Ask An Author: How do you come up with a plot?

Today’s question is:

How do you come up with a plot?

Hazel: One of my favorite ways of developing a story line is to ask “what if?” I use this anytime, anywhere, in response to something I see on TV or from my window, read in the newspaper, or observe while sitting at a café drinking coffee. It’s a one-size-fits-all plot generator and works especially well if I let myself be really silly and outrageous with possibilities for a story. From the loopy, unlikely series of images, I sort and blend and edit until I have something that I can commit to paper as an outline or story board. If nothing develops, the only energy I’ve expended is in exercising my imagination and that’s a muscle you can’t over use!

Lana: I’m always looking for ways to complicate things. That’s basically what plot is, a series of complications that builds toward a resolution. So I ask myself, what is the worst thing that could happen to this character (short of dying, that is)? What would make him or her the most uncomfortable? How could the decision he has to make be more difficult? Those are the things that have to happen in order for a person to experience growth. So next time you have a bad day, just tell yourself you’re experiencing growth!

Plot is a series of complications that build toward a resolution. Can’t you just imagine the plot of this book?
Pat: I never begin with plain flat plot. Instead, I listen to interesting characters. Just as I choose to listen to interesting people, especially those with good stories, I will listen to one or more characters involved in a drama. Plot grows out of what these fascinating characters do and their perspective on the events of life—their own and others. What’s more, I seldom follow a story from beginning to end. Instead, I write in scenes and then play with the scenes to develop a well-structured story. Many scenes fail to make the cut, but that’s true of writing anything. I think this process lends more immediacy to the action and authentic voices among characters.

Brian: I usually start with a character. I get to know everything about that character: what he likes, what he loves, what he fears, what he desires. Once I know a character and know how he’ll act in various situations, I give him a goal. Plot is simply putting obstacles between my character and his goal.

Leave a comment–we’d love to hear your ideas about plot.

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