6. Conflict and Plot

Page 7 of 10 | What Is a Story? | Originality Counts | Gotta Have Structure | Set the Hook | Reel 'Em In | Land 'Em |
| What If I Don't Know? | Other Times, Other Worlds | Events Follow Character | Try This at Home! |

But What If I Don't Know What Happens?
This takes us back to the things we talked about when we discussed turning ideas into stories. I can't tell you what should happen in your story, but I can show you some things to look for, and ways to move the process of discovery along.

By now, this should come as no surprise: the process is different with every writer and every story. Some stories are idea-driven, some are plot-driven, some are character-driven. By this, I simply mean that different elements take front stage in different stories. Sometimes it's the twists and turns of the plot; sometimes it's the twists and turns of the psyche; sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

There are as many approaches as there are authors—and you will, with practice, find your own approach. But let's look at a few common ones.

1. What If?

Some stories start with a central idea. It can be as straightforward as "If this trend goes on..." or as startling as "What if things were really different?" A good example of a what if story is Larry Niven's "Inconstant Moon," which began with the premise, what if the sun went nova, destroying the Earth—but we were on the night-side of the planet when it happened? From that central notion, he went into the lives of some characters, and looked at how they reacted—how they knew something was wrong in the first place, and then how they faced the apparent end of the world.

Other stories have begun with such ideas as what if the Axis powers had won World War II (Dick's The Man in the High Castle); or what if a large asteroid hit the Earth (Niven and Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer, and others), or what if advertisers became so powerful that they ran the world (Pohl and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants)? In each case, the author found a way to take the idea to its logical, and sometimes extreme, conclusion.


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