View Full Version : Plotting Your Novel

March 8th, 2013, 09:58 AM
Where do you get yourideas?<o:p></o:p>
This is probably the most common question writers are asked.What people are really wanting to knowis how plotting a story.<o:p></o:p>
When I first began writing I had this terrible feeling thatIíd run out of ideas and that the story I was writing would be my last. This irrational fear got me into a veryuseful habit and that was starting an idea notebook and file.<o:p></o:p>
In this notebook I have all sorts of things written down.Potential titles for stories, snippets of dialogue, info about characters, and,yes, ideas for plots. Some are a few sentences, really like a blurb, whileothers are pages long. For example, my plot idea for my next installment of myNiki Webber mysteries is four pages long. While the next plot idea is just twosentences.<o:p></o:p>
So donít worry about length, youíre not writing a synopsis.Just get yourself a notebook and start jotting down ideas. Some youíll use inthe next few months and some, yes, this has happened to me, you donít use foryears.<o:p></o:p>
Something else I like to add to the notebook is cuttingsfrom newspapers, magazines and articles Iíve printed from the Internet. Theyspark the muse and I look at them thinking this could be the beginning of agreat story. And hang on to them indefinitely. Iíll make a confession here. Istill have a cutting from a newspaper that dates back to 1991. Itís browningaround the edges but I know Iím going to use it one day.<o:p></o:p>
So hopefully these notes and cuttings will give you an ideaabout your plot, but what if you come up with something thatís been done amillion times? In the workshop I teach about the Seven Deadly Sins of Fictionone of the sins is same old, same old.Plots that editors see over and over again, and one of the reasons manuscriptsget rejected.<o:p></o:p>
So whatís a writer todo?<o:p></o:p>
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Read books with plotssimilar to the one youíre thinking about writing-<o:p></o:p>
Now before you think Iíve gone totally crazy, hereís myrational behind this tip. If you read a book with plots similar to the one youírethinking about youíll get an idea whatís been done with it, how itís beenapproached which acts as a springboard for your own ideas. Think about how youcan make yours different. What will be your unique spin on the age old story?<o:p></o:p>
Hereís an example from my own work One Night With You. I wanted to use the familiar plot of theheroine feeling that her biological clock was ticking down so she wants to getpregnant. The first idea that jumped out at me was how about if she tries toget pregnant but canít. Second idea, letís not make it her fault why she canítconceive, letís make the hero at fault. All the reviews Iíve had for this bookmention that they love the new spin I gave to this very, very and yes, overdoneplotline. <o:p></o:p>
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Give Them NewCharacters<o:p></o:p>
As well as writing and teaching, Iím also a book reviewer.Many of the books that come my way start sounding alike not so much because ofthe plot but the characters appear to be cardboard clones. This got me thinkingin terms of my own work so every time I sit down to start a story I think aboutways I can make my characters different. Sometimes I donít want them to be perfect. I want them to have somehurt, some pain and as each of us deals with these things differently,fictional people should too. <o:p></o:p>
It takes a few books to develop your writerís voice but byputting your own spin on how you tella story can turn a hackneyed plot into masterpiece. Maybe itís the way youconvey the story through one particular character.<o:p></o:p>
Iíll be posting something about point of view later butsometimes you can give a worn out plot a new spin by telling it from anothercharacterís point of view. Recently I got a nice review for Someone Like You,the third book in my Perfect Pairing series. The hero is a widower and is stillmourning the loss of his wife. The reviewer said what she liked about the storywas Iíd chosen to be in the heroís point of view a lot of the time and she feltit gave the story more emotion because she knew what he was going through andgave it a new spin.<o:p></o:p>
So if youíre everstuck with a worn-out plot try switching POV or even focusing more heavily onsomeone elseís point of view. One example would be we always seem to hear theside of the story from the womanís whoís been dumped and had her heart broken.Like they say there are always two sides to every story, so how about tellingit from his point of view?<o:p></o:p>
Post any questions you have and Iíll be happy to answerthem. Next week Iíll be posting aboutdialogue and point of view. <o:p></o:p>
Have a good weekend and happy writing.

March 9th, 2013, 04:55 AM

I certainly related to the fear of running out of ideas. Some great hints.

March 10th, 2013, 08:24 PM
Thanks for these tips - I too worry I may not get any new ideas, but somehow I always seem to manage to come up with something!

Debora Dennis
March 11th, 2013, 06:58 AM
Good tips! Sometimes when a scene isn't quite working for me, I switch the pov character and it makes all the difference. I find telling scenes from the character with the most to lose in that scene makes it more emotional powerful and just switching it up can work wonders.

Darcy Flynn
March 11th, 2013, 02:26 PM

I've only started writing novels four years ago, when my son went to college, so I consider myself a newbie. I keep a notebook with plot ideas, scenes, and dialogue. I also cut pictures out of magazines and put them on a bulletin board in my studio. I feel affirmed that you do the same thing! LOL Right now I'm struggling with the plot of my third novel. I've hit a wall in the story and am avoiding returning to it. It's funny how much I just want to clean my house lately! :) I started writing it to see if that would spark some ideas and direction, which it has to a point, but I'm not a pantster, more of a plotster!
Besides, going through my notebook and magazine photos for ideas, what other practical advice can you share that will help me to push forward.


March 11th, 2013, 03:49 PM
Hi Darcy, this is a great question and one that seems handpicked for me. I was unable to write fiction for ten years. It was after my dad passed away and I think that had something to do with it, but then one day I decided it was now or I'd give up completely. Some tricks that worked for me were writing on a schedule. I'd sit down with my laptop at the same time every day and know that was 'writing time' nothing else, no watching TV etc, just writing. There were still some days I struggled but I made myself do it, even if it was just a few sentences, I'd achieved my goal. So that's something for you to try. My next trick was to write with certain music in the background so I'd connect it with my writing time. I still write to this music, no lyrics just relaxing music like New Age or classical and I only listen to it when I'm writing. Another trick is if you're stuck with one story move onto another one. Sometimes it's not us that's the obstacle but the story. Maybe it's not the time to write that one. Try writing another one and come back to the old one later. Sometimes just getting back to writing is all it takes to jumpstart a project. Or you could try switching character's point of view and see if that helps. And finally don't worry if you do want to clean your house or do whatever, sometimes I find that doing something else ignites the muse, for me that's gardening or cooking. Just don't use it as an excuse not to write because like I said writing to a schedule is the best cure. Hope these tips work for you and good luck with your story. All the best, Susan

Darcy Flynn
March 11th, 2013, 07:28 PM
Thanks Susan! These are great tips. And you're right, I love how you made a commitment to just do it. No excuses. And, I hear you. :) I love having something concrete to guide me! I especially like your 'writing to the SAME music' suggestion. What a great idea! I was a music major in college and especially love instrumental pieces, like classical and smooth jazz. I'll start creating my 'writing playlist' tonight! Thanks again for your encouragement.