Monday, March 7, 2011

Plotting (Part 1): The Early Stages

A while ago, one of my blog followers, Susanna Leonard Hill, asked about how I plot my novels. That’s an interesting question, because I feel like I still have a lot to learn about plotting. It’s definitely not my strength. Sometimes, I think my writing is so much better than any of my plots (except maybe for my most recent story). But I’ll share some of my thoughts on what I've learned so far.
In the early stages, once my mind has been consumed by an exciting idea, there I are few things I do to work on developing a plot:
List possible situations or events. Basically, I just brainstorm different things that could happen in the story and record them in random order. 
Write a one-sentence summary.  I find this really helps to focus my thinking on what the main problem will be in the story. I don't always stick to this summary, and often find I need to re-write after the first draft, but at least it gives me a starting point. As well as some confidence, if I think it sounds good.
Describe the characters. I don't usually do a lot of in depth thinking about my characters. I like to find out more about them as they react to things that happen in the story. But I do like to have an idea of what their role will be in the story, their strengths and weaknesses, and their relationships to other people in the story. I also really need to know their names. For some reason, that tells me something about their personalities.

Focus on the main character. I spend more time thinking about the main character than any of the others. After reading about plot from The Plot Whisperer and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, I see how essential it is to make the main character's goal something really important to them. This needs to come through in the writing early in the story. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about what my main character wants and how to bring that out in the story.

Talk to my kids about my ideas. Since I'm always trying to write stories that my kids will want to read, I find it helpful to get their take on my great idea. Hopefully they don't say, "That's lame." If they do, they often make suggestions that turn out to be helpful in shaping the direction of the story.

What things do you do in the process of developing a plot?


  1. Oh, thank you for addressing my question, Andrea! These are all good ideas. I am looking forward to future "parts" and would like to add my plea for any specific examples you feel you can share :) But for today I have some things to try!

  2. Talking it out - even with myself - always helps! Thanks for sharing. Can't go wrong wit Save the Cat!

  3. I do something similar at the beginning, but instead of writing a one-sentence summary, I write what I imagine (vaguely) the blurb on the back would be. It's a way to sell the idea to myself :) If I can make it sound good it gets me more excited to get started.

  4. Girl Friday, I love the blurb idea! I also find that when I look back on those early notes or summaries, it sometimes helps to motivate me again, when I get stuck (which inevitably happens).

    Laura, the next time I see a person talking to themselves, I'm going to assume they're a writer.

    Susanna, I hope it helps a little.


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