I guess, for some people, plot comes naturally. The story unfolds in their minds like a beautiful flower.
Not for me. One of my biggest challenges as a writer is figuring out what my characters are going to do and what is going to happen to them.
My ideas often come to me as single images: a closet hiding something in its shadows, a woman wearing white with bloody feet, a lake full of poison mangoes. I get flashes of these beautiful things, often in dreams, but I have no idea what to do with them.
Now, there’s a lot of stuff out there about how to write various types of plots, such as the hero’s journey, and about how to outline your novel’s plot. What I’m offering is 5 strategies to try if you’re starting from scratch. So, if you’re like me, and you’re having trouble getting your characters to do something, try these strategies to get them moving and to get your plot rolling, finally, forward.
In other words, play the “what if?” game. Write out a list of events that could possibly happen, even if they take you into another genre or even if you think, “I’d never really do THAT!” For example, kill off a character. Or introduce a new one. Give a character a new hobby or challenge. Your hero could take up crochet or find out he has a child he never knew about. Or, you could even swap the gender of your characters. How does that change the way in which they interact with their community?
Once you try one or more of these experiments, answer these questions: What sort of ripples do these changes send throughout your novel? What new actions and events do these changes create? What opportunities does it create for your characters?
Hopefully, one of your experiments will work–propelling your plot off into unexpected but fruitful directions.
#2) Think About Plot All the Time
And I mean all the time. When you want to utilize this particular strategy for jump-starting your plot, you might use what I call the Boomerang Method of writing. Check out the video explaining this method that I posted to FromNothingToNovel a couple weeks ago. Using the Boomerang Method will help keep your mind on your story at all times and will keep you returning to your narrative between all your daily tasks and obligations.
By constantly turning your attention toward your novel, you will produce plot. Extreme concentration will lead to results!
#3) Stop Thinking About Plot
This strategy is the exact opposite of the last strategy. Sometimes what we really need is NOT to think about our writing at all, but to let it simmer in the background, developing itself while we do other things.
So, go take care of your other obligations. Or maybe just have some fun!
By not thinking about your novel at all and by just living life, you will accumulate more experiences, which means you’re actually accumulating more writing material. Maybe something will happen to you while you’re not thinking about your project that works perfectly as the climax of your novel. Or, maybe you’ll meet someone who inspires you and gives you a few great ideas.
#4) Brainstorm with Others
You may not know what happens next, but your best writing buddy might! Chat about your plot block with your writing buddy and see what questions they have about what happens next. Find out what they’d like to see happen or what they think will happen. Sometimes your writing partner’s best guess about what happens next is the best direction for you to go in!
Or, if you’re contrary like me, maybe you take you plot in the exact opposite direction of your partner’s guess. Oh, you think X is going to happen? Surprise! Actually, Z is going to happen!
Remember, your writing buddy isn’t as close to the project as you. Because they are not bogged down by the project’s problems, they may have a clearer picture of possible solutions.
#5) Get to Know your Characters Better
If you don’t know your characters well, then you don’t know what they’ll do next. And, ideally, you want a plot that is character driven. This means, that you want to actions to stem from their motivations and fears, their desires and foibles.
So, take some time to jot down some notes about who your characters are and what they want. How would they react to certain situations? Who are their heroes? What are they most afraid of? Take the time to create a thorough character profile.
By answering these questions (and more!) about your characters, you’re figuring out not only what makes them tick, but what makes your novel tick. After you know more about your characters, your plot will begin to reveal itself. Your protagonist is a thrill seeker? Great–then send them off in search of thrills and get that plot moving forward!
What strategies do you guys use to get your plots moving forward? Tell us in the comments! And, if you enjoyed this post, check out my reflections on beating a Writing Crisis!