Plotting for the Plotless
April 29, 2013
So you want to write a story, or perhaps you have a story that wants to be written. You have an awesome idea for a book with bestseller potential, so you whip out your pencil or hack away at your keyboard until those fateful first lines of your masterpiece have been invoked. You coast on for another few chapters before you find that your fiction is gathering friction, until finally . . .
. . . you’re stuck.
You knew how the story began, of course; maybe you know how it ends, and maybe you even know of the astounding plot twist that will take place somewhere three quarters on. Yet you’re stuck because, quite simply, you don’t know what happens in between.
It’s dreadful that a brilliant story idea should be abandoned this way, yet this sort of writer’s block seems to afflict nearly all the young prose artists I know. As I introduced myself in my last blog post here, I’m a teen author who has luckily managed to dodge this dilemma, thus I hope I can lend some advice that will help you do the same.
First of all, I’m not a person who plots “by the seat of their pants”—that is to say, I much prefer to plan out my story in advance, rather than come up with it as I go along. Even so, in writing my YA fantasy novel, Wingheart: Luminous Rock (the first of a trilogy), I never took a very linear approach to plotting. Rather than continuously hunting for answers as to what happens next, I found it more effective to simply imagine everything that the plot could encompass.
What can a plot encompass? Perhaps a forgotten civilization? A haunted boiler room? An Antarctic expedition? A long-lost daughter? A sword fight on the roof of the Eiffel Tower? Just about anything you like, but, most importantly, anything you find fascinating. Consider fascinating people, fascinating scenes, and fascinating circumstances, and the result can’t be anything less than a fascinating story.
But those fascinating morsels still need to be assembled in order for that story to take shape. This is done by finding connections between your ideas, which is a process as simple as posing a few questions and letting your inner creative genius answer them.
Who’s haunting the boiler room? The ghost of a long-lost daughter. Why is she important? She knows about a forgotten civilization. Where is it located? In the Antarctic.
Why is any of this important? Because it’s a story. And now, rather than plowing headlong through the unknown, you find yourself stringing together the planks of a bridge. Once both ends of that bridge have been fastened to the posts that are your story’s end and inception, congratulations! You have crossed the chasm and constructed a plotline.
Of course, these plot points don’t have to be as random as in my demonstration. The same can be done on a smaller scale, where it’s just a matter of imagining what sort of cool scenes you’d like to see your characters in—and eschew anything lame! Once the puzzle pieces have been created, it’s in your power to carve them into shape so that they interlock. If a gap is left, simply carve out a new piece.
You are now free to navigate your plot-bridge with confidence, knowing what happens next every step of the way. With every hole you patch and rope you add, that bridge is fortified to the point of indestructibility.
All that’s left? To write your masterpiece through!