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Plotting Ahead

I don’t know about you, but I have a very difficult time writing when I have no idea what is going to happen next. I don’t need to know the whole novel, but I do need to know what happens in the next scene and/or at the next major plot point. While I’m writing, I like to know what I’m writing toward. It is not all about racing through the plot, but gaging the pace. 

I know I can write a nice long, slow scene if there’s something a bit more action-packed to follow it.  However, I struggle with planning scenes ahead of time. Ideas for conflict don’t come to me regularly or even easily. So, here is what I do when I just can’t think of anything to come next.

First, I take notes.

I grab my notebook and start writing down what I already know about the story I want to write. Everything. It can have names for characters, places, etc. but since we’re concerned about plot, try to focus more on the big picture project instead of details to draw out the plot. (I have to remind myself of this constantly). Familiarize yourself with the larger scope of the story. What’s important? How does that lend itself to conflict?

Work from inspiration. 

If jotting down more general notes does not spark any ideas, I turn to what tiny, glinting detail convinced me that I could write a book on this – it might be a character or a creature or a beautiful city – whatever inspiration grabbed your attention. Try to figure out what was attractive about this inspiration. What about it offers potential for conflict? For instance, if you are interested in writing a character who is caught telling a lie, you might want to consider what other things they’ve said that are likely to be untruthful. 

What wild things might be more than plausible?

This might be the craziest thing to try, but it can be the way to push your plot into the right direction. Start thinking of horribly awful things that you can do to your characters – or rather, things that you could put them through. Is someone accused of murder? Are they trapped in a blizzard? Let your imagination run wild until you can see something that might be a good fit. (It helps most to make a list.)

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