Let’s talk about plot.
I know, I know…I really need to find a new topic to beat into the ground, right?
But seriously…this is a topic that needs to be discussed at length, all the time. Why? Because without the ability to come up with a good plot, a writer is just someone who splashes words onto a digital canvass, hoping they’ll stick.
Trust me, without plot, those words will not stick.
So what is plot?
Make sure to watch the video that inspired this post.
To put it simply, plot is a story. And we are story tellers. In fact, we’ve been telling stories since we were children. When we were young, stories poured from our minds like butter dripping off a hot biscuit. So why does it become harder as we grow older?
In a word…filters.
You see, as we grow older we become opinionated and jaded, both of which creates filters to color what comes in and what goes out. When we are inspired that inspiration is filtered, so it’s not pure. We tumble the inspiration in our minds and it changes, according to our beliefs, ideas, ideologies, opinions, etc. So when that inspiration is finally turned into an idea for a piece of work, it’s no longer pure.
When children are inspired, that seedling of an idea isn’t sprinkled with opinion, or ideology, or belief…it just is. This means what comes out of a child isn’t encumbered by the whim and will of society.
Again…it just is.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
This means it is incumbent upon us, as artists, to open our eyes and take in all of that glorious inspiration as a child would; let it be what it wants to be and don’t force your filters onto it.
Let’s talk about the actual process now. As I’ve said, ad nauseum, my writing is all about causality. A begets B begets C begets D. When I start working on a new novel, I generally only have a vague idea of what the book is about. That idea, however, is very strong…so strong that I feel compelled to write the book.
And so I write the first sentence. That sentence gives birth to the next, which inspires and informs the next. By the time I have the first paragraph written, I have my launching point for the book; I’ve set the tone and timbre and everything goes from there.
Say, I start off with one of the most popular sentences in all of novel-dom…
It was a dark and stormy night.
That sentence might inspire me to write about a young child who’s afraid of storms. That same child might rush off to their parents bedroom (and remember here, I write a lot of horror), only to find their parents dead. Maybe on the nightstand is a letter, written by one of the parents, that says, “We couldn’t live with the lie!”
And now we have a story.
Trust your instincts
Cause and effect writing really is that simple. And as long as you trust your instincts, you can do it. That, of course, isn’t always the easiest thing to pull off. Why? All of those filters you’ve built up over the ages will have you second-guessing your instincts at every corner.
One of the things I’m so grateful for experiencing was during my three years at graduate school, when my professors beat it into my head to always trust my instincts. That work paid off in spades, allowing me to forever relegate the process over to my instinct and let it guide me. Had it not been for grad school, I’m not sure I could work with my causality writing style.
In the end, writing good plots (for me) boils down to:
- Giving in to your inner child.
- Letting go of your filters.
- Trusting your instincts.
If you can wrap your brain around those three concepts, you’ll be cranking out incredible plots without the hand wringing, hair pulling, and teeth gnashing.