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Plotting 101

Put Plotting on the Front Burner

It can often be hard to start plotting. Yet start you must. Characters have got to do… something or other.

So, here are some ideas to get your characters and you moving.

Scenarios. Start there. So this is the small stuff, just one scene. Here are a few possibilities.

  • Meet cute in a coffee shop (or whatever the equivalent is in your universe).
  • Fight over the last piece of pie.
  • Announcing something startling (e.g. I’m gay! I’m not! Hey, I’m your dad! Soylent Green is people! ~ whatever floats your boat).
  • A hard decision has to be made regarding the future of an elderly or disabled family member (can also be a pet if you prefer).
  • A character is being pushed to go to fight in a war they do not believe in.
  • An academic or athletic competition is tainted by a cheating scandal.

Don’t like my scenes? So do something else. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Or something similar. So the idea here is, throw your characters into various situations. This also means you probably aren’t using all your characters in each of these situations. Maybe Aunt Mary and your biker chick character do best in the fight over the pie. Maybe your sailor character and the dentist character do best in the cheating scandal.

Plotting and Swapping and the Ole Switcheroo

Now swap characters. Move those chess pieces around. Why do your lawyer character and your dog trainer character work so poorly in the announcement scene? Why do your Italian designer character and your drum majorette character do so well in the war scene, but so poorly when they’re paired with anyone else?

Also—the weird variety is the point. You’re throwing Jell-O against the wall to start. So, what sticks? What flops?

You may find a scenario works better if you change something or other. So, maybe the hard decision is about a child. Maybe the competition is a bake-off. Whatever. You do you.

Start to Tie it Together

As you change and manipulate this stuff, and pull the characters’ puppet strings, start to think of how the stuff ties together. And also write the before and the after. Those scenes I reeled off, above? They’re not the first or the last one. They’re like Scene #14 out of 63 scenes. So, you’ve got room for the ramp-up and the denouement.

Wait, is This Plotting? Why Yes, It Is!

And hey, guess what? Every time you change up the situation, you are plotting. Every time you write the sequel and the prequel (or at least imagine them), you’re plotting. And every time you swap the characters, you’re also plotting.

Now it’s time to fit things in better. A medieval fantasy world won’t have coffee shops and maybe no one can meet cute. So now it’s a tavern, or a jousting tournament. Maybe pie doesn’t exist in your universe (quelle horreur!) and starving characters are fighting over a crust of bread. Or the war is a nuclear one, and no one wants to go who isn’t some out of touch general.

Again, you do you.

What’s Next?

And write this stuff down! At some point, when you start to see some winner ideas, think about what the connective tissue is between them. The war and the meeting cute could bookend a relationship. The pie and the cheating could be symptoms of narcissism.

So, once this starts to become second nature, you’ll have your own scenarios. And maybe you won’t need to try quite so many combinations.

As is true in many areas of life, practice makes perfect, or at least perfect-er.

You can do eet!

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