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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Who chooses your plot?

My Labor Day weekend trip starts today, so I have brought back a post from the past.  This article debuted December 7, 2009, and today I ask you again: 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? (ha!  this from the writer who would go on to post four literary movement posts!)

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. I envision most of the story first, especially the characters, and create an outline. From that point, I add things as I write. Of course, that's frustrating when I think of a cool twist and I'm already 10,000 words into the story.

  2. So here's what happens to me. I have a moment of inspiration. BOOM! The character speaks to me, I see the overall idea for the plot, the theme. I sit down and outline it. I spend a lont time on character sketches, plot outline, cross-referencing subplots, settings...

    Then, I write the thing. My first draft is awful. At 1/3 in, everything changes. I keep going. At 2/3 in, everything changes again. I finish.

    There's usually lots of "I suck at this," followed by "I'm brilliant," followed by "Why do I bother," followed by "I can do this," during the 1st draft process.

    I revise the entire outline, which is now almost completely different. I rewrite. The 2nd draft is much better and actually has a storyline that makes sense.

    Then I sleep. For a week or so. :)

  3. I have outlined the plot of my so-called novel and started to write (got 4 chapters by now). The main idea was to build a story around my protagonist and hero (which is very similar to me of course), but now I find it most entertaining to play around with the antagonist, which is anti-me. I let him express and do all the stuff that I hate. Very funny >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  4. There is no one way to your discovery of the plot. I am in the middle of yet another massive rewrite of a story I have amused myself with for five years. It began as a piece of fan fiction, something to do when I was sick and stuck in bed. I'd ignore it for months, then play with it whenever I got bored. Then I changed the main character to one of my own creation and she took over. She took the story from a short worthless exercise to a promising 80,000 word crime thriller.

    At one point two new characters suddenly popped in my head. These two were perfect for a light mystery, a genre I have always preferred.
    The characters had no plot to offer just their tempting selves.

    But my main character in my crime thriller would not let me go. She informed me that she had not gone through all this hell just to be dumped. Then I saw how to make the crime thriller really work and returned to her.

    The other two whispered great character scenes in my head, but still had no idea of the story. As those two developed I realized what kind of mystery would involve them and a plot was created.

    But they remain waiting as I have just started the first draft of the missing piece of my crime thriller.

    I try to focus on the crime thriller, listening to noir like music, and reading crime thrillers from top thriller writers such as Ross Thomas.
    My one fear is some other genre character will try to get into my head with their story.

  5. I outline everything. I want my stories to be consistent from beginning to end. I want to leave the clues at all the right places. Then I write and then I edit. I take my stories from the codes that run through my head. The stories come from the codes.


  6. I mostly go from a character, a moment or two and then write and watch the plot develop. :)

  7. I'm going to steal a quote from JK Rowling: "the idea for my book just sort of fell into my head." Although it was vastly different from what it is today. Things are always changing in my story, and unlike at first when I didn't outline anything, I do a little bit of outlining now to help me get a sense of where next I need to traverse in my story.

  8. Usually I follow the characters around and see what they do next. :) I'm outlining a little more now than I used to.

  9. I get a a lot of my plot from scenes that pop into my head. Moments of clarity or truth that define lives...then I start to wonder what type of person would be at that crossroads...what might have gotten then there?

    After that, usually the plot starts to play out as I explore the character and put conflict in their way.
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  10. I just sit down and start writing, I guess, to me, it's like reading a mystery. As the story moves along, I get to help solve the plot. Sometimes I don't know what the mystery will be or if it's a murder or a simple misunderstanding.

  11. Brain Cell...she decides what I am going to do next. In fact she features on my blog today. Some days I love her, others...grrrr.

  12. I need to have a major plot point or two, or at least have an idea for some major actions that take place. Then I develop appropriate characters. I try to get a good idea of the overall story before I ever begin typing anything.

  13. Michele - Interesting question! I'd say that I actually start with the main character - the victim. Then, the plot develops around her or his personality. Of course, I write murder mysteries, so you know that something bad is going to happen to the victim. I begin with the main plot (whodunit, whydunit, howdunit). Then I weave in the extra threads and any subplots.