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Plotting a story is like solving a puzzle

Some words send shivers down my spine. Plot. Outline. Crisis. Climax. Beats. Scenes. Structure

Since one of my motto’s in life is to “go fear-ward,” I decided the best way to overcome my shivering was to dive into the world of “plot” and demystify it.

I read books, went to conferences, and played with the different exercises and ideas recommended by others to wrap my head around this idea of plot. (In my next post, I’ll share the books I found most helpful).

Along the way, I had several epiphanies. I realized that all plot really is is a series of events in your story. Plot is what happens. (Tweet this).

And, really, when you think about it, we’ve been learning about plot since the first day we learned to read:

Jack and Jill
went up the hill
to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
and broke his crown
Jill came tumbling after

When you look at it this way, it seems pretty clear. Plot is what happens.

The tricky part is writing a compelling story that surprises your readers and keeps them entertained. To me, it’s like solving a puzzle. My mom used to love word puzzles and crosswords, but I never took to them. For me, writing poetry is my puzzle—mining my unconscious for the perfect word or image to evoke the emotion I want my reader to feel.

Plotting is like that to me now. As I began to plot out my current manuscript, I first wrote down the scenes that came to me, the ones that seemed a natural part of the story. Most of these were at the beginning of my story. Then I started thinking about the ending. I thought about who my protagonist was at the beginning of the story and who I wanted her to be at the end.

Then, like solving a puzzle, I let my imagination go wild. I wrote down ideas for scenes on how my protagonist might get from point A to point B. My goal is to choose the most difficult path that will allow her the most growth. Of course, I won’t use all these scenes or ideas and I’m sure I’ll come up with even more, but this gives me a place to begin writing and to allow my characters to discover where they want to go and how they want to get there.

I’m still not 100% comfortable with that four-letter word “plot,” but now, instead of getting the shivers when I hear the word, I become intrigued. I ask myself, “What happens next?”

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