You know this diagram. Anyone who’s done any research about writing has looked at and analyzed a diagram just like this, or similar. It’s the basis for any story. It starts, things happen, there’s a climax, more things happen, then it ends on a calm note and possibly a cliff hanger to entice the reader on to the next book, should there happen to be one. I have to admit, it is a nice little template for beginning writers, or even experienced ones who need a little help. I used it a lot when I first started writing.
But there’s one thing this template can’t show, and that’s how to start coming up with a plot. In order to utilize this diagram, you actually have to have something there first. That isn’t quite so easy, and it takes a lot of practice and effort. There is no easy solution to coming up with a plot for a story, but there are some tips to help.
First you need an idea. It doesn’t matter what, or where the idea comes from. Sometimes you’ll get it walking down the street, maybe looking at books in the book store, or even having a conversation. I like the “what if,” questions to help come up with something. Namida was thought of by one of those. I thought to myself, “what if people could derive magic from water?” and from there I found myself in the midst of a ongoing civil war.
Once you have an idea, that’s when the plotting begins. For me, I create characters first. I have a vague idea of the world, and then I move into the players. I develop them until I feel they’re good enough, and I learn their story. Who are they and why? I ask myself a lot of questions about the world and try to develop it further. In particular, I ask myself a very, very vital question:
“Why this story?”
And that’s how I begin to plot. The characters are developed, the world is worked on (both develop more as I write), and I figure out why I’m telling this story in particular. In Namida, I’m telling the end of a long lasting civil war. In Eri’r Konhea, I’m telling the liberation of a people. In Elephant, I’m telling the story of a young boy going through a major development in his life. All of these things are major events, whether it be for the world, or just one character, and once I figure out why, I can go into how.
I start by figuring out the beginning, and the end. Point A and Point Z. Now, Point Z will often change. Already in Eri’r Konhea it’s changed a million times, but when I have an initial ending I know where I need to go. So I start plotting all the little events I want to happen. Elin goes on a journey, she meets Landon, meets Desmond, is arrested, escapes, finds the mountains, finds the Dragon Elder, BAM. Done. Simple, major points that I use as preliminary check points. They’ll often change, or morph, but at least I have something to move toward.
So with characters, world, and basic story in hand, I set out to write, and as I write, I force myself to develop those points further. I figure out how to get from Point A to B, B to C, and so on all the way until Z.
Of course, there are other ways. One girl I know comes up with an idea, and then just write what’s on her mind. A scene, maybe. From there, she develops her character and her world, and then her plot. Another friend of mine comes up with characters first, even before the idea, and then listens to their story.
Everyone works differently when it comes to plotting out their story. There is no right or wrong answer, just what works for you. Sometimes I don’t even follow my own formula. For Childhood I came up with the idea from a piece of string when I was eleven, and have just the idea floating around in my head. I know where it ends, kind of, and I know the climax, but that’s it. I’m developing the world as I write, the characters too, and just making it up as I go. Some things work for one story, and not for another. Finding the balance is what’s hard.
Anyone have a specific way they start plotting their stories? How they come up with ideas or develop them?
(P.S. Sorry I didn’t post yesterday! Got back from a trip. Also, Happy Easter and Passover everyone!)