I recently had a young writer ask me for ideas on how to create a plot.
Generating a plot is often much harder than you might expect, however much you may love to write. Especially if your hope is to sit down and write a complete novel. Novels are enormous efforts with all sorts of complexities. Really, what's the point of even tackling such a project if you don't even know if the story slowly forming in your mind is worth telling?
Here's a trick I have used in the past which has always helped me. In fact, I believe I have done this in one form or another for all of my most recent novels. Rather than opening a document, typing "Once upon a time," and hoping good things start to happen, I pull out a notebook and pen, and I write myself a "what if?" scenario.
For instance: What if a princess fell in love with a prince who claimed to love her back and then betrayed her? And what if there was a dragon who . . .
I elaborate from there, having fun developing plot ideas and story threads but without the pressure of trying to write a whole novel. Taking the pressure off of yourself often helps the creativity to spring to life! You can make these scenarios as long or as short as you want. When I find one I really like, I flesh it out still more, sometimes into a short story, sometimes into a novella, or even just a detailed outline . . .
And from there--when I know I love the characters and the plot, and ideas are truly raging in my head for the telling--springs the novel!
So, yes, if you're struggling with ideas, I highly recommend giving this trick a try. You can do it on a computer document too, of course . . . but I suggest the classic pad-and-pen approach. Again, there's no pressure that way!
P.S. Please do notice in the left side-bar of this blog the new button to lead you to my Freelance Editing website! After ten years of consideration, my mother, Jill Stengl (who has edited for a number of big names in the CBA market) has finally decided to join forces with me and launch Stengl Fiction Editing services. Have a look around and tell your friends! We are taking clients as of now.
One thing I've found helpful is to catalogue my "single premise" ideas. More often than not a single idea doesn't have enough momentum to carry me through to the end of a story, so I file it away in a 'discard' pile. But when I get one that does have teeth, I can sift through the discard pile and try to start braiding them together for instantly fleshed out levels of plot and worldbuilding.
"Hmmmn, this idea didn't work as its own story, but it could be tweaked into a really great B or C plot for my new idea."
Yes!! Finally, I got something right! :-)
In the novel that I am currently working on (albeit slowly) I actually used both if these approaches. I've had my main story idea for a long time... I asked, "What if an undercover agent..." And then I realized it gave me an excellent opportunity to use a romantic subplot I've had swirling around in my head for a while. This was actually the first novel I've worked on where I had the idea before I started writing, and it has turned out fairly well so far.
Thank you for these Friday Tidbits! They're really very helpful to all of us aspiring authors. :-)
Wow, that what if idea TOTALLY works! It's a brilliant idea; thanks for sharing it!
And that manuscript thing is fantastic. I'm sure you'll get quiet a few people. :)
Great idea! When I started my novel, I didn't have the complete outline in my head. I only had a fuzzy idea of what it would be like.
I did see your editing website! I don't know many people who write, but I'll definitely pass it on!
I tried the idea :D It's helping...I also recommended it to a friend because she's having the same problems as me :P :D
Thank you for the great advice. I will definitly use it a lot. (Especially in school.) :)
I've been doing that for years without realizing it was a trick. It really does work wonders.
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