Sunday, February 6, 2011

How to Untangle Your Plot Knot

I've always loved untangling knots. Slinkies, necklaces, shoe laces, you name it, I can untangle it. The secret is patience, seeing where one strand got caught up with the other and not making it harder than it is.

Naturally, I love untangling my clients' most difficult plot points. It is oddly therapeutic and terribly exciting for me.

As promised on Monday, here are a few steps I lead writers through in detangling their most gnarly plot knots.

Step One: When considering your story in broad terms, think of a few major milestones you see your character passing through. These are the big events that are pivotal to the movement of your novel as well as the development of your character(s). These big milestones become your major plot points.

Step Two: Car crashes, break-ups and happily ever afters don't just happen - there are a series of events that lead up to these major plot points. Now's the time to fill in the spaces. What made your protag collide their car with another, head on? It takes two to end a relationship, whether the one who was dumped knows it or not - where did it all go wrong? And we all want to know the secret path to happily ever after - don't skimp on the details!

Step Three: Don't make it harder than it is. While writing a commercial novel is no paint by numbers project, the process need not be fraught with riddles and dead-ends...which ultimately lead you to wondering about your talent and reason for being. Writing a novel is all about cause and effect. It's human nature unfolding. You're already an expert in the study. How you choose to capture that human nature is your artistic signature.

Step Four: Avoid cliches. Yes, it's true, there's no such thing as an original plot. However, you can make your novel fresh by avoiding a few over-used plot points: characters spurred into action due to major life-altering events like death, divorce or break-ups; a protag who deals with "The Man" the only way they know how - with street smarts or their feminine prowess!; anything about the life and times of a misunderstood, starving artist...unless you plan to be one.

For more detailed lessons on plot development, I urge you to check out author and past TLCG contributor Michelle Hoover's blog on plot structure and development. Michelle teaches writing at Boston University and Grub Street. A must read, especially if you've yet to check out a writing program or workshop in your area or online.

Here's to untangling your plot knots!


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