Author Topic: A generic plotting tutorial.  (Read 4136 times)

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Reives

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A generic plotting tutorial.
« on: February 07, 2008, 11:27:37 PM »
*I actually wrote this during a 14-hour long plane ride a year or two ago, which is why it's rather long, heh. Also, there are a few formatting errors due to copy-pasting.
*Ugh, sorry about all these tutting codes, I don't have time to fix them up right now, very sorry. :( Hope it's still somewhat legible.

*Re-coded by Pathbinder.

General Plotting Tutorial - Scattershot
By Kan G. - Reives

A successful game requires a nest welded with components that allow it to grasp on to its player - a good plot line is an essential part of such nest. Just like game-play, a well developed story can make or break a game; but to me, it is what differentiates the experience from being fun to being memorable.
Do not write just a story; write a plot.

   Before we get further ahead, I would like to clear a few things up first. In my terms here, a plotline is distinctly different from that of a storyline. A storyline is simply a chain of events that are set to be happened, where as a plotline speaks much more than the mere events that happen - It speaks of well-developed characters, carefully planned settings, an appropriate time period for the events to take place and as such, on top of the events that are planned to happen; all lined up together in a perfectly straight line. If you start your game only knowing your chain of events, you are risking to step on thin ice; for its sub-components that supports it are not well-thought of to match and fill your events to its fullest extent.

Cliches = Uncool, but don't be afraid of it.

   Writing a story is like composing a song. There are only so many chord progressions, and often one is incapable of finding a completely original structure. But remember; it often does not matter how original something actually is, but rather of how original you make it sound/seem.

The term "cliche" and its ideology is a common misconception that is being tossed around now days. I have seen some stories where the writer tries so hard to stay away from the cliche path, that he/she does everything imaginable just to be a distinct anti-cliche. This is almost just as bad as using a flat-tired cliche theme itself, as most of the time the writer ends up loosing focus on the actual quality of the story itself and move on a wrong cause. Yes, cliches are over-used themes and storylines that everyone cringes at the thought of. But however, you have to remember the reason why cliches are what they are - they were such a great formula that everyone wanted to use it at one point in time. There are a huge load of highly successful books/movies/whatever built from a basic theme that is to be described as cliche at its best.

   Now I am not saying everyone should go out there and start writing another thousand copies of LotR now. But how do you make something that is so commonly used interesting? In a way, pretty much every single thing has been thought of as of now, so absolute originality is somewhat of a myth. But remember what I talked about in the first block? Think of it this way; a cliche is simply an overused storyline, while you are capable of building a plotline upon its basic skeleton. And that is where the details come in, and alterations to be naturally made. Without the meaty details, almost all book/storyline can pretty much be described in one lonely sentence of utter clicheness.

Here's a link to a list of common fantasy cliches.

Manipulating Cliches
(A.k.a. what your plot will most likely be at first)

   There are two common ways of manipulating cliches to suit your needs; one we have already talked about; by filling in extensive details and alternating it in the process as needs.

   And like they say, the more the merrier. This is where the second way comes in. When vacillated, you can always take another cliche or two, or three, or four; and splat them into one big chunk. And on-top of that, you now add your plot line/details and deformations to the mutant skeleton. When done right, this can often result in an interesting and unique plot progression. It?s like an encoding system; the more layers that you add, the more secure its skeleton has from being recognized. Just make sure that you do modify each of those that you use, because if you put several plain cliches together the way they are, it would actually make the situation worse.

Here is a link to a page with a hella LOT of cliches used in RPGs. But however it's more like a compilation of everything ever used in RPGs, period. So don't be afraid if a thing or two from your game shows up in the list, because the chances are that it will.

It is also quite amusing to read, so knock yourself out.

Conflict

Stories are fueled with conflicts to keep running. There are two types of conflicts mainly; external and internal.

   External conflict is mostly described as physical conflict; fights and wars etc.. And more often than not, these external conflicts have a base cause of an internal conflict. If you include external conflicts in your story, do not ever shove it single handedly in there. Without the aid of an internal trigger, an external conflict seems like a meatless skeleton that leaves everything feeling fake.

   Internal conflict is mostly described as that of a conflict of the mind. This could be a disagreement between multiple people, or a moral vacillation of a character with him/herself. When used correctly, internal conflicts are the best ways to intrigue interesting plot development in your story.

   When adding conflicts in your story; remember that different conflicts can cross path into each other, affecting their effects on the involved characters. Take this into consideration when mashing different conflicts into one timeline; everything might seem to work when read through individually, but make sure that they still do when connected with everything else as well.

Characterization

   The foremost thing I would like to state for making characters in the story, is to create a character that talks by him/herself instead of needing to have you to go "Hm, now should I make this guy say here?" In situations like these, a well developed character should be able to grab the writer by the throat with a knife and threaten them to make him/her say a particular line, for that they won?t be the character that they are if they don?t. Characters are not post-it notes that you put down lousy jokes you got from school with; but are tools with their own unique thoughts and attitudes that counteract each other to twist your story in unique ways.

I guess in a way, you can say that how you plan and combine your characters is the most important factor in the development of your plotline in the near future. And sometimes, when you add a new well rounded character, he or she can make you change your plot just because he/she as a character would not act any other way. When this happens, by all means do not be afraid to change. Be it a good change or bad change, you decide after you try it; but for God's sake do not ever leave your plotline the way it is when something new is making it awkward, just because you planned it prior.  Besides, unless very experienced, planned plotlines sometimes end up trailing on the systematic side, which has a chance of resulting in a dull result. So do not let changes scare you; sure it might be some work, but quality doesn't just pop outta there like you did.

Archetype characters, such as the mentor, the silent but skilled veteran in the corner and all that, can be used; but with caution and hopefully twists. It is extremely hard if not impossible to avoid archetypes completely; and it?s not your fault since mankind has been writing for eternity before you were even born.  You can refer to the section on cliche earlier in this tutorial for this one, they share very similar principles.

Also, here are some more specific examples that you can do: you can always make an archetype that is just plain bad at what he/she is known as an archetype for. This could often create a humorous atmosphere, and make the player completely ignore the existence of the archetype for what it originally is. I guess you could say this is like going to the opposite of a cliche, but it is fine since it?s for a purpose rather than just to get away from cliche. But everything is venomous when coming in large amounts; so use these kinds of things sparingly in one story (or they'll become a cliche in itself).

 Now when you get the characters? initial traits done, never ever think that it?s the fixed character?s code throughout the whole story; character development is just as important as the characters themselves. Things will happen in your story, and these things will most likely influence your characters in one way or another; be it external or internal. Is you character going to be morally vacillated? Physically scarred? Undergoing internal or external conflicts? All these things will result in change of personalities and the way they think. And as each character develop, they will influence others and possibly make the other characters develop in one way or another as well. All these things intertwine to form your plot; so keep them in mind when you set things up.

P.S. Mary Sues/Gary Stus (perfect characters) = bad, period. Avoid them at all cost. And that doesn't just mean putting a cool scar across their face, by the way.

Killing off characters

If you are planning to kill off a character or more, remember this: Do not ever make a character just so they can be killed! Likewise, do not kill off a character just for the sake of killing off the character. This often causes the character-developement and as such of the stated character to be overlooked. Try to include a purpose for the kill, and make it move the story forward.

In order for killing character(s) to be effective, the player/reader has to be attached to the character first. And if you fail to create a dimensional character in the first place, then the effect of this could easily be thrown away. It is best to make the character to have a special trait or uniqueness to it; so the reader/player could either relate to or appreciate (not necesarily in a positive aspect). For example, in Full Metal Alchemist;
Spoiler: show
over 20 episodes were spent building up Hughes' humorous character to be a symbol of light-heartedness, with his overly obsessiveness(word?) to his daughter. They made sure that he was a well-liked character, with icings on the cake in the shape of the focus of his family. Hence, his death was dramatic to the fans as he was not just an empty shell.


Here are two links regarding characters; a quiz to see how much of an archetype is your character - heroes and villains. The questions and results are also quite obvious, so it is also a list of archetype attributes for reference.
First link
Second link

Edit: Courtesy of ancell; http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html is good if you want to make your Evil Overlord as intelligent as an actual human.

*CONTINUED WITH NEXT POST*
« Last Edit: February 09, 2008, 02:18:16 AM by Pathbinder »

Reives

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Re: A generic plotting tutorial.
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2008, 11:27:55 PM »
[Part 2]


Setting

One of the most important things to remember for creating a setting for your story is RESEARCH. Even if it is fantasy, a poorly researched setting can result in a clear unprofessional sense. Things happened for a reason throughout history; and no matter what color the dragons are in your story, machine guns won't exist before arrows; and it's a nightmare to have to mine "steel ores" from clay rocks. Also, try to relate your time line setting to a historical reference; unless you are skilled enough to create a completely new one, which is a lot of work and often has flaws to its own.

   A good setting should have a taste of culture in it; be it an adaptation from the real world or created. Religions and ethics are some topics you might want to take into consideration for specific cultures; as realistically people are always influenced by their culture; and Americans don?t behave the same way as Japanese, for example. Some questions to ask yourself when creating a town/nation/continent are "Do people believe in one or multiple religions?" , "Are there any unusual expectations for the people in this cultural background?? ?Does the place welcome outsiders?", "How do the local citizens feel toward ____ (insert something of value in your story)?", etc.

Cultural conflicts almost always exist in one form another, be it physical or tension. When a large scaled conflict is present in your setting; make sure to provide the reasons to give the reader/player a sense of believability. Often, when different religions are present, there are often disagreement and a possible lead into both internal and external conflict.

Lastly, remember that cultures can be influenced by its people as well. If a town was built for refuges from somewhere else; this would shape the place in a particular way in reference to the refuges and where they are from. You get the picture. Remember to try to include the details.
Reflecting culture in your game

There are several ways of reflecting culture in your game, I'll just state some just in case (kinda off-topic as well as obvious, but important).

1.   Through local citizens.
This is the most obvious and effective one. Their speeches and their manner of talking can produce a clear image of what the local culture is about. However, it is important to watch out not to ?tell? the player about the culture, but to let them feel it. Incorporate the cultural elements into dialogues, not saying it straight out like "We are the ____ we all believe in ____, we do not like ____." 

2.   Through local map design.
RMXP's tile sets might not seem as flamboyant as what it takes to make Diablo II or Guild Wars, but it has everything you need to express the ideas to show a well elaborated setting. This might seem obvious but I've seen projects where people miss it; match the maps to everything you describe the town as! If the town is a total believer in a certain religion, build the houses and decorations to honor the religion. If the town is severely lacking water, the last thing you want to do is to put puddles of water and wells all over the town just to make it look good. And if the town is beside a lake or whatever that always floods, they would probably build a wall or something against it. But usually people don't build towns next to places that floods or rock slides often anyway. Remember that you can always easily manipulate and edit tile sets when needed, as well as mixing two tile sets together. Just edit the tile set as an image in paint.

3.   Through the story and conflicts.
This is a very flexible tool to use as well. Perhaps your story has major conflicts that have to do with the setting's cultural aspects, and you can easily express that in multiple levels through the events that happen. This, unlike the other two, can give an even more in-depth look through the setting and its attributes if done correctly. But slight subtlety is your friend; let them feel the atmosphere instead of reading it, don't make things too blunt.
Twists

   Twists are an essential component of your story. They are generally sets of unexpected yet interesting turn of events that result in a refreshing feel for the reader/player. There are all kinds of twists, ones to provoke tension, sadness, or just pure surprise itself; you name it.

   One thing to remember while adding twists to your story is to include a purpose in the story progression for them. And when making twists for the pure element of surprise, it is important to not overlook its relevance in the story itself.

The Beginning and Conclusion
Beginning

The beginning of any story is arguably the most important part. In order to have the reader/player to continue reading/playing your story/game, you must try to capture the attention and interest of the player/reader as soon as possible before they get bored.

You can accomplish this by leaving a cliffhanger at the start; make the reader want to find out certain things, or do something to raise a particular interest in pursuing the story for the reader/player. I will not tell you exactly how to start a story, because there is no rules to tell of. As long as it catches the reader/player's attention, then it will do. Be creative, the more it makes the reader wonder and interests him/her, the better it is. Try to stay away from the pure cliches, and if you do end up using one, make sure to have twists to distinguish.

*Some say ?I make my game boring at first, so when it gets interesting when ___ happens there?s more of a contrast? - no. As far as we know, the player will probably get bored and leave never seeing the interesting part if you do that; and all would be lost before it even starts.

Conclusion

The conclusion of your story/game is also important, but it would not matter if the main body of the story is bad itself, if it is the reader/player probably wouldn't have made to it anyway. An important thing to remember when concluding a story is to actually conclude it if there's no sequel. Although viewed as artistic by many, a blurry conclusion is not something the average reader/player would be satisfied with. They'd probably wait for a sequel that will not exist, and that's just not very cool.

Try matching your conclusion with the genre of your story/game; if it has a humorous body then a sad conclusion would throw people off, for example. If someone got through to the end of a story/game, they probably are into the genre that it is in to endure their way through, and it would be safe to stay in the same trail.

If you are planning for a sequel, then it would be wise to leave some kind of trailing scent to make the reader/player want to wait for it to keep going. However, try to keep it subtle instead of direct exposure. Even if the ideology of its continuation is clear, try to make the details showing it foggy. This often gives off a mystic glint that attracts for the audience?s further interest.

And just one last quick word on making sequel: try to have its story to have some relevance to the original volume that it's based off of. It might be a pet peeves of mine, but I feel irritated when a sequel introduces a new version of everything; which defeats the point of a sequel, as it should then just be a new game. If one wants to play a sequel, one probably liked the original; hence try not to disappoint that link.

[Edit: Thanks to The Cry of Fallen Angels's reminder - Remember not to cram a sudden load of information as the game/story is about to end. This often gives off a cheap feeling, as if the writer just decided to throw everything together to end something. Like wise, do not contradict your original perspective portrayed at the conclusion.]
~~~
That's it for now, I hope this is of some help. I doubt anyone actually read the whole thing though; I know I wouldn't. :D

Some more helpful links provided by Ravenith:
http://www.writing.com/?rfrc=inkspot.com
http://www.geocities.com/soho/nook/9...resources.html
http://www.writersresources.com/
« Last Edit: February 08, 2008, 11:15:41 AM by Pathbinder »

Silek

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Re: A generic plotting tutorial.
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2008, 11:34:03 PM »
This is definitely going to be of value for me Reives, thanks a bunch for posting this!

(I'm afraid I have to wait till tomorrow to actually read it, it's too much for my brain to process this late at night! :D)

menti

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Re: A generic plotting tutorial.
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2008, 05:41:32 AM »
Lol, reading the cliches is very entertaining.

I got 17 on the Mary-Sue test for the main character of my (very) slowly developing story... thing... so close to a completely original character! Oh well...

Speaking of that though, I need some help with the setting. I want it to be that sort of medieval world thing, but it is soooooo overused so I was wondering if anyone had any ideas. I don't want a world that's too technologically advanced either. I want something as unique as I can make it.

Reives

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Re: A generic plotting tutorial.
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2008, 11:29:32 AM »
Mm, I think one of the most cliche thing with a medieval setting is the "sword master" aspect. In a way, I think what you can do there is to simply move the time slightly forward, where some sort of primary rifles (not not yet very effective or common) is existent. That way, you still have the village/castle fantasy thing going on, and the player doesn't get stuck with the whole "sword of destiny" thing. And of course, since although guns are existent, they are still rare and not as advanced enough to be as effective as they are later in time, it should still not be that much of a bother if you don't like them. :)

Many thanks to pathbinder for fixing the formatting of the first post, by the way!!

Valtier

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Re: A generic plotting tutorial.
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2008, 01:54:39 AM »
... my plot and main antagonist are so cliche.   :-\

Well, bugger.

James QZ

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Re: A generic plotting tutorial.
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2008, 12:02:49 AM »
Very insightful, longest post ever here on Q forum, kudos kudos.
I believe in the existence of extraterrestrials.

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Re: A generic plotting tutorial.
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2008, 02:27:29 PM »
Whats kudos kudos?
And yes, longest post in Q-forum HOORAH!!