Monday, 6 November 2017


Dear Readers, today I'm beginning the process of posting all the refreshed and revised content which I made for the Patreon here on the blog. So let’s talk PLOT. 
What is a plot? Do you find them? Make them? And how do they WORK? 
First up, I’m going to say that most of us really need to calm down when it comes to plot. There’s a lot of advice out there, and quite a bit of it contradicts most of the rest, and almost everyone offering advice seems convinced that if you don’t create a plot using the exact right formula then rocks shall fall and everybody will die. That sort of thinking? Is not useful. At all.

When I cast my mind back and start remembering how much I used to stress out about not doing things 'properly' or 'the right way', and how I used to get stuck in the first three chapters and just revise them until they died, or struggle my way to the middle and then freak out because I had idea where to go next... honestly, a cold sweat breaks out on my brow. Writers need to think and talk about this. I definitely did. But I’m convinced people so often get so bogged down in different schools of thought about what a plot is, arguments on shape or function (three acts? Five? SIXTEEN??) that it becomes the opposite of helpful. 
This is Part One of my three part workshop on plots, plots, wonderful plots. It’s designed to be helpful to both beginning and more experienced writers, and hopefully by the end you will feel inspired and motivated, not confused, panicked, or like fleeing to Tibet to herd Yaks.
To begin we need to go back to that classic and much groaned over question: Where do you get your ideas?
The standard response to that one is: ideas are easy to come by, it's execution that counts. But what I think those writers are really asking, a lot of the time, is actually more like: How do you turn an idea into a story? How do you know what happens next? How do you fill a whole book up with all that STUFF? 
I get it. Really.
Most writers that I've talked to or read books by say that when they *get* a story idea, it's usually actually the result of two or more little idea fragments spinning around in their head frantically until they all collide and POOF! Suddenly there's a story there. Only it's not a complete story. This is what you need to recognise. With some notable exceptions, stories, characters, plots, settings – none of it appears in the brain fully formed. You might get some sort of inking of how things kick off, or maybe one or two vital scenes from the middle, or a faint impression of how it should end. Or just a vivid image of a certain character or place. Or all of these things (lucky you). 
It's vital to realise at this point that those impressions? Aren't set in stone. They're giving you hints about what you want your story to be ABOUT, hints on the themes or particular twists you want to explore. The fact that you clearly see a fearless heroine fighting a Samurai in the middle of a bleak orange desert could mean that you want to write about an ass-kicking girl's adventures, or that you want to write about the desert, or a lonely Samurai who wanders across the world, or that you're interested in having a romance where the couple fights each other with swords for fun. The important thing could be the tiny snatch of dialogue you get where they taunt each other about bad technique, or the colour of the sand, or the general bleak tone of the thing.


This is your brain opening doors and showing you possibilities. Glimpses of what could be. They're telling you your characters *could* be these kinds of people, or your world might be like this. They're inviting you to think long and hard, make choices, sink into the mind of the people whose story you need to tell, to immerse yourself in their world. They're inviting you to walk through as many of those doors as you like, have a curious wander around, then either move in or walk away and close the door behind you.
Do you have an idea for a beginning, a couple of middle parts and an end that have nothing to do with each other and you have no idea how to get from one to another? That's fine. It's way too early to panic and give up. It might be that you'll be working things out as you go along, just writing until you hit one of those key scenes. It might be that you never actually write any of those middle scenes because by the time you get to the middle you realise an event like that simply couldn't happen in the world you've created, or that your character just wouldn't act that way.

The same with endings. You could be like J K Rowling and write the final scene seven books in advance and stick to it (yikes) or you could be like me and aim for that final scene as a guide but usually end up realising the actual events are all wrong, and it's just one or two things, like a character's feelings, or the location or mood that you need. You might even be like Leah Clifford and have no IDEA how it's going to end (she's a better man than I am, Gunga Din).
This point, where you have the compelling image and some odd bits and pieces of a story is usually the point where beginning writers plunge in and start writing, carried away with the desire to see What Happens Next. If that works for you, fine. But a lot of the emails I get seem to come from people who've had this AWESOME IDEA OMG and started writing right away and then got completely lost after a few chapters. Now they don't know if this means the idea was wrong to begin with and they should give up and move onto the Shiny New Idea... or what. 
So, in the next post, we're going to get down to the nitty-gritty of how to actually make a plot that will allow you to keep writing the thing you want to write. This will include examining a couple of ways to work out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, including the use of a plot diagram that I partially stole and partially made up to stop me drowning in my own ideas. 
Would you like the next piece of the workshop (including rinky-dinky plot diagram) this week? Let me know in the comments, muffins, and I'll try to find time to transfer it across and fix the formatting (what is with the formatting on Blogger?).


Q said...

Take as much time as you need! I'm excited to read it.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks, Q :)

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