How do you keep it going?

June 26, 2009 at 9:00 PM | Posted in Writing, Writing Advice | 6 Comments
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So I asked on Facebook for suggestions for my next article and got this:

how to develop characters? how to move the plot along….hmm something like that. have fun :)‎

Thanks for the suggestion, Saira! I decided to go with the bolded section. I’ll do something on developing characters in another article. Maybe the next one? Anyway, today’s post is all about moving the plot along and how you do that.

I’m sure every writer has faced this dilemma a number of times when writing. You get an SNI (shiny new idea) or not so shiny new idea and start writing. But eventually, you run out of steam or your story stalls and you think, “Where the heck do I go from here?” You know where you want to end up but you have no idea how to get there. I’m not claiming to be an expert (far from it) but over the years (which aren’t too many) I’ve read about and used a number of methods which have proven successful for myself and others.

The Motive: This is really the core of your story. The motive of your main characters pushes everything along. It’s the reason why Harry Potter is determined to defeat Voldermort, why Buffy slays vampires and why Gossip  Girl writes her gossip. If your characters don’t have a motive, you, dear writer, have no story. What you do have are a bunch of people floating around in your mind doing random stuff that may or may not make sense. So ask yourself, why is Agatha trying to find the golden goblet? Why is Mindy trying to ruin Veronica’s reputation? If you can answer these questions (or whatever ‘why’ questions pertain to your story) you are on your way to making sure your story doesn’t stall! :)

The Stakes: This ties in with ‘The Motive’. Actually, it’s a very big contributing factor to it. The stakes are what your character(s) have to lose. For instance, if Mindy doesn’t ruin Veronica’s reputation she won’t get the guy and won’t be prom queen. If Agatha doesn’t find the golden goblet the world will burst into flames, claiming her life as well as everyone else’s. Everyone has something to lose. Everyone.

Conflict: This is a crucial way to keep your plot moving. Every good story needs conflict. It pushes the stakes, motivates the characters and its what you resolve at the end of the story. Conflict keeps your reader reading and your pages turning. Seriously. What would Harry Potter be without the conflict. Harry versus Draco. Harry versus Ron. Harry versus Snape. Harry versus the World. Harry Potter would not be as cool or interesting if he didn’t have so many problems. And problems equal conflict.

So, how do you make these things work for you? How do you work them into your story?  The proven suggestion is to outline, outline, outline. You can outline in your head or outline on paper – but having a working idea of what you want to happen, why it’s supposed to happened, to who its going to happen and when its going to happen is a good idea. I’ve come across a few of suggestions – it’s up to you to see which will work best for you.

The List: This is the loosest way to go, as far as I can figure and allows the most creative leeway later on in the writing process. Simply list the major events of your story. Once you’ve listed them, go back and add meat. This means emotions, motivation, who is there when the event happens, etc.

Scene Chart: This is what I’ve started to do and is a variation of the above – only much, much more specific. It works for me, but might not work for everyone. List all the scenes that will happen in your story – all of them. Then, go back and answer why they need to happen. If you can’t answer why, scrap the scene and move on. When you go into the writing stage, add the meat. It’s liberating and constraining at the same time – for me, the scene chart makes sure that I stick to the plot and the story doesn’t become a monster (as mine are wont to do) but I also know exactly where I’m going and why. If the story changes I just go back to the scene chart, and rework it. Excel is a really good tool for this.

The Snowflake Method: This is what I first used when I started working on my novel and its really helpful all around. The Snowflake method makes you flush out characters, events, etc. It forces you to understand your characters, their motivations, how the plot molds them and how they mold the plot. If you’re just starting out and the idea of writing a novel is freaking you out – the Snowflake Method might be the way to go. Stick it in google and Randy Ingermanson’s ‘The Snowflake Method’ should come up.

So I hope I’ve given you some tools to help you keep that plot moving! :) As always, comments are appreciated – and any suggestions you may have for future posts are welcome.

(Cross-posted to The Raven Desk @ WordPress)

~Sumayyah

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