So, about Plot Lines and Plot Threads...

Discussion in 'Author Discussions' started by The Everdistant Utopia, Dec 19, 2018.

  1. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Honorary Maou | Part Time Writer | Crau's

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    Well, I’ve found out this part of the forum and decided to see if it can allow me to come back to NUF slowly after a long time away. I myself, am a piss poor writer, but I want to see if I can at least provide some insight, even if through my fails and pedantic remarks.

    Anyhow, while considering what to post first, I decided to go with something very basic, as I can’t possibly mess up something basic. Let’s talk about plot lines, and more encompassing plot threads.

    A plot line is, basically, a section of the story that serves to progress a conflict, while a plot thread is the composition of various plot lines that generally converge to a central one, which how most stories are structured, save for some few (see more about that below).

    Okay, but that’s pretty standard info. I’m here to try and give some tips on how to structure a plot line, how to integrate in your threads effectively and how this helps in getting the basic outline of your story.

    The structure of a plot line, at its most basic, is composed of a hook, a build-up and a payoff. Starting from the hook, here we have something that I find being… well, sometimes missing and sometimes misused in some of the media I consume. Part of that is because I plow through many bad mangas/novels to find something worth, part is because the isekai genre is riddled with bad use of hooks to start the stories and a sore lack of them to even introduce plot lines later down the line.

    First, let me establish what is the hook of a plot line, and why it is important to begin with. Dumbing it down to the most basic, the hook is a question, a mystery, a quest. It’s something that fuels the curiosity of the reader, or that makes him care about the answer to said question. It’s your “One Piece”, it’s your “Will this character not die in GoT, pretty please?”, or your “You tell me, Deku. How the frick you became the greatest hero of all. You twat.”.

    Basically it’s the hook that makes the care about a certain plot at all enough to read it, hopefully. It introduces a situation, or a character arc, etc. that will be developed further through the plot line you want to write.

    Now… Let’s talk about a bad example and some good examples to see if the point can get across. I’ll be using examples with Isekais, since it’ll more or less show how the same genre can hit or miss, depending on the author.

    So, first, the bad example. Let’s look no further than Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomoni, or In a Different World with a Smartphone. I know, I know. Low hanging fruit to pick. Okay, the problem, or rather my problem, since it’s quite a subjective topic, with the start of Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomoni is that it fails to present a decent plot line. The fact that it sells itself as a ‘aimless story’ and establishes no real plot lines, instead giving us a bland protagonist and throwing around several events on the wall to see what sticks is a really bad starting point. Granted, I might have overlooked the lousy writing if it had at least presented us with likeable characters, but they just fall kind of flat, making it even worse.

    The faults I find with this story are pretty much the same I find with the many other ‘aimless’ isekai fantasies that try to be an iyashikei, but fail miserably. The thing is, if you’re not going to make a plot-driven story, nor a character-driven story, what should I be looking for in your story? Not that they’re mutually exclusive, by no means they are.

    Now, let’s look at two good examples on Overlord and Honzuki no Gekokujou as both set really good hooks for their stories, although in two different directions.

    In Honzuki we are presented with the character of Motosu Urano briefly and her new self, Maine, alongside with the hook of the main plot line of the chapters to come, both through the characterization she was given and with the conflict established by her discovering the lack of books in her new life. This sets the stage for her character arc, which I’ll be discussing later down the line.

    In Overlord we are presented with Momonga, or Suzuki Satoru, and a bit of his characterization and motivations, and with the main conflict of the story at large, namely the actions of Nazarick in relation to this new world, setting the stage for the more plot-driven story that Overlord is.

    The point is, for those both, we have a clear grasp of what is going on, and what may come to be to some extent, and gives something the readers can be curious or care about.

    The next step is the build-up. Going from the idea that the Hook is a question, the Build-up is… the build up for the answer to said question. It basically builds upon what the reader knows, and directs them to a point of convergence where the plot is leading, either by building tension or expectations, slowly revealing parts of the answer to an eventual delivery, etc. The build-up directs the eyes of the players and prepares the stage for the payoff.

    The payoff, the final stage of a plot line, is where everything comes together to end a plot line. It can come in a variety of ways, releasing the tension, fulfilling or subverting expectations, or presenting a twist or new hook for the next plot line.

    It’s important that your build-up is sufficiently laid out for the payoff intended, as otherwise the whole thing feels a bit… forced. An example of bad plot lines due to lacking build-up for the payoff given are in Masamune-kun no Revenge and The Hobbit. Both present romantic subplots in a really weak way.

    For starters, in The Hobbit, we are presented with the characters of Fili and Tauriel who barely get any interaction, or at least any meaningful interaction aside from staring at each other, and their romance. This particular plot line ends with the death of Fili, with the payoff being this supposedly sad scene where Tauriel mourns over his death, but it feels… well, quite dry. There was no sufficient build-up to the payoff presented. Granted, The Hobbit excels in not giving payoffs to the buildups it sets (unless you buy the extended edition, AKA movie DLC), so I’ll accept even a sub-par one.

    In Masamune-kun no Revenge we’re unceremoniously presented with the romantic triangle between Makabe, Adagaki and Yoshino. The problem is, there was no build-up for the hook that started this sub-plot, making it stick out as contrived drama, and even the development of this drama is lacking to justify the payoff given, with Yoshino deciding to give up on Makabe for the happiness of Adagaki, since it was an unnecessary plot line to begin with.

    My problem with the latter is more related to the misuse of a twist to give a detour that was uncalled for, and did not contributed to the overall story. I’m not saying it was a bad twist, but it was a badly utilized twist. Were it to contribute to the overall development of the story, or the characters for that matter, it would be far better. But I digress.

    The point is, the build ups for your payoffs need to be somewhat tangible in your story, since one makes the foundations that support the other. Of course, it doesn’t mean that your story needs to be predictable, by no means. The author is the one that holds all the information necessary to understand the story, and by withholding some of those pieces of information, they can direct the point of view of the reader to a desired spot where, while not expected and/or predictable, the payoff is at least possible.

    Another tip that I have for building plot lines is to know what is the payoff you intend, know what information you’ll need to convey this payoff properly, and then build your plot line by giving the most basic, but most interest picking parts on the hook, then slowly revealing the rest throughout the build-up. By knowing how your start and finish, you can more easily iterate your middle to integrate with other parallel plot lines.


    Now that I’ve established a rough understanding of what I generally consider that is the structure of a plot line, let’s talk about plot threads and some tips on that…

    I usually categorize them in two types, but this is more of an over generalization. Continuum plot threads, where as mentioned before is the composition of various plot lines that generally converge to a central one, which can be seen in things like Boku no Hero Academia, Hunter x Hunter, One Piece, [Insert Popular Shounen Name], etc. They basically have clear main plot lines, but are not limited to them.

    Episodic plot threads are ones that do not possess a clear main plot line and are composed by a collection of plot lines with a similar theme that converge to a status quo. This format is usually seen in slice of life shows, like Kekkai Sensen, or OreGairu, etc.

    Note that the episodic structure closely reminds that of Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomoni, but the core difference between the two is that while episodic stories build changes on the status quo they’ll converge to in a far more meaningful way than the clunky way the story is presented by Isekai wa Smartphone, where changes are minimal to allow the reuse of the same shenanigans over and over again.

    General tips for continuum plot threads is that the subplots, or the secondary ones, should be constructive for the main plot line that is being advanced, as they are part of the build-up for that payoff. They should be part of the reason you care about the answer of the question that initially hooked you in. However, it’s not necessary for them to completely fall in order with the main plot line, since you can make use of divergences to try and show a different perspective than of the plot line, but it’s important to not make them feel completely alien to the main plot.

    A good example of that is One Piece. Each island they visit has its own plot line, and each plot line get the characters closer and closer to their objectives, progressing them both physically and as characters.

    For episodic plot lines, the general tip I can give is that knowing your status quo and knowing how to meaningfully change it is crucial to write good plot lines. What I mean by meaningfully change the status quo is to bring changes that can’t easily be shaken off by the characters, making they adapt to the new status quo.

    A good example of that is in OreGairu. From his bubble in his isolationist status quo, the protagonist is slowly forced to adapt to the changes happening through the plot lines, growing as a character (Well, he and the others) along the way.

    In short, let’s summarize the post in a neat bullet point TL;DR
    • The plot lines are sessions of the story that introduces a new conflict;
    • They’re composed, usually, of a hook, a build-up and a payoff;
    • The hook should introduce the gist of the conflict while garnering the interest of the reader;
    • The build-up should build upon what the hook introduced and direct the reader to the place where the author wants;
    • The payoff should convey a concluding note to the plot line in the way intended by the author;
    • Plot threads are the composition of many plot lines;
    • They can be continuum, episodic, but are not limited to those;
    • Continuum plot threads are various plot lines converging to a central plot line;
    • Episodic plot threads are various plot lines converging to a status quo, which can change through the plot lines;

    Well, I'm sorry if the post sounds overly pedantic, but as I said, I'm a piss poor writer, and out of my expertise when it comes to general narrative components. (I'm somewhat better at world building, but that's subject to varying degrees of want.)

    This post is a simple presentation of my thoughts on plot lines in general, and is made in hope that any of the tips will be of any use, and would like to know if someone has a different view on how plot lines should be structured/what composes a good plot line.

    Since it roughly falls under "plot discussions", this thread should be fine, right?

    Props to @yuzuki, for this thread was inspired in his random notes, on a side note. Do give a read on that too.
     
    Way, yuzuki, DiabolicGod and 3 others like this.
  2. King0Mik

    King0Mik 【An Actual Idiot】

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    I think this was very well written and was presented in a manner that allows most people to understand.
    However... there's so many words!!! :blobastonished:
     
  3. rezasinatrya

    rezasinatrya Well-Known Member

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    I appreciate your ideas, thanks for sharing
     
  4. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Honorary Maou | Part Time Writer | Crau's

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    Well, sorry. It was a bit hard finding a balance, since I'm not exactly good in expressing my thoughts, and it's a really broad and interesting topic.
    If I make any other post, I'll keep the volume of words in mind.
    Thanks for the feedback.
     
    Naraku likes this.
  5. Naraku

    Naraku 『』『』『』

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    Mmmmm, well, in my opinion, everything you said is right, it is easy to understandable and well I have nothing that goes against your opinion I suppose ? Maybe because it is quite general.
    One thing that would be better... (I don't know how though) is that your organize your words perhaps ?

    Title :
    [Introduction]
    Subtitle I :
    [Content]
    Subtitle II :
    [Content]

    ...

    Maybe ? I am not good at those things~
    Fitting to your title I guess ?
     
  6. King0Mik

    King0Mik 【An Actual Idiot】

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    Another option would be to separate out the post by using "headers" (just use a larger font size for the headers; potentially bold them).
     
  7. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Honorary Maou | Part Time Writer | Crau's

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    Thanks for the feedback.
    Yeah, I've dealt with plot lines in general strokes, since I might not be the best person to discuss the ramifications, like how to structure a comedic or dramatic plot line, etc.;.

    I'll keep the organization in mind too.
     
    Naraku likes this.
  8. Silver Snake

    Silver Snake Broken Machine

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    I think in another world with a smartphone was more slice of life, so it didn't really care about having actual conflicts.

    The Hobbit romance was off because it wasn't in the book and only put in the movie for filler.

    Plot lines don't need conflict. You can have a story that focuses solely on the mood or atmosphere it creates and it can be amazing.
     
  9. yuzuki

    yuzuki [· new horizons ·] [ 信心 ] [akki's shrine maiden]

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    I got tagged!! :blobpats:

    But wait, I was mentioned for my thread that’s over two years old?

    :blobjoy: How ancient do you have to be to remember something like that?

    Btw wonderful commentary!!
     
  10. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Honorary Maou | Part Time Writer | Crau's

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    The problem I have with the Smartphone, as I said, it's more because it fails to create compelling characters for me to even care about reading about them in their daily lives. Compare that to something like K-On, or, if we're using Isekais, Grimgar. The difference on those is that they use the episodic structure effectivelly to create a compelling slice of life.
    I do believe that's true. I think that they should've either scratched it entirely or at least had give proper attention.
    Oh, I think I worded badly there.
    Conflict is the word I normally use as a general term, basically encompassing any driving force on for the plot line. So mood, atmosphere, etc. are too/can be used as a sort of conflict fuel. I had a better word for that, but it escapes my mind.
    Thanks for the feedback anyway, I'll try to make the point clearer in times to come.
     
    Silver Snake likes this.
  11. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Honorary Maou | Part Time Writer | Crau's

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    Thanks for the feedback!

    Well, I've only found the thread by chance when digging through NUF. It's actually a really interesting thread, in fact. I do hope I can make something on par if I come to discuss world building around here.
     
  12. Silver Snake

    Silver Snake Broken Machine

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    Have you heard of the hero's journey?
     
  13. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Honorary Maou | Part Time Writer | Crau's

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    Yes, I have. It's a quite ubiquitous formula, so it's hard to ignore it. I believe that some elements that it encompasses do fall in order with the use of atmosphere and mood, and the like, as a driving force for the plot.

    Though I'm not the best person to try and dissect it, since I'm not as literate on it as I'd like...
     
  14. Silver Snake

    Silver Snake Broken Machine

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    Here's a video about plot lines by a guy who knows what he's talking about:
    It's sometimes hard to tell whether he's being sarcastic or not, at least for me.
     
  15. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Honorary Maou | Part Time Writer | Crau's

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    Aye, thanks.
    I'll be sure to give a look on that, as I'm trying to find more sources to draw from when musing over those topics.
     
  16. Exitiumm

    Exitiumm Well-Known Member

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    :coffee: I haven't opened NUF in weeks, but I'm putting a comment here to say what @King0Mik said, thats a shit ton of words. And I'd love to read that shit ton of words, but 2 problems, busy enough that I haven't even been reading my novels or been on disc that much, and laziness~

    Love ya @The Everdistant Utopia my starving, malnourished friend.