Constructing a Cohesive (Fantasy) Story

Discussion in 'Author Discussions' started by Galooza, Jul 25, 2020.

  1. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    A lot of this is inspired from various sources, particularly Brandon Sanderson's three fantasy laws, and a Simon Sinek quote, except in writing terms. Finally, I've also patterned it around how I want to write a fantasy story at some point.

    Start With an Idea

    Simon Sinek said it best: "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." Do you have a reason for writing a story other than you're bored? That won't excite anyone. But, where to start? I say don't start compiling ideas, but start with a theme.

    1) Pick what really resonates with you. I was in ROTC in high school, and one time we were assigned to give a three minute speech. For our topic, we had to pick three from which our teacher would select. Well, red-eyed tree frogs happened to be my favorite animal and I had an idea of how I could turn their history and care instructions into a speech. Okay, I knew what I wanted, but would it get picked?

    2) Stack things in your favor. I coincidentally had an idea for a plan on how I could better my odds that my topic would get picked. First, I wrote the vaguest topic that came to mind, music. Next, I chose something slightly more specific but still very general, World War 2. Perhaps you don't know what you want right out of the gate like I did. Well, there's a world-sized bargain bin of mundane ideas like these to make use of. Pick from mundane ideas, are you crazy? Crazy enough to pick from, no. Crazy enough to create from, yes.

    3) Make something creative and specific. A lot of stories never really get terribly interesting because they don't have a theme that ties everything together or what is there is too vague and mainstream to be interesting. Magic? Meh. Technology? Okay. Mixing the two into something not seen yet? YES! Of the three topics I wrote: Music, World War 2, & Red-eyed tree frogs, what sounds the most interesting? Because it was something specific and mostly unheard of in high school, I got my topic.

    Turn that Idea into a Web of Cohesion

    The entire premise of this is to create cohesion. To me, that's what separates a random set of events from an actual story. And now that you've created a unique idea you're excited to write about, you tie everything to that idea. Potential for dynamic characters you can relate to and a deep and intricately built world goes through the roof. And if you're writing a power fantasy, first and foremost, tie that idea to your power system, then to your world. The popular thing with breakthroughs in cultivation are to make them happen to win fights or just happen as they happen. While not bad per se, this is uninspired. Tie your plot to new realm breakthroughs by having them change the world in ways that chain new events. That will in turn give the stronger cultivators an actual reason for showing up.

    Power Systems: Realism Over Wonder

    On the note of cultivators and powers, I'm going to change Simon's quote a bit. It's not how many spells a system has that makes it interesting, it's what they can do. Is a magic system with a million spells all that interesting if you see a handful of them? No. So focus on that handful and ask how they might affect the world and people around them, then follow the rabbit hole as far as it goes.

    Characters

    Do we even need to repeat the sentence? Yes, that way you'll apply it to every little thing. It's not what your characters do, it's why they do it. However, that only explains someone on the inside, but what about outside? Certainly you want to give your character looks, but do their looks have a reason? Even something as basic as looks can give further depth to a character if you don't overlook it.

    Layers of Interest

    Ogres are like onions, and also like people & ideas. They have layers. When you stop and ask what makes someone weak rather than strong, things get interesting. When you stop and ask what a magic system can't do rather than what it can, things get interesting. When you ask if your original idea has made its way full circle into every aspect of the story, things get interesting.

    A Good Stock

    When you've got your theme, it's time to build a very basic outline. Note that very basic is as far you're meant to go now. In order to know the end from the beginning, it's important to decide a final scene early on. It doesn't have to be permanent, likely very little will be when writing time comes. Now, start asking what if questions to connect everything. Think through a few very basic outlines, then set the story aside and do something else to take your complete focus off of it. So long as you've thought through possibilities, the mind will naturally filter through things to give inspiration for a natural sequence of events. Like making a stock, ideas need time to simmer.

    Embrace The Grind

    Now's where you start writing and filling in the details, it's a simple fact you can't plan it all. Creating anything from scratch is a hard grind, there's no way around it. If at any point you find yourself stuck, go back to asking the what ifs and set the story aside. That's not to say just leave it, but get your mind prepped so it'll help when you do take a break. It's all too easy to have a crash and fall out when taking an unexpected hit, like facing a very daunting grind. However, if you prepare so as to embrace the hit, it can result in an even more desirable outcome. Back at the beginning I talked about making a theme you'd be excited to write about. This is why. Excitement to write about a story with a theme you believe in can create a chemical reaction that'll come through to a reader.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2021
  2. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Shameless bump. Wanted to turn this old idea into a collection of thoughts, mainly to help myself learn, as well as share with anyone else who might be interested. I'll keep updating over time so long as new thoughts come in.
     
  3. MidstNost

    MidstNost 【 Jin Mori's Banana 】

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    Start with an idea, or better yet, steal an idea and make it your own. I learned this late though because I was once too focused on making something unique and original when really there's nothing that's *truly* new and original in this world. And sometimes the best ideas are made when you do something with other's ideas and turn it into something special. Good artists copy and great artists steal.

    I always loved Jim Jarmusch's quote: "Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, streets, signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal, from that- speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work(and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it, if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said, “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take things to.”
     
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  4. Feng Tian

    Feng Tian Well-Known Member

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    1: Take exponential power scaling and shoot it in the head
    2: Let the big 3 take a skydive from the top floor of your creativity (space, time and fate are plot breaking fuckery until you are experienced to handle them)
    3: Look at your characters, pick the interesting ones, ditch the rest, give them something to oppose
    4: Steal all the powers your characters have in the creative phase, give them back as needed
    5: Its the economy stupid
    6: Reaction follows an action, which itself is a reaction
    7: You can create infinite complexity from very few rules
     
  5. Darius Drake

    Darius Drake A poster of verbose posts

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    2's tricky, and worded wrong. Allowing character's to directly manipulate Space, Time and Fate will break plots so very easily. However, Space and Time can be touched even early on if used as environmental hazards, and most people basically assume that Fate will be in the MC's favour, so you just need to avoid people from directly handling them. Specifically, Space can be touched even by beginners with TARDIS Environments (in other words, places that are bigger on the inside), and MAYBE short-range teleports. Time may be able to be utilised relatively simply with Hyperbolic Time Chamber's giving extra time or with Rip Van Winkle Style-Space stealing time away. Fate... should only be touched upon through immutable existences, regardless of how "experienced" you are, though. Sure, readers are expecting for Fate and Luck to fall to the MC's favour, but directly giving anyone the ability to manipulate it is grounds for disaster.

    Basically, I'd reword 2 to "Space and Time are Environmental Effects, allowing people to touch them risks plot destruction. And leave Fate alone, you're already guiding it to benefit your MC".
     
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  6. Feng Tian

    Feng Tian Well-Known Member

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    My wording was indeed inprecise. I meant characters, yes.
     
  7. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    There's a lot to like in your post. I'll start with this one: this is the one that kills a lot of isekai novels. They tend to come out of the gate strong with a couple of innovative ideas. But then they die just as quickly. Why? It's because the author expended all his creative juices coming up with game stats, names for his power system, and all of the waifus so he didn't have a chance to figure out where the story was supposed to go. This isn't necessarily a death sentence if other things about the story are good, like the themes, or the quality of the prose, or the depth of the characters, but that's not how these isekai novels roll.

    That's a very good point. I'd also like to add that even some experienced writers think that the more you define the fictional world and how it works, the more it constricts the author's ability to be creative and to take advantage of working with a fantasy world. The problem is that this idea is just plain wrong. Having to do anything is the same as being stuck with a blank page - it doesn't give the structure for the author to do anything.

    What works better is to come up with strict rules for what can and cannot be done. These rules don't necessarily have to be shared with the audience, but it will ground the story and gets the author closer to the perspective of the characters.
     
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  8. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    That's it, really. I get the sense of wonder wanted from fantasy, and certainly we should try and retain it, but there's no arguing it's superficial interest compared to what's really interesting. I like Mahouka because it's based on physics, but keeps the fantasy element by applying the rules at its discretion. Gotta keep something grounded for people to latch onto, then make it fantastical.
     
  9. Feng Tian

    Feng Tian Well-Known Member

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    Fantasy realism. Its not realistic in the sense that it conforms to our reality, but it works with its own rules. Breaking these rules should basically never happen.

    If Liur can turn any matter into plasma and this plasma into virtually anything (including sentient beings), then where is his hard limit? How complex has something to be in structure so he cannot replicate or create it from scratch? Can he use it on an opponents body? Can he create "living" creatures? How does this power interact with whatever the world has in regards to crafting? Can others replicate these feats, albeit at limited scale and complexity? When creating rules for your world and characters you should ask yourself as many questions.

    In this case: He cannot create living matter, but elementals are fair game. This is due to the second rule of my magic system (complexity and casting time scale in a linear manner). His opponents are sentient creatures capable of controlling their own magic. This means the first law of magic prevents him from simply vaporizing them with the sheer might of mind (A spell is exponentially harder to control the further its point of origin and its aoe are apart. In the same vein of thought his opponent can neutralize his spell with next to no effort since its quite literally zero distance away from themself). He cannot create anything biolocically alive (too complex). It does however allow him to craft the best enchantments possible since these are fixed structures, usually cast in metal or certain crystals. In a similar matter weapons and armour are fair game. Others can imitate these feats to about 90% of his capacity, but cannot create sentience (the truly unique part of this demigod/ sovereign class mage).

    He is one of the most powerful beings in my story and represents one of the power ceilings. And its quite important you do this Q&A on a much larger scale for anything in your setting. Even tiny things like extradimensional storage can absolutely wreck your economy (an aspect often forgotten in settings).
     
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  10. primaryweapon

    primaryweapon Well-Known Member

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    Although I'm not adding much to what is being discussed but definitely setting restrictions, for lack of better terms, is key to most stories. It allows you to evaluate cause and effect on for the plot don't just give unyielding power or concepts to characters or the world, unless that's your goal i.e. saitama, make it make sense and always give a "if there's a will there's way" feel to most if not all ideas in the story.

    In other words exactly what Feng Tian explained with the "In his case" portion in post #9
     
  11. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Added two new sections to the end. Most is obvious, but perhaps some not so much.