Generating Plot Ideas


I finally sat down and outlined the chapters for Mercy’s book this week, and made a rather unpleasant discovery. The characters are full, real people and the first half of the story is completely clear in my head. But the ending? I know what the final goal is but, whilst outlining, the way to get there ended up being ‘drive to Place A and fix problem’. Less than gripping.

The characters for this story basically have taken up the mental spotlight to the extent that the story itself isn’t clear. Now, characters should be the most important part but – as with everything in writing, it seems – there has to be a balance and, oddly enough, plot’s fairly critical too. This may sound bizarre but it’s actually a very long time since I figured out a plot from beginning to end. Spiritus‘ plot was clearly outlined as far back as 2010, and the plot for the short story Regulus is…well, not overly complex because a short story doesn’t have space.

One trick that I’ve used in the past for figuring out the turn of events is roleplay. I’m an avid roleplayer, both LARP and tabletop, not least because it’s a very social way of storytelling and brings multiple perspectives to the tale. More than once, I’ve arranged a short tabletop game, given my players the starting scenario that matches a story I’m working on, and made notes on how they resolved it. The bonus is that they come up with ideas I would never have thought of, whilst fleshing out the world and characters at the same time. Invaluable.

Another frequent technique is to bounce ideas off people. Mainly the raptor, to be honest, because A) he has to put up with it as part of the relationship deal and B) he’s really good at coming up with different angles. This is also a brilliant way to generate details of background culture and world building. Getting another perspective adds a dimension which you couldn’t generate on your own.

Finally, go for a walk. Seriously, it’s amazing what falls out when you’re wandering along muttering to yourself. I took up jogging in January in the hopes that would have the same effect, but mainly I find myself concentrating on not stopping so that’s been less successful. But on my way to the shops yesterday, I realised that getting Mercy arrested gives the pre-ending a great roadbump, creates the plot that I was missing and gives the characters an opportunity to face up to various types of conflict all in one neat package.

I’m interested to know, though, what works for other people. What are your techniques for resolving a plot problem?

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