How do you come up with stories?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a very fantastic (as in, remote from reality) dream: I was a clone of me, created after I was brutally murdered. But I didn’t have my memories; I only knew, academically, what “my” life experience was like, who was important in “my” life, what “I” did and didn’t like. Reconciling this purely academic knowledge with my sense of self and my emotions was taking a toll. I sought rebellion from this version of me whom I didn’t know and yet who was controlling me so thoroughly. I began acting out – doing what I specifically knew “I” would not do, while conversely seeking experience that might help me to understand… well… “me.”

I don’t usually have such vivid, developed dreams, but this is not the first time a story has come to me in my sleep.

Anyways, I took this to a friend of mine and we began to talk about ways I could develop this into a story. I was also considering how I could mold this into an idea I have for our next big game (our clone-space saga). My friend, though, kept asking me “What’s the plot?” – and I kept giving a premise – “She’s trying to reconcile with being a clone.”

When I gave a few more details, they were all world-building and character development-based. None of them really were based on a sequence of events I wanted to present. And I realized: everything I’ve ever written or imagined started with a person and a premise. Then I thought about what the person would do in such a premise and called it a plot. I can’t really envision another way of devising a story. In fact, normally, my first step is creating a character sheet: drawing out the character (whether it’s an illustrated story or not), writing out his/her background and characteristics, and maybe a few key quotes from said character.

She thought I could play around with inverting this structure: thinking of a series of events and letting that inform a character. So far, though, it feels as though I can’t even conceptualize a series of events without knowing the person walking through them.

Creating the Lotus war was probably the closest to this I’ve come, and that’s because Justin was beside me on it – but I still became attached to a Taya-prototype and an Arinnel-prototype even before we knew what the end would be.

So I ask in a spirit of curiosity: any of you out there plot-driven writers? How do you come up with stories?


Because the last season of The Office has made it to Netflix, Justin and I finally got to sit down and watch the finale – and we were thoroughly satisfied. Similarly, Breaking Bad had a completely gratifying conclusion. Cowboy Bebop, of course is probably at the top of many an otaku’s favorite list simply because its ending was so epic and extraordinary and bigger than the series itself.

So what makes for a satisfying ending to any story-telling endeavor? A couple of factors I was able to identify (with spoilers):

1. It stays in the spirit of the entire rest of the work. I cannot be the only person disappointed by the 2004 Battlestar Galactica‘s ending. Why is that? Probably because at first, the series started off as an awesomely epic straight-up science fiction piece, dealing with robots and bombs and traveling through space. The extent of the existential thought challenges was maybe the mortality of the human race, and really making the audience think about whether humans are acting in a way that justifies our existence. The last season just got… weird. It got really metaphysical (which I guess was kind of present through at least the last half of the series) and did strange things with the characters (that whole thing with Starbuck, anyone?). As much as I still like the overall series, the ending didn’t give the final bow it deserved.

While “The Real Folk Blues” parts 1 and 2 may seem out of place with the rest of CBB and the goofiness that preceded the finale, really the episodes serve more as a culmination of the dark little hints dropped throughout the series – and in that way really did maintain the underlying spirit of the show. From the first episode with Spike waiting outside the church to, of course, the classic “Ballad of Fallen Angels” right down to the end, the audience always gets peaks that there’s more to Spike than fun and charisma… and green hair.

2. The characters get what they deserveBreaking Bad is a great example of this. I mean… it was pretty clear very early on that the series ends with Walt dying. One way or another, he dies. I thought it would be in a final act of redemption, and I knew he’d have to make amends with Jesse… but the question was always how.

Although Jack’s White Supremacists weren’t quite the biggest target they’ve ever taken down (I mean… after taking down the guy who took down the entire freaking cartel, what’s left?), they were probably the least moral. Gus Fring, after all, was a business man – and business was business. And many of the others were crazy and burnt from drugs. The White Supremacists seemed to be in their right minds… just really, really bad guys. They killed Andrea just to keep Jesse as a meth slave. Todd shot a kid who probably didn’t really know what he had witnessed when they robbed the train. And did I mention that they kept Jesse as a meth slave? Anyways, with Walt eliminating them and overall saving Jesse from enslavement, I’d say that he reached the highest redemption possible for him before dying.

Back to The Office for a moment, who would argue that Dwight got just what we were hoping for? After years of being the butt of pranks and jokes, years of being utterly devoted to his job but woefully unaware of how his actions reflect on his performance, and years of being lovably obnoxious, Dwight finally gets it. He finally sees himself and realizes that Jim’s not really his enemy. That he likes his co-workers. That Pam’s his best friend who looks out for him and talks to him. That he loves Angela. Pam gets to further her art with not one but two murals. Jim finally gets a job for which he’s not over-qualified. Andy realizes that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be, and finds a real-world job with the school he’s obsessed over for years. Erin meets her parents. Michael Scott gets to show off photos of his kids. Kevin gets fired (but still remains pretty happy). There’s just so much good in that finale, because we’ve watched these characters and we’ve wanted to yell at them and we’ve felt frustrated for them… and now all those things that bothered us are resolved.

And now back around to BSG… what did they do wrong? Okay, gee… EVERYONE married the wrong person. Tyrol never ends up happy; finds out his life was a lie and can’t reconcile with Boomer.

Speaking of Boomer, she never really redeems herself. Yes, she saved Hera… but that’s only after she herself kidnapped the baby and brought her into danger. The thing is, I feel really sorry for Boomer, and that never resolves: she feels like an outcast as a human, finds out she’s a Cylon, then feels like an outcast as a Cylon. She gets killed without justice and then she’s resurrected to find out about that – and that her soul mate got married to her killer. And then a majority of her errors really stem from trying to help the Cylons and humans make peace. I get what they were trying to do with her verses Athena, showing that individual Cylons are different and that experiences shape and mold them as any person. But really? Really, they destroyed a very pitiable character.

Starbuck and Anders and Apollo and Dee… and Billy. That whole mess. I don’t know if they just tried to keep the tension between Starbuck and Apollo going for too long until a coupling just didn’t feel right anymore. Or if they just didn’t want to fall into the normal television trope. But Anders ends up brain dead, Kara’s a ghost… angel thing. Dee commits suicide. Apollo ends up alone. Even Roslin, who did really crappy things throughout the show gets a bittersweet ending. But for three of the characters who made huge sacrifices for the crew and really carried the show… it was just bitter.

3. It ties up loose ends. That one’s pretty commonly recognized. And that’s another one that Breaking Bad accomplished – after all, the question on my mind was: is Jesse ever going to find out the truth about Jane? And he did. The ricin in the socket was recovered and used. Skylar got to hear what she’s always needed to hear.

I’d comment on Lost and how it… you know… didn’t tie up its loose ends. Except I never watched Lost – and after hearing about it’s disappointing end (which I knew was coming) never wanted to. I also abandoned Heroes after the Sylar saga because I knew it’d never be satisfying after that (even the end to that wasn’t great – Peter couldn’t just man-up and defeat Sylar like we all knew he could!)

There are my thoughts on the makings of a great ending. What about you guys? Agree? Disagree on any points or on my takes on any shows? Have some pointers to add?