Plot Development

Any Questions?

There’s one powerful motivator that led your reader to your book — curiosity. Our brain doesn’t stop asking questions because it knows that’s how it learns and evolves. Questions raise uncertainty. Unknowns. And if there’s an unknown, then humans want to make it known. There will be a big question that drives your story, so take a couple of minutes to consider the mother-question that propels your book from beginning to end.

Your manuscript also needs to be powered by lots of little questions. Your book will need a variety of whos, whens, whys, and wheres to keep your reader engaged. In fact, every scene in your book needs to have a question define it. It’s what will keep your reader turning those pages. Review each of your scenes and identify the question/s hanging over it, because once you nail that, their mind will be asking the most important question of all — what happens next?

Plot Development

Clue Hunt

The best way to learn is by reading, so pick up a book that had a plot twist that surprised you and yet felt right. Look for subtle foreshadowing in it. Start at the beginning of the book and find the clues that point towards the twist. Make a list of them. Include the wording, so that you can see why they weren’t obvious at first.

Plot Development

Alternative Timelines

If you haven't already, write a rough synopsis of where your story might be headed. If you already have a pretty good idea of this, but feel stuck trying to get there, try writing a brief "alternate timeline" of the story you have in mind. Are there fixed, important events that happen in your story? What would happen if your characters made different decisions in those crucial moments?

Plot Development

Grab Your Red Pen

Pick a scene or passage you've written that you feel dissatisfied with. Take a short time — maybe 10 or 20 minutes — to read the passage as though it were someone else's work. Take a red pen and make notes in the margins. If you didn't know anything else about the story, where else could this scene go? Try to get a feel for how malleable the words and the story can be.

Plot Development

Lost The Plot?

How do you start a story — or get a story back on track? If you’re feeling lost or blocked, try templating to get your plot on course.

Here’s what to do: bullet point your initiating incident, your rising action, your crisis, and your resolution for both your main plot and subplots. Make a table to see events running parallel, remembering subplots exist to enhance, complicate – ultimately, compliment – your main action. Listing like this highlights any irrelevancies, keeping your tale on track, and makes all you write intertwined and significant to your protagonist’s journey. Plan out using this framework as your reference.

Plot Development

The Hook

What is your story’s hook? Analyze your opening scene and identify the implicit but specific question it encourages readers to ask. Is this question in the first paragraph or, better yet, the first line? How can you strengthen it?

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.

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?

Plot Development

The Motif

Write a list of images you associate with your theme. Now do the same for each of your main characters. Keep these images in mind as a way to present your theme metaphorically through symbolic motifs.

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.