I’ve been asked to do a talk on plotting next week –– you know, around the time we may finally know the who’s the leader of the free world and who’s Trump — and you also know, I hope, that it’s not going to be me who does the talking. I have to tell this group something, I suppose, but really they’re going to talk, I’m going to listen, and we’ll probably discuss, well, I don’t know the name for it. See what you think of this, please, and tell me if you can think of a word to describe it all.
Last time I did anything like this, I wrote out what I called the Ten Rules of Plotting. Of course they’re not rules, of course there were Twelve of them. But I thought it was a useful kind of –– guide? list? brochure? — or something. Chiefly because I thought it included some things — nuggets? pearls? a third thing? — that could help you avoid the kind of plot choices that make your audience switch to Netflix or your reader turn to looking up the US electoral college count. Again.
It also had –– suggestions? tips? advice? –– on how to make your plot last longer, which is immensely useful for scriptwriters becoming novelists.
And then there is this.
The quickest way to create a plot, I believe, is to think of a character and then ask yourself what the worst thing that can happen to them is.
There is more, as in you really shouldn’t take your first thought. Especially since that first thought is probably that they die. Look for what’s worse and especially what is the worst thing for them, not just for anyone, specifically for them. My usual quick example is when your character is a surgeon and I offer that the worst thing that can happen for her is that she catches her hand in a car door.
That’s career-pausing, could be career-killing, but I think it’s more than that because in my mind this character is an egotist and she’s just had everything that she thinks makes her special deleted from her.
I love putting characters into situations they cannot live with –– and then seeing how they live with it.
To my mind, that’s really character and that’s what’s really interesting and the car door is just a prop. Plots are a prop for characters. But you can find plots by testing your characters.
Which is all well and good, except I have never been more politically aware and we are at a time when it feels as if politics moves on by choosing what the worst thing to happen is.
I love putting characters into situations. I’ve had enough of this happening to us all in real life. And I do know a word for that.