Creating the Story: The Plot

Every writer plots in a different way. There are people who take a story idea,add characters, perhaps have a basic idea of the beginning, middle and end, and just sit in front of a computer and write.  Perhaps one day, when I have dozens of books under my belt, I’ll be able to do this, but for now I use a different, slightly more structured method.

I start by writing a very short summary about my story. Something perhaps like: Seraphina and Jake, a Scottish witch and a paranormal debunker who could be a strong medicine man, but refuses to believe ‘magic’ even exists, meet when he comes to her small village to interview her for a book.  They are incredibly attracted, perhaps even fated to be together but, because of what she is and what he believes, there is friction and mistrust, and anger between them.  Jake’s coming awakened a sleeping evil that wants to possess his soul, his body, and his magic in order to walk in the world again.  In order to protect the village and defeat the evil, Jake and Sera must come to respect and trust each other, she will have to learn to accept other’s help and he will have to believe that the paranormal exists and, ultimately, accept his own heritage and the magic he possesses.  (This is actually the basis of the novel I’m currently working on). This summary gives me a basic place to start and will help me when it comes time to write my query and my synopsis.

All right, now I go back to the information I’ve compiled about my main characters, my secondary characters, and my setting.  I take out a notebook and ask myself what the plot has to lead to and how can I get there. In the case of the preceding story I actually have two, simultaneous plots running.  As a romance, I obviously have to have my main characters fall in love (that is what everything has to lead to). I also have to incorporate the evil creature and the escalating path the danger take.

From my character outlines I already know the kinds of things they like, what their hangups are, what their hobbies are, etc… which means I know what they will want in a partner and what they will have to learn/overcome to make a relationship with the other main character work.  I can now do what really comprises the bulk of my early plotting: open a new pack of note cards and start creating scenes. You may already have several scenes that you know you want to use so create those scene cards first. Now, you don’t actually have to write out the entire scene (it probably wouldn’t fit on a 3 X 5 index card), just sketch in some basic details. Like: Sera and Jake have gone into the forest so she can collect plants, they get a bad feeling, chase something, and find an animal dead of no apparent cause.

Once you’ve created the scenes you already know, start on ones you don’t. Don’t panic because you should already have some idea of what you need to include. For instance: Jake is investigating Sera so he will likely interview her and talk to the villagers so you’ve got a few scenes there.  He’s also going to have to come to believe in magic so what events could happen for that to occur? When Sera and Jake first encounter each other I’ve already said there is anger and mistrust so there will obviously be a few scenes where they argue: where and what about? Keep doing this until you have as many note cards as you can make at this point. Lay them out on a flat surface and arrange them in sequential order. Obviously, there will be gaps, but that’s fine. Now ask yourself how you get from one scene to another? You already know that there are certain things you need to include (e.g. what does Sera come to like about Jake-the way he treats villagers, his humor, liking of sci-fi, the fact that he opens door for her, worries about her even when he’s angry at her, etc…) so you will need scenes that convey this.

You could probably keep making scene cards until you’ve got hundreds and feel free to do this if you want to. If nothing else it will help stave off writer’s block as you will always have an idea of what does or can come next.

Just a note: I make up a lot of scene cards, but I don’t consider them the absolute last word. As I write new things might pop up, I might feel like something needs to be done differently, a character could surprise me (which I love). I may end up not using a good quarter of my scene cards, but they are a great tool to start you off and lead to a cohesive, structured plot.

Check out this wonderful article that appeared in Writer’s digest for some common plot fixes: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/10-minute-fixes-to-10-common-plot-problems

Happy writing and I’d love to hear how you do your own plotting.

Rose Connelly

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 1 Story A Week
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 20:46:22

    I have been told that I am an “organic writer”. I think that’s a nice way of saying I am lazy when it comes to preparation and prefer to just figure it out as I go.

    Reply

  2. Pete Denton
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 19:52:39

    Good post. I like to see how other writers plan and plot.

    Like you, I take my time to get the story in my mind. I start a new note book for every novel and scribble a few words down for the seed of the story. It just keep expanding. Writing little snippets of details of the characters and what type of things I want to happen.

    I expand that into an outline and rough chapter profile and then I’m ready to go. I can take months (or longer) deciding what I’m going to do, though hopefully quicker the next time.

    Reply

    • roseconnelly
      Feb 05, 2012 @ 20:27:36

      I actually start with random notes written in all over the place, then comes a bit of an outline, which is fluid, scene cards, etc…I too feel I need a new notebook every time I start a new novel. It’s strange, but the amount of time spent planning greatly fluctuates depending on how developed the story is in my head. My second book went so much faster than my first, but the one I’m working on now is going a lot more slowly. Thanks for the note and it is nice to hear how others work. Good writing.

      Reply

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