Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Finding a plot for your premise novel

It's been a while since I've posted on the subject of writing. Probably because, sadly, this summer has been a bad writing season for me. Still, I was asked a question today that really hit home for me so I thought I'd share my collected wisdom, such as it is.

The question was about hot to come up with plot. The writer was questioning their own abilities because they found it difficult to figure out what should happen in their novels.

My first reaction: Hallelujah!

Knowing to ask this question means that you understand story. I've seen queries from too many writers who have an amazing premise. I mean, really, I'm sitting up and paying attention, because this story sounds awesome. Then I read the synopsis and realize there is nothing more than 300 pages of premise.

Please don't think I'm pointing the judgy-judgy finger here. My first novel...all premise. Oh sure, stuff happened, but none of it led anywhere. Stuff happened and then it ended.

So how do you come up with plot? There is lots of advice on this. One of my favorites is to put your character up a tree, throw rocks at him, then help him get down. I'm sure someone smart and famous came up with this, but for the life of me, I don't know who.

I like this idea for its simplicity, but I personally need a little more. So here's what I've got.

Take your main character and get to know them. Really know them. Now ask yourself, what's the worst thing that could happen to my character. Think about the things that make your character unique. What problem would be their own personal pit of hell? Got it? Now make that happen.

But that isn't a plot in itself. You have to keep doing this. Once your character is in it deep, ask again, now what's the worst thing that could happen? And do it again.

Meanwhile, let your character take a stab or two at solving their problem. Some of these attempts will earn him or her minor victories. Others will make their fiery pit of hell even worse.

Finally, when your character is so far up that metaphorical tree they can't possibly imagine having the strength to climb down, make them jump.

Whoa, I don't mean end it all. That would be a really depressing ending. By jump, I mean give them an option, a way out, that sounds ludicrous. Something only a crazy person would do. Something they aren't likely to survive (either figuratively or literally).

But, AH, but...you know your character so well. You know they are special and unique and gifted (if they aren't, maybe this isn't your main character). So something about this special, unique, and gifted character makes it possible for them to survive the leap. They might get damaged in the fall, but they survive.

And there is your plot.

So how do you come up with your plots? Any resources you've found helpful? 










3 comments:

  1. Great post! I sometimes feel bad for torturing my characters so much, but it makes for good reading. lol I go by the old "chase your character up a tree, throw rocks at him/her, and then help him down." Though maybe I don't help so much as offer my hand and then pull it away so they can find their own way down. ;) Yeah, I'm mean to my poor characters.

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  2. Thank you, Sarah.

    To add spice to a plot, I make a character, I love and know so well, behave in a way that’s completely unexpected.

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  3. Awesome. Similar to your post once I figure out the character I up the stakes. But not just for the main character, for the villain or the friends too . Because they fight against each other and it raises the stakes again for the main character. Nice post!

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