Sunday, December 23, 2012

Let's Plot


As the year draws to a close I have started thinking about what I want to do next year and one thing is to blog more. And always anxious to get started, I decided to start now. In the past couple of months I have been teaching a variety of writing courses at Savvy Authors and I have two more that will in two weeks. One of them is a six-month long class that deals with writing an entire book. It's not as intense as NaNoWriMo, but it can be challenging.
It got me started thinking about how I start to write a book. Well, it all starts with ideas, of course. How often do you get those great ideas and then you don’t know what to do with them? A couple of weeks ago one of my classes was a Help Desk coaching class and I tried to give everyone ideas for their writing. This is one of the lessons I took away from that class.
Where do your ideas come from and what do you do when you know you need to start a new book? Let’s look at a couple of ways you might get started formulating ideas and then putting them into motion to get the plot moving.

 1.       Have a Plotting Party.  This can be a lot of fun and get others involved as well. If two heads are better than one, then how about three or four?
 When I am struggling with an idea and I don’t know what to do, I call together the Gang. I have three very good friends from college who still regularly get together, even after 40 years. We’ll get a couple of bottles of wine (or champagne) or make margaritas, order take out food or make up some snacks and then just sit around and talk.

I toss out my opening premise and we go to work.  I’ll take notes and we’ll start throwing out ideas. We might take the plot in one direction for a while and then someone comes up with something so wild we go in an entirely different direction. More ideas, more directions for the plot to go.

They also toss out ideas for the hero or heroine. Or sometimes they can make the villains really weird or spooky.  I have one friend who always seems to make him sympathetic. It helps me to keep things in perspective as I write the story too.

This idea can also work with critique partners. Several years ago when I was meeting with a regular group in a restaurant every week, we decided to meet at someone’s house instead and do a plotting party. We also did it in a library meeting room once. We bring sticky notes and write down the ideas and work for several hours on plots for all of us. We would then put the sticky notes up on a dry erase board so we could watch the plots develop.
2.      A more solitary idea I try for developing a story idea is to simply start writing scenes with my characters. It allows me to bring out their emotions and to see who they are and how they might react.  I might start at the beginning of the book, but sometimes I do the meeting scene or the first love scene between the hero and heroine. 

Since I don’t have any preconceived notions of how they might react the characters often come through better and on their own terms.  I’ll do that same sort of thing with a scene, describing the setting or the feel. I may not use all of what I’ve written, but both of these exercises get me into the mood for writing and before long I find myself working on an actual scene itself.

3.      Another idea I stole for mystery writer John Sandford. At a booksigning someone asked him what he did when he was stuck in writing a scene. He said he took a notebook and went to dinner and didn’t come home until the scene was written.

I’ve often done that, though not necessarily when I was stuck on a scene. I’ll do it as a part of my regular writing progress. Whenever I find myself rebelling against writing my pages, I take myself out to dinner.

There is something fun about just sitting in a different location and writing. Of course it requires that you don’t mind sitting in a restaurant, eating alone with your pen and notebook in hand. But I’ve done it in everything from Starbucks to diner to very fancy restaurants.  My current favorite is a local PF Chang’s that has an amazing view of the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

So as the year comes to an end... if you need to come up with some ideas for what to do with your ideas, you might try these suggestions!