Friday, December 19, 2008

Finding Buried Plot Jewels

Every fiction writer desires to come up with a good solid plot for their work. Plot is what makes stories alluring and riveting. Concepts can be simple and linear or outlandish and bizarre, full of complexity and depth. Sometimes as a reader, you come across a book and think, I wish I’d thought of that. Don’t focus on what you didn’t write, focus on the ideas out there ready to be discovered. Where can you find great plot ideas? All around you. Here are some of the best spots for inspiration.
The News ~ Ripped from the headlines. They do it on Law & Order. Sometimes life truly is stranger than fiction. Be there when it happens. Read or watch the news with your creative ears perked and pen in hand. I do. I’m always looking for interesting facts. Sometimes a little tidbit, an event, a crazy thing someone did or a fascinating person gets my attention. All of a sudden my mind starts cranking out ideas. Create a bookmark folder for articles you find while net surfing or keep a notebook handy so you can jot down those things that enthrall you.
Little Ideas ~ Little ideas may not be big enough for a novel-length story, but they can be used to add depth to a bigger plot or bond together to make a big plot. Write down all your random thoughts and ideas. Mismatched ideas are great. Like a box of fabric scraps, left in the box, that’s all they are, but when put together with other scraps, they can form something of artistic substance. Little ideas can become big ideas with some tweaking. Dreams ~ Plots are calling you from that place where reality meets fantasy, where symbolism emerges on a grand scale, where things may or may not make sense. For Kings & Queens I had this idea for a love triangle but no plot to wrap around it. Then one night I had this dream I was running, for exercise not out of fear, and I overheard these guys planning a church massacre. They chased me to this little town. In that dream, I found the seed for my plot and my setting. Stephenie Meyer found her plot and characters for Twilight in a dream. The odd realm that finds us in our own minds during sleep is one of the greatest springboards for inspiration. So when you dream, use the most wondrous and weird elements as a starting point. That's all I had was a tiny dream-birthed seed, one idea, and the more I worked on my book, the larger the concept became, taking my storyline to unexpected, wonderful, horrific heights.
Characters ~ You can find plot by delving into the motivation and goals of your characters. Once you have a solid character, pick his or her brain. Get close and personal. When you find out what they truly want, put up obstacles so they can't readily reach their goals. This establishes your story question and creates conflict, which makes for a gripping read. Will he find his long lost love? Will she get that one day of peace she craves? Will they be able to mend their splintered marriage? Good, well-developed characters drive stories and come with ideas of their own.
Books ~ When you finish a novel you particularly enjoyed, dissect what made it most compelling. Was it the concept, the twist at the end? The way the author was meticulous on the details? Once you pinpoint what you loved about it, brainstorm your own ideas, characters, concepts, etc. Blend the fascinating and sound techniques of several books and fashion your own great idea. I liked the twist at the end of John Grisham's The Partner. I didn’t write anything close to a legal thriller, but I had that kind of twisty end in mine when I penned Kings & Queens. Borrow and blend.
Villains ~ Sometimes the evil spark comes first. Let's say your own Hannibal Lecter is firmly established. Fascinating. Grotesque. Cool. Hot with the ladies. PETA spokesman. Serial killer with peppermint breath. What’s his motivation? Find out what he wants and create a protag to contrast that. Who will get in his way, challenge him, tickle his imagination, piss him off, turn him on? Your plot can be found in him. Technology ~ Projections for medical and scientific breakthroughs can open up a bunch of what-if questions and plot possibilities. Asking questions is an awesome way to spawn ideas and crank out a plot. So research some geeky stuff with your pen in hand.
Story concepts are all around you, in every nook and cranny of life. Look for and find the things that fascinate you and write about them in only the way that you can. Then readers will be saying, I wish I'd thought of that.
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

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