In James Scott Bell’s ‘Plot & Structure‘, chapter one asks,
“What is plot, anyway?”
1. A small piece of ground, generally used for burying dead people, including writers.
Get it? Because, plot kills…right? *crickets* Ba-dum-tssss!
Pun aside, if you’re a writer, I would–as well as many other authors–recommend this book.
Remember when I told all of you about writing my second book? How in the last few weeks I’ve been struggling, holding back due to feelings of adultery against my first book? Yesterday, I went over all my notes and was trying to figure out all the details. I felt stuck but not in a way I was familiar with. After reviewing my notes, I noticed something. I had ALL this back story, worldbuilding, character profiles. It looked like I had A LOT of information to build my story. Page and pages. Compared to my first book, this new story has more back story on my world and characters. So why was I stuck? Why couldn’t I beat sheet these scenes?
Then an epiphany.
Crap! I have no story. I have no PLOT! Without it, my story was dead.
I had heard authors vent about not having Plot and it being the killer of their current story. I got it in theory but didn’t fully understand what they meant. Why? Well, in my first book, I had the Plot. What I needed was to fill in the rest around it.
Last year, I went to a Lauren Oliver (author of the Delirium series, Panic and recently released, Rooms) Writer’s Workshop. It was fantastic! She was a great teacher. I still have her notes with me every time I’m writing. I glanced over and a line caught my attention.
PUT CONFLICT IN CONCEPT (PLOT)
Dystopians put concept in main conflict. Realistic fiction can have conflict in landscape of concept. i.e. “To Kill a Mockingbird”
My first story is dystopian. Makes sense that within dystopian tales, the first thing that comes to mind is the conflict in society where a governing system manipulates a people group into a forced way of false paradise living. The hard part then is to fill in the rest. Build your characters, their world, the concept around the main conflict – plot.
This time around, I had the concept of characters and the world but no conflict. I had NO idea who their enemy was. What was their central struggle? What was the POINT of the story?
I had been mulling over this idea for weeks and though yes, new ideas about my characters and their world came here and there, inspiring, I still had no story. I had stuff, but no story. Once I finally came to this realization, I was able to move forward. I put everything down and asked myself the questions.
One, I asked myself again, what does my MC want? Interesting enough, that ‘want’ changed or evolved since I first jotted one down. Thank you back story. See? It wasn’t for nothing. Then I dissected that more. Once that was done, I started brainstorming about the overall themes and the personal themes in this new story. Eureka hit and I had PLOT! *shoots confetti canons* I had a story!
Taking all I had, I constructed a beat sheet. The “beat sheet” is a way to sequence your story, using bullets instead of whole sentences or paragraphs. When those bullet points become sentences and paragraphs, you’ve got an “outline” on your hands. Once I had my general Plot, I began to bullet point scenes from beginning to end . This helps you see holes in your story. It’s been a wonderful and different approach to building my story before the drafting process this time around.
Here’s a great article on “The Beat Sheet”
So if during your writing process, you find yourself stuck, take a moment to pause. The culprit might just be that dreaded and equally brilliant, PLOT. Go back to the beginning.
“What does my protagonist want?” “Why does he/she want that?” Then analyze your world. Compare the themes of your world with the personal themes of your characters. “What is your character’s main goal? Then what would be their main conflict?”
The creative juices will begin to flow and next thing you know, “Boom Baby!” You’re one step closer to drafting your book.
Till next time, folks! Happy writing and reading!