On Finding Plots: “I’ve Got Characters, But No Plot”

I’ve always gotten a lot of questions that look a little like this: “I love my characters, but I don’t have a plot or even a setting. What do I do?” It makes a plot sound like this strange elusive thing. I talked about plot in a post a few weeks ago so, I’m going to follow up on that. Let’s find some plots!

The Lists of Plots

So, this isn’t something I do regularly, but I’ve found that when you’re stuck, it can get you unstuck. Look at a list of plots and pick one. It’s that easy. A few lists I like in particular are the 29 Plot Templates on Darcy Pattison’s blog or The Seven Basic Plots from the book by Christopher Booker.

Well, it’s not that easy. But that’s how you start. Pick a plot and then throw your characters into the mix. Try to see how that story would go. Journal about it. Try to construct an outline – or rather, an idea of an outline. Is it looking more like the story you’d hoped for? This method isn’t fool-proof, but it might be the idea-generating tip you need to keep writing.

Pick on a Character.

Plot relies so much on character. If you already have characters that you love, you may feel better about working with their personalities and behaviors to generate a plot.

In my last post on plot, I talked about Cinderella and the titular character’s actions and reactions. Plot can come from the character’s desires – ie: Cinderella hoped to change her situation – which initially is something we learn in her hopes to attend a royal ball. So, one method for finding a plot is to figure out what your character wants and follow that story to seeing them go out and get it.

Alternatively, if what they want isn’t exactly interesting or helping you get anywhere, think about the things they don’t want. That can be just as useful. For instance, in one of my favorite books, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the protagonist Eleanor is looking for a new start after her mother’s passing. She gets this new start in the form of an invitation to participate in a summer-long paranormal study. She takes it. Though quickly, this new start is not what she’d hoped for and her past traumas start resurface unexpectedly during the study.

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