Plot Development

The Story Swamp

Sometimes writers think up a character and jump straight into writing, without fully fleshing out the concept at a foundational level. This then means they falter and end up writing a very confused draft. I call this ‘The Story Swamp.’

Avoid The Story Swamp by writing a ‘logline’ or ‘pitch’ of approximately 25-60 words. This logline should cover what B2W calls The 3 Cs:

Character: Who is your protagonist? What does s/he need or want?
Conflict: Who is the antagonist? Why does s/he want to stop or counter your protagonist? What other obstacles are in your protagonist’s way?
Clarity: Do we know what genre or type of story this is? Are you using familiar or clichéd language? Are your word choices too vague?

Writer's Block

The Word Salad

Our subconscious minds combine items in unexpected, sometimes whimsical ways. Set a timer for twenty minutes and use at least three of these words in your draft. Write without stopping: a red scarf, windshield wiper, chrome, doily, blowtorch, spatula, CD-ROM, postage stamp, frittering, static cling, radio silence, kismet, calamity, heartburn, bandage.

Plot Development

The Page-Turner

Have you read a book you couldn’t put down? A good writer knows how to keep the reader’s attention — and the secret of that is pacing. Take a page-turner and analyse how it kept you gripped. Usually it’s because each scene introduced something new, which might be a major revelation or a tiny shift in the way the reader perceives a character. Run through the entire book and write down the purpose of every major scene and turning point.

Writer's Block

The Power of Words

Write a list of random, free-association words. For creative writing, list ten words across ten columns. Then go to each column and add nine more words so that the result is ten columns and ten rows, a total of one hundred words. Just reading the list and noticing the creative leaps your mind has made may surprise you. If you like, continue the exercise by using all one hundred words in a short fiction piece. For poetry, select the words that suggest a common theme.

Plot Development

The Forbidden Prompt

"There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable" – Mark Twain. Your character is doing something someone else has forbidden. Someone else discovers. Will there be a confrontation? Or will the discoverer be so uncomfortable that (s)he will ignore or throw hints instead? This is a great scene to practice tension between two characters as well as the internal thoughts of one of the characters.

Setting

The Art of Description

A few well-chosen words can create a strong sense of place which adds a rich dimension to your story. It draws your reader right in, as if they were in the room with your characters.

Choose one of the following places and describe it using ALL of your five senses (touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing). In fiction, you won't usually use all five, but limbering up your storytelling this way will help you show rather than tell the story:

  1. A market in the South of France
  2. A teenage bedroom
  3. A pub
  4. A hairdresser's salon
  5. The souk in Marrakesh
  6. A stately home
  7. A garden
Character Development

Somewhere Familiar

Are you finding it difficult to get to know your fictional characters and/or differentiate them from yourself? Try this: Choose a character from your project and let her/him take a walk into a place you know well. Then describe this place from this character’s perspective and ask yourself:

  1. What does (or doesn’t) s/he notice?
  2. How does s/he feel about what she notices?
    What thoughts do the things s/he notices trigger in her/him? This can be memories, social critique, enjoyment or disgust etc.
  3. How do your character’s impressions of, and responses to, the place differ from yours?
Dialogue

What Did You Say?

Part of writing great dialogue is ensuring each character has a unique voice. Pretend three of your characters have won the lottery. How does each character reveal the big news to their closest friend? Write out their dialogue with unique word choice, tone, and body language in mind.

OutliningWriter's Block

Brainstorming Session

Put a timer on for 20 minutes. Spend the whole time jotting down ideas for a short story or novel. Don't worry if they're coherent – or even if they're spelled right. From character names and traits, settings, pieces of dialogue, themes, lines of prose — anything that strikes you as being an interesting story element.

Character Development

Don't Look in the Mirror

It's impossible not to put some of yourself and your own life into your writing. But when you're writing about characters who you don't share much in common with, it can be tricky to authentically capture their "voice" and point of view. To develop this skill, fill out this character profile and base it on yourself. Then fill out a second one and make it as different from your own as possible.

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