Today I'm bringing you a post sparked by the loveliest message from reader Hana, who emailed me via my website (and also a little bit inspired by a conversation about plotting on Twitter that got my brain working). But before we get to that, it's time to announce the winner of last week's giveaway! This is actually happening a bit sooner than I expected, because I set the giveaway for two weeks to give people plenty of time to enter. Apparently Rafflecopter had other ideas. And when I checked the entries today I found that the giveaway was closed, but they didn't email me to let me know so... I dunno. I'm as confused as you, Dear Readers, but let's not dwell on the past.
Onward to the winner, who is...
RACHEL J ROWLANDS!
I mean, I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but I'm preeeeetty sure Plato said that, so you really ought to pay attention. To Plato. Ahem.
Now for today's Reader Question! The lovely Hana asks:
I just wondered: how you plan out... a story - how does an author like you, of whom I look up to, draft things out? I have book ideas and I like writing in my spare time, and I'd love to understand your technique! I myself am stuck with thinking mostly of the cool, climactic scenes in my stories, but struggle to piece it all together and make it clever without getting too overwhelmed. If you could get back to me - any quick tips would do - I would be super grateful.Lovely Hana, I have GOT THIS. Listen, some authors just *get* plot, you know? They don't ever have to define it, or plan it, or stress about it, because it is IN THEIR BONES. They're natural storytellers, and it flows for them totally organically. These are the writers who weave the most awesome tapestry of plot threads together and for whom plot twists and narrative balance are like breathing.
I kind of hate those authors?
Most of the writers I know struggle with plot - and me most of all. What you say here about having ideas for cool and climactic scenes but no real idea how to turn that into a story? This makes me feel so seen. Honestly, this is what most writers spend most of their time discussing, worrying over and asking each other for advice about. And that's good news for you! Because it means we have come up with practical answers to these questions which are actually useful!
So here's my run-down of resources that should hopefully help you to understand and construct plots. First up, this three part series that I created a while ago that guides you through the whole process from 'Oooh, I have a cool idea!' to 'Oooh, I have a fully coherent story!'
TURNING IDEAS INTO PLOTS: Part One, Part Two and Part Three
You can click on the diagrams to make them large enough to read all the small writing, btw. Now, this is a method which has reliably worked for me, and I know that it's good for others too because writer-friends of mine have actually used this to teach creative writing courses. BUT! Every writer's mind works differently, and you might be looking for something that goes into a bit more detail about the ways that plot, character, theme etc. interact.
And so next, here's Rachael Stephen's video about her favourite plotting method, the Plot Embryo.
I've used this for my last two books - after coming up with a basic story plan using my own Plot Diamond - as a sort of narrative MOT, to make sure that all the elements of the story are actually working together as they should be.
I also highly recommend John Yorke's book Into The Woods, which is another very different but compelling and useful examination of how plots work and why. The first time that I read it, it honestly blew my mind a little bit, and I think a lot of writers have that reaction, so brace yourself!
If you're looking for something slightly less novel-crafty and more thinky, here's a post I did a little while ago (which includes another video from Rachael Stephen) about the importance of figuring out your thesis, or the 'truth' of your story, and how you can use essay planning methods to ensure you demonstrate this throughout the developing narrative. The triangle structure is maybe more useful for short fiction, but the idea that you should work out your story's thesis first and use that as a 'North Star' to guide you in working out what your novel/essay/short story is truly about, and therefore what stuff should be in it, is universally useful in my opinion. I did another essay about this on the Royal Literary Fund Website, which you can check out if you'd like some more depth.
And finally, there's a wealth of other writing advice here on my All About Writing page, which covers everything from rooting cliches out of your work to how to create a character, so check that out too, Hana. I hope this is useful and gets your story-writing muscles quivering with anticipation to get to work!