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How do you develop your plot?

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Sat Dec 24, 2011 9:41 pm
Blues says...

XD This might sound pretty strange, but how do you find out what your plot is? I've got the very, very basic idea, but I'm struggling to build a plot from that.

Do you guys use any techniques to get a plot? I'd like some techniques to use to try and develop it seeing as I'm struggling to develop it.

Thanks in advance!

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Sat Dec 24, 2011 11:50 pm
Rosendorn says...

My techniques vary.

My tried and true technique is taking scene ideas, writing them all out in a list/on index cards, and beginning to fill in the blanks. Once I have enough blanks filled in, I go on and write. I always leave myself larger gaps where things are up in the air because I want the plot to be unpredictable, even to me, because that's what makes it fun.

I also structure my plots centered around what I want characters/the reader to know, and when. This is actually a newer structure I've developed for a graphic novel, but I'm already adapting it to my prose novels. This structure requires there to be a lot of secrets in the world that not a lot of people know, with a focus on uncovering those secrets either through major plot points or character relations. It involves listing all the secrets that will be presented at one point or another in the plot, figuring out their importance, then planning the scenes where they'll be revealed. Then it's just filling in the blanks.

I've also done the standard three-act structure, where I take the Hero's Journey and stick a scene in every stage of it. It was a good start, but I never stuck rigidly to the formula (primarily because it's a formula). It's good to get a basic grasp on plots, though.

There is also the usual "start writing with scene one and go scene by scene after", which I've done once or twice... but usually it's just planning one event to the next. I've never actually written a story without an outline.

The consistent between most of my outlining techniques is they focus on getting your first ideas out, which are usually the coolest bits/the ones you really want in the story, then filling in the blanks with "regular" stuff or the stuff you need. Now, these bits should never be a chore, but knowing you're leading up to something cool is my motivation. It also leaves you a lot of wiggle room so the story can take a life of its own.

Hope this helps!
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Mon Dec 26, 2011 11:26 am
RacheDrache says...

My strategy for as long as has been important is character-oriented. My basic assumptions are that "plot is conflict" and that "plot is a character wanting something" and, then combined, "plot is a character wanting something and not having it."

Character A wants to save his kingdom.

Character B wants to save her kingdom.

But for either to save xer kingdom, the other kingdom has to die. Bam, conflict.

Character A wants a drink of water. But he's in the desert and there's no water around. Conflict.

I look at all of my characters and figure out what they want, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. How deep I go into this depends on the project. In my last project, I did this for EVERY character at a very close, no-time-skipped level because that was sort of the plot it was, and it was best if I knew where all my characters were and what they were doing and thinking at every moment. Because I treat plot as a gigantic cause and effect system. A chemical reaction in which even an unnamed, undescribed "extra" character can change the course of everything--my main character's running to get somewhere and runs into a random person who was on his way to get a chocolate bar from the kitchen.

The reason I followed everything that closely was because I HATE "conveniences" in plot. HATE. There was this one book I read where the character needed to create a distraction, and there was just conveniently a cart full of wood right there to light on fire. I read that book some six years ago and it still annoys me. The only reason that cart was there, as far as I know, was so that the character had the opportunity because the writer was too lazy to stick to the natural story.

For me, if I get to that part of the story, and my characters need a distraction, I'll trace a thousand and one plotlines from the "extras" (the plotlines are always there, even if not acknowledged and shown in the writing) before I have a cart of wood there that wasn't actually there. And if it's not there, then my characters either better figure something else out, or they get captured and the story goes somewhere else.

In answer to your question, I develop my plot organically. As organically as possible. I take the plot further by asking "What happens next?" and knowing what my characters are after. It's all character-oriented. The trick being that I have hundreds of characters. Millions, actually, but I group them for convenience after a while. When I'm working inside one particular country in my fantasy world, the characters in the other countries become a unit, a Party.

As for the "organic" part, that comes from me just following what my characters do. The plot grows and I trim and shape to capture the story. But, because I'm obsessive, it's not just that I plant the seed. I shape from a branch that's been growing. Growing from a plant that was once a seed from a plant that was once a seed--generations and generations and generations of plots ago.

This is why I don't outline, because it's impossible for me to predict the shape my plot's going to take, exactly. It'll grow and I'll shape as it does (not by influencing but by deciding what to include and what to exclude). Outlines are like hedge forms, and while I may think that the story's going to make a good swan, I'll have no idea until the end. So I let it grow wild and tend as minimally as possible. Because I've obsessive.

Sometimes, though, I get a scene idea, like Rosey mentioned. I'll get a line of dialogue from a character. When this happens, I treat it as fact, that sometime in the future, this scene's going to go down. A premonition to the future of the story.

Which brings me to the other way I look at plot, to which the hedge metaphor is no longer applicable.

Basically, I know that at some point in the story, Point X happens. Actually, in my current project, I have a Point X. It was the Point that originally came to me (I didn't think it up. I believing thinking up things is bad). I realized, "Oh, so this happens," and then it's a matter of solving the puzzle. Because once I get Point X, it's like one of those logic puzzles where you figure out which neighbor from which house brought which jello mold to which baby shower. I dissect what I know to pieces so that I can figure out how the story got there.

So, it's sort of like the hedge has already grown, and in order to shape it and tell the story right, I have to figure out where they roots are. Which is a bit of a complicated process.

At any rate, this is just how I do things. There are a hundred good ways to build character and a hundred good ways to build plot.

...but when it comes to the shaping of things, my rules are as follows:

1. Story authenticity. I always remain true to the story. Always. No conveniences. No changing things because I wanted them to grow a different way. What the reader wants doesn't matter. What I want doesn't matter. My goal is to tell the best story I can, to shape it the best I can. I have cried many tears over this rule, because, quite frankly, I don't like to see my characters lose or be wrong or die or get hurt or end up broken hearted. But that's the way I roll.

2. "No one is safe." This rule exists because of the first, but it's important enough to pull out. No character gets immunity. Ever.

3. "Never be afraid to destroy your own plot." Sometimes, I get so sure that the plot's going to be a swan that I ignore the signs that it's going to be a dragon instead. If I find myself thinking, "But if _____ happens, that'll mess everything up!", I groan and mutter because I know I just answered my own unasked question. So I destroy my own plot as it was, watch it go up in smoke or shatter into pieces, and then I realize the plot that it was always meant to be. Like putting coal under pressure. The diamond then shows.

4. "When in doubt, blow something up." I figure that if I'm starting to get bored with the plot, the reader'll also be getting bored. Most likely, this means I'm missing something in the story because I was being a lazy gardener. See above.

5. "Love plot holes." They're opportunities.

Gotta go, but I hope this gives you some ideas. Just remember the there's no right or wrong way. (Unless you have conveniences. Then I'll be a mad Ribbit.)
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Formerly RachaelElg

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— Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell