Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Plot Generator

A character sits an exam. There are two outcomes: Pass or Fail.
Write two lists: what might happen next if they pass, and what might happen if they fail. use your imagination - go conventional, go wild, it doesn't matter.
Choose one outcome from the Pass list and write another list of what might happen next.
Choose one outcome from the Fail list and write another list of what might happen next.
Carry on doing this until you get bored/run out of paper.

Your lists should have a mixture of positive and negative outcomes. Trace a story path from the lists eg X fails the exam, they don't get the job, they lose their home, they die in poverty. Or...X passes the exam, they win the job, they become mega successful, everyone loves them.
The first story line is a line of negative outcomes, the second is nothing but positives. And both are equally dull.

What about...X fails the exam, doesn't get the job, starts own company, becomes successful. Or X passes the exam, gets the job, the company fails, X is made redundant.
Both are more interesting as they shift from positive to negative to positive to negative to positive...

You can use this to generate plot ideas. You have your character, their next action can have a positive or negative outcome. Choose one and follow it until you get to the next action. Now swing them in another direction: if they were positive first time round, go negative now. It's all going well - oops, they crash the car. It's all going badly - hey, a win on premium Bonds.

And if you're really, really stuck go for the Terry Pratchett solution: a naked woman bursts into the room carrying a flaming sword.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post Sarah. Plotting is something I find very difficult. I find it helps to remember I am in control of the story, not the other way around (at least in the early stages!).

I'd never really thought of plotting the way you describe ie throwing a spanner in the works when everything seems to be going well. Am off not to try and put it into practice!

Thanks again,

Sarah Duncan said...

The more I write, the more I let the plot sort itself out as I go along. I think I trust the process that bit more. I keep reminding myself that if everything goes tickety boo for the characters then there isn't a story! Hope your plotting goes well this weekend.