Are you unsure where your plot needs to go? Do you have an idea but are confused as to how to proceed? This post can help you get over this hurdle and get back into writing! I walk you through this four step technique I use myself to gain the objectivity to get though writing hurdles and let my characters run the show.
So, today I am going to talk about my favourite subject: Plotting. In particular, on how to overcome writers block and to keep you guessing as to where your story is going to go. Just because we are plotters doesn't mean that we don't have the same unpredictable element that pantsing has - we have only experienced it before we start writing (see my post on the common misconceptions about plotting).
The technique: Multiple scenarios
Give your character multiple scenarios to choose from when they are:
- Confronted with a situation;
- When they have a decision to make; or
- If you are unsure where the plot should go.
What you need to do
This exercise is best done with a pen and paper. I find that it gives you the time to work things out in your mind as you are writing and you also have the luxury of having everything spread out in front of you. If you do it on your laptop, I would suggest printing it out later.
Why should you try it?
If you are writing a story then you must be passionate about it, and if you are reading this it may mean that you are having issues with figuring out your characters next steps. This technique is good as it helps break down the scene or chapter and causes you to address the issues in the story instead of glossing over them.
It makes you take a step back and look at your work in an objective light, which can assist in spotting holes and a range of other issues. It will also cause you to think about why your character is doing what they are doing- is it you dictating them or are they determining where it is going? By addressing the reasoning behind your characters actions you ensure that your novel makes sense, that there is a purpose behind everything and that there are no holes.
Step 1: What are the aims of your scene or chapter?
What I always do when I am confronted with a difficult part in my plot is to start off by listing the aims of the scene or chapter I am working on. I work on a scene-by-scene basis, but it will still work no matter how you write your book (you can see why I write in scenes here).
Simply jot down in bullet points what the goals are, it's purpose and what it needs to achieve in the sense of how it will impact the reader and influence the rest of the book.
- For some specific secret to be revealed;
- To showcase the hidden sensitive side of a specific character;
- To allude to real/hidden message in the book; or
- To foreshadow certain events to come.
Here is an image of aims I jotted down in my own notebook.
The next step is to write down what the aims are for each character involved in this scene or chapter and what they have to achieve. This will help you while writing as it will give you a sense of how to portray that character's feelings and will get you thinking about how they would act in the situation.
Use this as an example of what you should write:
- Character A must find character C
- Character C decides to do XYZ
Here is when you start the real plotting. Write down at the top of the page what is the main issue to figure out, for instance: What does character X do when he finds out XYZ?
Then write the heading "Idea #1" or equivalent. Try to aim to come up with at least 3 different ideas on how the character can broach the topic or issue they have to consider. Then once the action has been revealed to them, consider what are their next steps? Think logically and put yourself into the characters shoes. If you discovered X, what would you do after that? What would your next thought be? What you resolve to do? How would you go about it?
Expand out these different paths as much as you can and then eliminate the ones you can see won't work out. Keep going with the remaining scenarios until it is clear which path your character would choose.
Note: You have to pay close attention that you are not dictating what you want the character to do. Instead, consider what you know of the character; their personality, personal background and outlook on the world. Then, based on these things write down what your character would choose to do. I know it is hard, but you must take yourself out of it. You must forget where you want to story to go and just let your characters take charge. It is their story after all.
If you are still stuck by the end of this, you should stop writing and start jotting down the questions that need to be answered. Ask yourself, why am I having these issues? Is it because you are unsure how the other important characters would react or because the character has decided to go where you didn't want the plot to go? Or, ask yourself how the character is supposed to feel at this stage and if you need to, start looking up the stages of grief (as an example).
Once you have made your questions, in point form address the possible ways to fix the outstanding issues. Your answers can be as simple or as complex as you wish. However, remember that the more detailed your explanations or answers are, the more it will help you in the long run.
Once you have the answers for all of your questions, try expanding out that remaining path/s again until you get it right. If you are still not getting it right or you can't work your way around it, maybe it is time to start analysing your novel. The hurdle could be the result of a plot issue earlier in the book. Usually, when I come to a problematic situation in my novel it is usually because I forced the character into my premeditated outcome rather than letting them do what they want.
This method may seem quite cold and technical, however there is a reason behind it. Imagine you are at work and you come across an issue. Would you just keep going and hope for the best? Or, would you stop and try to figure out the problem? Of course, you would choose the latter. How do you solve the issue? By writing down all the possible elements that could have caused it or list the things that are preventing it from being done. You then prioritize which problems can be fixed straight away and those that need further work.
This novel you are working on is your work. It is a product to a publisher. It is a part of your brand. Why wouldn't you treat it as such? Further, by working in this way you are distancing yourself from your novel and giving yourself the opportunity to work on it as objectively as you possibly can.