Developing Plot

It’s confirmed: I am not a character writer, able to start with a character and “see where the character takes me.” Nope. I need to plot first.

Now here’s the thing. I can tell you about 29 different plot paradigms. There’s the hero’s quest, especially as it plays out in Bridge to Terabithia. But it seems that we must constantly relearn everything for each new novel and what worked on the last one may or may not work on this one.

I know the overall structure of this story but was having problems with the plot. This time, a simple 8-step structure has helped.

  1. Story Goal: What is the main problem in my story?
  2. Consequence: So what? If the main character fails, then what?
  3. Requirements: In order for the goal to be achieved, what must happen first?
    • Pre-requisites: In order for those requirements to happen, what must happen first?
  4. Forewarnings. Directly opposing the Requirements, what could go wrong to indicate that the Goal will never be achieved?
    • Preconditions. In order for the Forewarnings to happen, what must happen first?
  5. Costs. What price does the main character pay for success? What must s/he sacrifice to achieve the Goal?
  6. Dividends. And the opposite of the Costs, is the unexpected wonderful things that might result of the struggle to gain the goal?

What these questions gave me is a way to start adding events to the story in a somewhat structured way. I also repeated the questions for each of three subplots, knowing that I could skip one or two of the questions for any given subplot because they don’t have to be as well developed as the main plot. What I’m doing now is working through a synopsis that weaves these plot lines together. At this point, I feel free to change, edit, restructure, omit, embellish as needed. I’m hoping for a 5-10 page synopsis of the story from which I can start to develop a scene list.

Some things I’m considering as I work on this synopsis:

  • Raise the stakes. Are the stakes of the story constantly evolving?
  • Concrete events. Are there concrete events that could develop into strong scenes?
  • Balance of plot/subplot: Is a subplot overwhelming the main story? Am I maintaining a strong through-line for the main plot?
  • Setting. Am I selecting the most effective setting for each scene? In fact, have I chosen the right overall setting, time period, etc?
  • Characters. Do I really need all those supporting characters? Can I combine functions and get rid of some?

How I WISH I could do all this intuitively, on the fly, as I write. But I can’t.
How I WISH I could follow the same process as last time. But I can’t.

All I can do it struggle with the story and find the right structure, the right blend of story and characters this time. And let the process unfold, as it will. Plotting this week–I hope I’ll be writing next week. We’ll see.

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