Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cooking Up a Story

There are countless articles online for writers that offer all kinds of different ways to go about plotting.  To find them, a simple search for "novel plotting" will produce a gold mine of information.  Some require a lot of detailed work, while others are simple and basic.

After almost twenty years of writing, when it comes to plotting, I've come to the conclusion that each writer must find his or her own method.  That method may be completely designed by the writer from scratch or may be a compilation by that writer of other methods or ways of plotting created by others.

Once you've found your method and use it for a while, you may discover it isn't working as well as it has been and that it needs adjustment for a particular piece of work. Sometimes the entire process needs an overhaul. The main thing to remember is that if whatever you're doing or whatever you're using isn't working, change it or don't use it.  There's nothing worse than trying to wrestle a story using a method that isn't doing the job.  It's a waste of time and energy.

So what are the basics of plotting that a writer uses to build on?  Here's my list:

  1. HOW THE STORY BEGINSAn interesting opening that introduces the major characters, the setting, and the conflict or at least a strong hint of it for one of the major characters.  (My focus is romance, but if yours isn't, simply adjust specifics--hero/villain/heroine/protagonist/antagonist, etc)  This does not necessarily mean the opening line, but the gist of the first few pages or scene.
  2. THE INCITING INCIDENT - This is where the major conflict comes into play.  It may have been introduced earlier, but something is revealed or learned that makes it the focus of the characters and begins their--always bumpy--journey to their HEA.
  3. TURNING POINTS - Something happens that causes a shift or change in the story.  In romance, this is often where one of the characters realizes their feelings for the other character have changed.  Maybe there's a kiss...or more.  Maybe a small secret is revealed.  Maybe the character learns something about the other that makes a difference in how that other character is seen.  The amount of turning points may depend on the length of the story.
  4. MAIN TURNING POINT - This is where there's a big change in the story.  In a romance, this change is in the relationship between the hero and heroine.  Everything that has come into play up to this point is now going to shift.  The conflict will change or be seen in a completely different way, as if through different eyes.  The story is about to kick into high gear for the race to the finish line.
  5. THE BLACK MOMENT - The brakes come on and everything (the relationship) comes to a screeching halt.  This usually occurs a chapter or two before the last chapter and is where all seems lost to the main characters.  Something irreparable has occurred for at least one of them.  In romance, these two characters are not going to get together for that HEA.  Or so they believe.
  6. THE SACRIFICE - One character (or both) must realize that they are not willing to walk away from "what might have been" and they'll do whatever is necessary to make it happen.
  7. THE RESOLUTION - Something happens or a characters makes something happen that changes everything, and that HEA is within reach.
  8. HEA - Happily Ever After.  The hero and heroine have done whatever is fix any problems they've had in the past, then pledge their love and commitment to each other.  In a mystery, the mystery is solved and the bad guy is caught.
Do I know all of these things at once?  Oh, I wish!  My story ideas usually start with an idea of an opening and a vague idea of the conflict.  At least one of the characters or the personality of one of the characters is a major part of that idea.  Sometimes I'm blessed with luck when the opening scene plays out in my head to tantalize me and make me start asking questions.  It's those questions and the answers that begin the fill-in-the-blank process of plotting.  What happens if even the questions aren't coming along as they should?  That's when I start dialing the phone for some brainstorming.  And while we may not come up with an entire plot, there are enough ideas generated to kick-start the creative spot in my brain to fill in those blanks and move forward with the story.

It's a crazy system and may not work for everyone, but it can be a starting point if you're new at plotting or have hit a brick wall and aren't sure where to turn.  Keeping track of everything and how it plays out can also be crazy time, and because I'm a visual person and need to see where I've been, where I am, and where I'm headed, I use a storyboard.  I'll share my version of that next week.

If writing by the seat of your pants isn't working, or if you simply want to try something new, stick around.  Whatever you do and however you do it, enjoy the journey!
“You are the embodiment of the information you choose to accept and act upon. To change your circumstances you need to change your thinking and subsequent actions.” - Adlin Sinclair 

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