Amateur Advice: How I create my plot

Plot is very important to me as both a reader and a writer. I expect the plot to reveal things about the characters in the story. I expect the author to craft a plot that forces change in both the characters and world that I am glimpsing. This is far easier said than done.

It annoys me when I read or write a story that does not build towards anything. It is like walking through traincars, but never knowing where the train is going or why. That is why I go to great lengths to make sure my plot is always pointing towards something; always acting as a device to allow the reader to analyze my characters. I do this by writing with intention.

I always make a plot outline. I am definitely a planner. This step would be natural to me, even if I wasn’t obsessed with plot like I am. This serves as a guide to me while I am writing — it helps me line up my scenes and characters. It allows me to build suspense and forshadowing, because I already know what is coming.

I limit my outlining to major plot points. I believe that spontaneity is important, and even necessary, to a story that makes me want to revisit it again and again. In order to allow myself this spontaneity, I do not plan all of the small details. I find that once I have an understanding of the characters and the overall plot and theme, the details set themselves in place. I do not care what route I take between point A and point B, only that I arrive at point B.

I attach theme and intention to the plot outline. At each major junction that I have written in my plot outline, I attach a reason why. I try to attach the overall reasons why I would stop at that junction in the story, and not let the train move on to the next station. Every stop must do one of three things.

1) It must reveal something about the characters.

2) It must forshadow a future major plot point in the story.

3) It must shed additional light on a previous plot point in the story.

If I cannot find a way for the scene to do one of these three things, I remove it from the outline.

I find these steps helps me bring focus to my story and characters. I want to write the kind of story that I would enjoy reading. What kinds of things do you do to help your story stay focused?

–Jeremy

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About Jeremy D Powell

I am a husband and father, writer and thinker. By nature, I tend to be introverted. I am attempting to nurture my inner extrovert. It's going OK.

6 responses to “Amateur Advice: How I create my plot”

  1. Michelle Proulx says :

    Honestly, I try to outline, but it never works. I think I’ve written outlines for so many essays (I was a History major) that I’ve just come to view outlines as “work”, and I don’t want my creative writing time to be “work”. Obviously that isn’t the case, but that’s how I often see it. Usually I come up with a basic plot outline, with a general idea of where the plot and the characters will end up, and then just make stuff up. This strategy leaves me with a lot of pointless scenes, but I can always delete/revise those during the editing process.

    • Jeremy D Powell says :

      Thanks for your comment, Michelle! I don’t blame you for not outlining if you feel that it stifles your creativity Writing is so personal that everyone’s process is different. I have personally found that I only finish things that I have mapped out. I think I get frustrated when I get lost in the weeds of the story and give up.

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