Alright, technically that title should be “On Plot Creation: How do you create yours” but too many words in a title is just, well, too much. On to the topic:
As I was mulling over an idea in my head recently, I raked it over the usual coals. For me, whenever an idea for a story strikes me, I am thrilled. I am thrilled only long enough for me to allow the story to unfold in my mind. Afterwards, once the idea has ‘gelled’ so to speak, I begin testing it.
I ask myself the same questions with every decent story idea:
- Is this idea original?
- Are the characters compelling?
- Is the plot consistently compelling?
- Would I be interested in reading this story?
- Can I write this story?
I am hoping I am not the only writer who asks these questions. They seem to me to be legitimate questions and lead to a decision on the best course of action.
Is this idea original? This question is always my first because in my lifetime I have read a large number of books of all genres and I have seen a large number of movies and television shows. The problem is, I can’t always remember which books, movies or shows I have seen and their exact plots. This can sometimes lead to me thinking of a great story without realizing that the reason I thought of it or the reason it seemed like such a great idea is because I have seen it before. Fortunately, once I ask myself this question, I realize how familiar the plot seems and this is a key tip off that it has been done – and probably done very well.
Are the characters compelling? This question is an obvious one. Are my characters interesting – if so, what about them is interesting? If not – what can I add to make them more compelling? More interesting? More sympathetic? More charismatic?
Is the plot compelling? Another obvious question that is absolutely necessary. You might think that if I have an idea and take the time to let it grow in my mind then surely it is compelling. This is not necessarily true. My mind has a habit of allowing all sorts of thoughts to grow and develop and not all of them are worth considering afterwards. There is also another issue of what might be compelling for me may not be compelling to anyone else. Brains are narcissistic that way – they tend to hone in on things that they enjoy, things that they are compelled to continue thinking about – sort of like the average daydream. Daydreams are great and offer great stories – for the person having them – but they do not make great stories for anyone else because they mostly only include things specific to the daydreamer. Once established that the plot is worthy of consideration but not compelling, several subsidiary questions occur:
- How can I alter the plot to make it more compelling?
- What can I add to enhance the plot?
- How can I make this plot unique from all of the other similar plots?
- Is there a possible twist?
- As a reader – what would make me choose this story to read over other stories? What would grab my attention as a reader.
Would I be interested in reading this story? I am a picky reader – usually. I have been known to read anything available when in dire need such as on restroom trips. I have read shampoo bottle ingredients during these times. But you don’t care about that so on with it. When given the choice, I will decide what to read first based on the description of the story – if it doesn’t grab me then I won’t even open the book. So I must ask myself – when I put this story’s plot in a single sentence, is it interesting?
The ‘interest’ question brings up a more defined territory. Who will be my target audience with this story? Once I identify my target audience, it is usually after determining the genre – I consider what people in my target audience find interesting. I remind myself that just because a story is interesting or different, doesn’t mean it is a good story. I could write a story about werewolves made of ice cream – because it is different than any other story I’ve ever read or heard of – but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. I mean, really, who would be scared of werewolves made of ice cream? A little heat, sun, blowdryer exposure or even swatting with the hand would destroy them. Lame!
Can I write this story? This one is not so easily determined. As a writer, I should be comfortable enough to write anything I would like to write. The truth of this is however, that not all writers are suited to write just anything. There are certain things that I simply will not write about – it’s not that I can’t or that I think it would suck – it is because I do not want to write about it.
There is also a consideration of the difficulty of successfully writing about a topic. It could be a stellar story and just not be something I feel I could write with the knowledge or passion necessary. I am not great at writing fight scenes – they are just not my thing and I know very little about actual fights. I’ve never been in a fight so I am not even familiar with the personal feelings involved when fighting. I would be an outsider to the topic and it would show in my writing no matter how much research I did. So any story idea I have similar to Fight Club would be out of the question.
I am curious to find out about the process other writers endure when creating a story. Am I the only one who asks these questions? Am I the only one who goes through what might be considered self sabotage or in the least, a negative process?
I think we all do it to some degree. I have an unofficial pattern that helps. Ideas go in a notes app.
Those that still appeal to me after some time get written out on paper. Nothing fancy, but I’ll add bits and pieces. After fermenting on paper, those that make the grade get a storyboard.
The storyboard is all about three act structure. It helps me spot holes and tells me where I need a bit more. Sometimes the answer is a different idea from the app or the notebook in combination with the main idea.
That is an interesting process that sounds quite effective.
This is my process. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Not saying it’s perfect. Some ideas need to stew a bit. Some come together, and some never do. Once in a while something is better suited for a short story or micro fiction. Sometimes, they can become an element of a bigger story.
My problem has ever been with characters; at the point of establishing folks, I don’t want much of anything to happen to them, which is fine for a sort of Vic and Sade comedy bit where nothing has to happen, but it makes for a very rarefied sort of story.
Definitely a rarified story
Seems like questions a responsible writer would ask themselves even though we can all agree the concept of telling an original tale is no longer applicable. But it doesn’t mean we as writers shouldn’t challenge ourselves and I guess that is the thrill that comes with being who we are 😉
That is something that has always bothered me is the idea that all stories have been told and really, there is nothing new.