“Love Doctor, can you tell me how to take my story bits and make it something more cohesive? –Plotless in Portland”
Okay, I realize that in Part One and Part Two, I gloss over plot, which I foolishly assumed is natural to everyone, and that’s my bad. I was starting with the assumption that the plot had been developed prior to writing, but there are stories that creep up on us when we aren’t expecting it and manifest themselves in little snippets of daydream. I find myself doing that with my own stories frequently.
Having story bits without having a full story outline (a plot, as the cool kids call it) is a bit like having decorations and icing made before you’ve ever even gotten the recipe for the cake you’re making. It seems out of order, but it isn’t detrimental. You just need to put those little decorations on the back burner for a while and then see how they fit into your tale.
I personally think that daydreaming about your story – having those little bits and pieces of a larger tapestry floating around in your head – is super useful when it comes to fleshing out a plot. Not only can it develop your characters, but little insights like that can also point out flaws in what might otherwise be a decent direction.
For example, I ended up writing a couple one-shots (yes, in the traditional sense of One Way Trip To Shag Town as well as domestic ones) with my central character to figure out how she acted when put in certain situations. (Particularly sexy ones, but that’s another story for another day.) Those little “blurbs,” as I’ve heard them called, can be a huge contributing factor in helping you figure out what would be true to your characters. From there, you can absolutely build off those little one-shots into something bigger.
The biggest thing, I find, is not letting your blurbs strangle your character development any more than you would let an intended plot do the same.
It’s also easy to feel the need to wedge in all of your blurbs because they feel important or cool or relevant to your storyline (sometimes, they’re just fun, and sometimes, that’s very much needed), but shoehorning in these ideas goes over well like a Baby Ruth in a pool. It’s forced and obvious and entirely off-putting unless you’re the guy who picks it up and eats it because it’s there. Don’t become opportunist food. Don’t become the last resort.
Instead of shoehorning in your ideas because you want them to fit, take the blurbs (please, for the love of all things, write them down completely or at least a few notes) and brainstorm how it’s relevant to your overall story.
- How does one thing potentially lead to another?
- Look at you! You’ve got a plot started from little blurbs.
- Is this outlandish and weird?
- Maybe not a plot, but you’ve got some character practice and exploration! (Maybe even a dream sequence!)
- Do you have some idea for a general plot but only have several blurbs loosely connected as any concrete idea?
- See bullet point one!
The main thing to remember is that YOU are the master of your plot, and it can be as nonsensical as you want it to be. But not everyone is James Joyce and can make a killing off of seeming nonsense.
Plots are just the vehicle by which characters grow.
I’ve seen plenty of stories without plots – little one-shots, drabbles, brief sketches – but I find that plots are often necessary to allow your characters to fully flourish.
There’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end, and no one said you had to write them in that order. I personally wrote a brief encounter of Chapter ~24 as a standalone story long before I considered writing a full length novel. Then, I ended up writing Chapter 6. Then, I ended up writing Chapter 1.
My last bit of advice comes back to character development, as all of my advice tends to do.
Keep your plot in mind as you write, of course, because it gives your characters a sense of direction, but more often than not, we find our characters writing themselves – having their own journeys and living their lives far, far away from our plots. Letting your characters write themselves is one of the trickiest and most excellent ways of writing. On one hand, you have a tendency to wander far from your intent (trust me, I ended up writing a 300+ word fanfiction that went on for over a year because of that), but your characters truly bloom under that kind of freedom.
One way to get back on track is to plan. I know that seems simplistic, but a gentle hand can steer your characters back toward the plot without sacrificing any development.
The other way to get your characters back on their prescribed path is through editing, which I’ll cover in my next post.
Edit: I’ve gotten a request for the middle wiggly bit of a novel and how to deal with that, so that’s coming next instead of editing. Thanks!