may give a wise man counsel.
13. A forced kindness deserves no thanks.
14. A fox is not taken twice in the same snare.
15. A friend is never known until needed.
16. A friend to all is a friend to none.
17. A great fortune is a great slavery.
18. A guilty conscience needs no accuser.
19. A liar is not believed when he speaks the truth.
20. A lawyer never goes to law himself.
21. A lie begets a lie.
22. A lion may be beholden to a mouse.
23. A lion's skin is never cheap.
24. A little body often harbours a good soul.
25. A maid that laughs is half taken.
26. A man can do no more than he can.
27. A man is known by the company he keeps.
28. A man surprised is half beaten.
29. A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.
30. A miss is as good as a mile.
31. A new broom sweeps clean.
32. A nod from a lord is breakfast for a fool.
33. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.
34. A pennyweight of love is worth a pound of law.
35. A pound of care will not pay an ounce of debt.
36. A rolling stone gathers no moss.
37. A runaway monk never praises his convent.
38. A saint abroad and a devil at home.
39. A small leak will sink a great ship.
40. A stick is quickly found to beat a dog with.
41. A stitch in time saves nine.
42. A thief knows a thief as a wolf knows a wolf.
43. A true jest is no jest.
44. A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will.
45. A woman conceals what she knows not.
46. A woman's advice is a poor thing, but he is a fool who does not take it.
47. A word spoken is past recalling.
48. A work ill done must be done twice.
49. Actions speak louder than words.
50. All are good lasses, but whence come the bad wives?

7 BASIC PLOTS.

1.   Man v. (wo)man.
2.   Man v. nature.
3.   Man v. environment.
4.   Man v. machine.
5.   Man v. the supernatural.
6.   Man v. self.
7.   Man v. god.

More plots in summary.

The Child Matures
The Inexplicable Vice Is Revealed as a Virtue
The Mysterious Situation Is Explained
The Puzzling Identity Is Revealed
The Hero Is Freed from his False Belief
A Material Reward is Sought, and a Spiritual One Is Found
Biter — Bit
The Incompetent Hero Proves His Worth
The Impossible Assignment Is Accomplished
The Possible Assignment Is Accomplished
Friends or Lovers Quarrel and Are Reconciled
The Threatened Unity of the Family Is Re-established
The Evil of a Bad Man Asserts Itself
The Good-Bad Hero Comes to a Poignant End
The Virtue of the Tempted Hero Asserts Itself
The Aging Hero Finds Peace or Satisfaction
The Hero Chooses the Wiser Alternative or the Better Person
Girl Gets Boy
Boy Gets Girl
Boy and Girl Get Each Other
Boy Loses Girl
Girl Loses Boy
Boy and Girl Lose Each Other
The Hero Overcomes His One Failing
Happiness Is Relinquished Because of Duty
The Hero’s Doubt About Another Is Dispelled
A Facet of Human Nature Is Revealed
The Hero’s Vital Hope Wanes and Is Revived
The Validity of Magic Is Established
Problem Plots (unusual structures)

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Ed
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« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2005, 05:42:19 PM »

Interestingly, Hemmingway also said that Education was (or should be) all about teaching kids to be good crap detectors.
He seemed to have a bit of an obsession with sewerage  grin


Geoff

 grin  Yeah, he did, didn't he?

I will always remember talking to an old site agent, years ago.  He was in quite a thoughtful mood, just short of his retirement day, and I asked him how he could possibly know every trade and judge when people were doing things right, or doing them wrong and then feeding him porkies.  He said, "You don't have to know everything - all you need is a nose for bullshit."  Quite true in all 'fields' of endeavour, I think grin

Thanks for the lists, Joyce - amazing that somebody actually sat down and took the time to list them all, isn't it? scratch
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« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2005, 06:01:02 PM »

Well, I suppose if any current writer on a struggling day can look at something like this and think, 'Hey, that gives me an idea,' previous generations won't have been that much different.  I was sufficiently impressed at the time with the thought that I might use them that I solemnly wrote them out in the back of my book. 
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« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2005, 10:19:00 AM »

.  I was sufficiently impressed at the time with the thought that I might use them...

... and now you have!   bleh


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« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2005, 04:25:58 PM »

I suppose I could work my way down the whole lot now!  whoah grin
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« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2005, 04:15:02 PM »

I've found these notes on plot...

Short Story Plotting

The Beginning - Five essentials

1 Introduce the main character
2 Hint at the problem
3 set the scene
4 Establish the mood
5 Cast the narrative hook

A good opener should

1 Set the story tone

2 Set the story voice

3 Give us a sense of time and place

4 Foreshadow or mirror the theme, or hint at theme

5 Begin to indicate character or characters (gender helps)

6 Create the reader's "mode of acceptance"

7 Suggest what kind of story, sad, comic etc



Dialogue

The functions of Dialogue

1 To provide information
2 To advance story
3 To Characterise
4 To Convey emotions

Character

Methods of character presentation

1 Direct description
2 Dominant traits
3 Appearance
4 Dialogue
5 Actions- movements and gestures
6 Thoughts and emotions
7 Surroundings


Three laws

1 All stories must tell of a struggle or conflict
2 All conflict must be of vital importance to the characters
3 The consequences of failure must be disastrous

Three Types of Conflict

1 Man against man
2 Man against circumstance, or nature.
3 Man against self

Three Steps to Story ideas

1 A word (opening line or title)
2 A character
3 One of the three basic conflicts

A Plot Skeleton

Situation

In which a character is in conflict with another character, with self, or with circumstances.

Incident One

Something occurs, which increases or intensifies the characters problems, and heightens the tension.

Incident Two

There is a second incident perhaps arising from the first, which makes the characters predicament much worse.

Reaction

The character attempts to overcome the problems.

Frustration

The characters attempts are thwarted by the introduction of yet another complication, 'Which must be entirely different from the first two', and which further intensifies the situation.

Reaction/Resolution

The character again attempts to overcome the problems and either succeeds - in which case the story comes to its conclusion - or is again thwarted, and there are second Reaction and Frustration stages leading to a final Resolution

Scenes

Each individual incident, reaction, frustration, and resolution is a Scene

The purpose of a scene is to

1 Paint a vivid picture
2 Create an air of anticipation (story hook)
3 Have emotional reversal
4 Generate the urge to know what will happen next


Emotional Reversal

The scene should start with the character in one state and end with in a different state. If they start the scene happy they should be sad by the end of the scene. If things start bad , they should build until they finish good.

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