7 Prompts for Writers #6: plot

OK, by now you are writing regularly and exploring voice and characterisation (see previous 7 Prompts for Writers posts). At some point, if you are writing prose, (though there is some argument narrative applies equally to poetry – see next post in the series), you need to come up with a story-line.

Perhaps you have started with the story and have had to find the characters to tell it. In which case, I hope the preceding posts in this series will have helped. Perhaps, in exploring voice and characterisation, the story has begun to tell itself. There is an alchemy in creative writing which is impossible to dictate, whereby once the elements are in the crucible, the precious narrative begins to shape itself.

However, it is also possible for a writer to be looking for a story. There are obvious places to look: ourselves, our family history, the stories of the places we live or visit, our friends, museums (the smaller and quirkier the better!), newspapers…. The list is endless and I am sure you can find your own additions. As a writer, always be alert to stories, take your writing journal everywhere, so you can jot down ideas, odd facts, questions, all of which are the starting points for stories.

From the ancient Greeks onwards (and no doubt before) there has been much written and pontificated on the basic plots of literature (and life – for the two, are, I believe, intertwined). Personally, I feel most plots can be boiled down to a quest. Skimmed back to the skeleton, most stories start with a question to which the protagonist attempts to find an answer. The protagonist goes on a journey (frequently an internal journey, they become changed by the quest), overcomes barriers/conflict (three times is a good figure to bear in mind here) and comes to a resolution.

I have written elsewhere about structuring a crime novel: https://goo.gl/tVjZJC and much of what I suggested there can apply to a novel of any genre.

I tend to write quite organically, so plan less than other writers. There are no hard and fast rules about how much planning a writer should do, I think it is down to the individual. But, in my opinion, there will come a moment, when a plan/structure will be required. I like to do it on sheets of A3, with columns going across: (1) point of view; (2) what happens?; (3) what does the reader learn?; (4) what do I need to do in terms of re-writing?

When structuring, it’s worth thinking in chunks:

  • 0-15,000 words initial question.
  • 15,000 words point of conflict/tension.
  • 30,000 words conflict/tension, possibly a new path.
  • 45,000 words realisation.
  • 60,000 words resolution.

Always bear in mind: how is my protagonist being changed by this? Where is the conflict/tension?

Where have your story ideas come from? How and at what point in the writing do you plan? The best tip you’ve been given about plotting?

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