Creating Your Plot

What do you want to write about? It’s a simple question. And yet, it can be incredibly difficult to answer it with enough ferocity to get you to and past 50,000-100,000 words. It’s one thing to have an idea, but it’s a whole other to have one big enough to create a novel.

During my NanoWriMo experience, I reached about 25,000 words (Nano is about reaching the coveted 50k) and hit a wall: a brick, unforgiving wall. I knew exactly how I wanted to end my story. I knew exactly where I wanted my characters to end up. But I didn’t know how they would get there. So what did I do? I consulted the Internet, of course. I tweeted with the #NanoWriMo hashtag saying, “Help me. I’m stuck!”

Some kind tweeter found me and responded with, “Quick! Bring back someone from your character’s past!” It was a simple suggestion, but it worked miracles. I did just that. My character of Jenna was born. But you can never just introduce a character. There had to be a story associated with her. Then, there had to be a story connecting her to my leads. It snowballed from there, and what started as a simple, romantic-comedy-type novel, quickly turned into a family saga, with an underlying romance. It shifted the whole focus of my book.

So, how do you create a plot? How do you make it complex enough, but not too complicated? You can always look at your own life, but below are some other ideas.

Plot Devices
“An object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot.” (Web definition)

This can be your best friend if done well. But, it can cheapen your novel if done poorly. Me bringing in a character from the past could be described as a plot device. I think that she progressed the story in that she gave more insight into my character Addison. She helped explain why Addison is the way she is without saying, “Addison is sad because…” Death is a plot device. I have that one too. Cheating is a plot device. Got it.

However, my biggest pet peeve with plot devices is when they’re haphazardly thrown in, as if the writer got stuck at that wall and just needed something else to write about to make word count. It’s sloppy. It’s distracting, and worst of all, it’s obvious. If the device doesn’t serve a greater purpose than simply distracting the reader with something else for a few chapters, get rid of it! Please!

Fifty Shades of Grey (specifically, Fifty Shades Freed, book 3) did this. This book was PACKED with plot devices. The third book was all over the place. But what irked me was that they didn’t serve a bigger purpose. Kidnapping, marriage proposals, near death, attempted kidnapping, more near death, a father nearly dying, a baby…and on it goes. It’s just too much. Especially for a 400-word novel, where nothing had the chance to develop. So before you throw them all in like some stew, ask yourself: How is this helping my novel? Does it make sense in the bigger picture?

Character Arcs
These are vital. Who are your characters? It’s not enough to write them in the present, in my opinion. Allude to backstories. These backstories will almost always come into play with the character development throughout the story. It’s what helps the reader understand how/why a character is overcoming something.

Characters drive the story, so you must complete your characters. I’ve talked about Creating Characters in a past post. Their arc—background, current struggles, hopes, fears, etc—drive the story. Don’t ignore all of the things you can explore. Try this before throwing in plot devices.

Story in a Story
I’m actually a huge fan of this inception concept. It doesn’t work well for every genre, or for every book. In a lot of ways, it combines both the devices and the arcs. There’s also a couple ways to do it.

Switching POVs is one way. I mean, full on switching POVs, as in each chapter changes. Jodi Picoult does this all of the time. One chapter is marked “Bill”, the next “Sharon”, the next “Thomas”, etc. Sometimes, scenes will repeat themselves, but will be told through the eyes of the other character. As humans, we all interpret things differently. With the various POVs, the story feels slightly changed.

The more literal story within a story can be done with flashbacks, flashforwards, or hidden plots that slowly emerge.

Flashbacks: Your MC is a child. Your MC is dealing with a different conflict during that point in his/her life. Your MC is in the middle of something that will affect present-day MC

Flashforwards: Everything the reader is currently…well, reading, has significance to what will come next. The books opens in 2020, but switches to 1990 during chapter two. Two different stories taking place in different times, but they’ll connect—eventually.

Hidden plots: Just look at the movie Inception! Yeah, they’re trying to plant an idea in the billionaire’s head, but you also learn about Leo and his wife, and that whole story simultaneously.

I think it’s best to have your general idea conceptualized before you start typing. Although everyone has a technique that works for them. Just let things come naturally. If you’re half way through your book and realize, well, it’d make much more sense for Jennifer to quit her job than deal with her boss since she’s such a strong-willed character, then follow that path. Just don’t force it.