Fear in Writing: Who chooses your plot?

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Monday, December 7, 2009

Who chooses your plot?

There are many ways to start a book. A striking title that is both umbrella and foundation. A startling sentence that becomes the seed from which your story sprouts. An experience you fictionalize and twist into novel-length. A character.

A character. That is where I am. When I last posted about my WIP, a secondary character had just surprised me with his strength and faltering moral compass. It was the first time a character of mine had taken control; and now I wonder, how much control do I give them?

For this post I chose the picture of a scene from The Scarlet Letter because, in his writing, Nathaniel Hawthorne was greatly influenced by the world around him. We all are to a certain extent, but I certainly do not write about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, global warming or even healthcare reform. Some of this is because the nature of publishing has changed. There is a much longer period from between writing and publication now than in the early 19th Century. Hawthorne lived in a Puritanical community, and he wasn't afraid to shine light on its hypocrisy. He was also part of the Transcendentalist movement. Do we even have movements any more?

From where does your plot come? Do you outline your plot first, or let it develop? Do you hit on the high points and fill in the subplot later? Do you start with a title, a character, a sentence and fertilize until the blooms are abundant?


  1. This is a tough one. Usually, I start with an idea or a scene. As I explore it, the needed characters pop into being, then I brainstorm plot ideas and try to come up with something that hangs together.
    Other times, like with my current wip, I feel the story, the emotion I want it to convey, and there is this compressed ball of images/characters/scenes/emotions/names that's simply *there*. It's as though the book already exists. I just have to decipher that mass and put it on the page. Easier said than done.

  2. For me, it develops off the seed of an idea. And it goes in different directions without an outline (with an outline, I try to follow the 'rules' I set up for myself.)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Lorel- I also know you're one to experiment with different writing styles, which probably means you experiment with different paths to get there as well? Starting with one scene is how my current WIP began as well, now that I think about it.

    Elizabeth- What do you mean by 'rules?' Limitations on how far you will stray from the outline?

    Thank you both for sharing.

  4. I tend to start with an emotional moment - usually from the end of the book. From there the main character(s) develop. Then a starting point loosely connected to something in the end scene (emotion-wise). Then my characters find their way from start to end. I don't outline.

  5. I'm with Jemi - an emotional scene sparks the whole thing. From there, I detail the main characters and write a basic outline. And I tend to run through the whole story in my head, scene by scene, before committing anything to paper. Yes, I forget some things this way and scenes and dialogue change, but once I start putting it on paper, I can see character motivations and development better.

  6. Sometimes my stories start with a character, sometimes with a plot thread, sometimes with a vague premise. After that, though, I need to outline it, or I'll get totally lost when I write.

    As for fertilization, yes, I shovel plenty of manure!

  7. Since I write mysteries I always start with the victim. Why would he/she be murdered? Everything comes from there.


  8. Great thought provoking post.
    I start with the idea of a character and build from there. Usually have basic plot line but it changes as the characters surprise me and take different paths while I write.

  9. I mull an idea over until an opening sentence pops in my head and then I start writing. I don't outline, I just let the story lead me. However, usually after several edits,the original sentence doesn't remain the opening one.