A Great Scheme: Plot Development

“It’s elementary, my dear Watson,” says Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Yet when it comes to creating an intriguing and original plot, I’ve found that I’ve needed to search at least at the high school level. For those of you like me who need a plot to stick all the characters running through your head, or some plausible reason why this awesome mental scene would take place in a story, creating plot takes deep thought and a lot of effort. Instead of my usual ramblings, I am going to state some the of tips and techniques that I’ve learned over the course of my career in the hopes that people may not only be enlightened, but that they’ll tell me what works for them!

Universe of the Soul: Adri Adept, is my first published work, and my pride and joy (please allow me to crow in pride….okay, done). As I’ve said before, the birth of that story was a scene that I’d thought up in my head years before actually writing the story. That scene was not the climax, nor was it the beginning. It actually turned out to be the middle. From that point, I had to figure out A) how they got to that particular situation, and then B) what they did afterwards. It worked out, but I used several strategies to get there.

First, brainstorming! It seemed to be overrated, but you have to do it in whatever method works best for you. Diagrams, lists of possibilities, writing out scenarios, repeatedly listing off the names of your characters (okay, so that last one isn’t very useful, but I find myself doing that when I’m stuck). One of my colleagues finds it helpful to write out an entire timeline to figure out what’s going to happen when. My first creative writing instructor in college told us that when brainstorming possible plots or settings, make a list of whatever comes to mind. When the list is done, throw out the first five because they are probably overused and from someone else’s writing. That leaves you with the wilder and often more bizarre options, but it might help you get a fresh perspective on what you want to happen, or where you want it to occur. I’ve found it to be a great tool for getting over the desire to use a cliche plot or situation.

Second, get advice from someone who’s imagination you respect. Many people have heard the Beatles’ song “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and that is the exact feeling I have about the people who’s suggestions have helped me progress a story. Sometimes you need to hear a fresh opinion to get yourself around a roadblock, and even if you don’t like their ideas, they can still be useful. I’ve had friends name characters without even realizing that that’s what I was asking about. Sometimes just asking someone “What do you think if X happened? What would you do?” they can give you some inspiring answers.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to start off with something sketchy. You may not know where the story is going, or you may not know the best place to begin, but as you progress to the writing stage, you’ll be able to start piecing the puzzle together. After all, the worst book is the one that never gets written!

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. HaleyWhitehall
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 00:57:43

    I agree that when brainstorming you have to do what works for you. When you start a story with only something sketchy that is called pantsing–writing by the seat of your pants. I wrote my first novel that way and it took me forever–and I’m still rewriting it to tighten the plot because I didn’t know where it was going when I wrote it.

    So, Jennifer what brainstorming process do you use? You offered suggestions but never said what works for you.


    • Jennifer Mandelas
      Feb 21, 2011 @ 22:56:31

      All the suggestions I posted are methods I’ve used. I’ve also done a post-it wall of ideas, where I write every possible scenario and then try to string them together. I ended up with a messy looking wall, but it worked. I also just stare at the wall…but I think every writer does that at some point.


  2. wovenstrands
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 01:06:55

    Yes, my friends are the best. They help me brain storm and let me know when an idea is just over done. Like Haley said, what’s your brain storming process?


  3. Laurie
    Feb 22, 2011 @ 16:27:31

    When I actually sat down to write the very first draft of my story, I didn’t really use any brainstroming techniques, but after we started to collabrate on Book 2, I found it easier to write down ideas in a semi timeline. Up to a point at least – or from a point. Anyway….

    Now that I’m going though and rewriting for only the fourth time (thanks Jennifer) having that very first – and very poorly written – draft in its own way is my storyline brainstorm. For characters, ship design, places, and so forth, I do find it easier to write all my ideas down and go from there.


  4. Andy Straub-Walden
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 09:02:31

    I like hanging timelines on my walls like some obsessed serial killer.


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